Learning from Airbnb: translating your brand essence / by Anne Miltenburg

We often see entrepreneurs struggle with the ways in which they can translate a brand essence to communications. Two Airbnb videos offer us a glimpse into attempts to translate the same concept of belonging, in very different ways.

In our workshops we often use Airbnb as an example of a brand that has mastered how to translate a compelling brand essence to every aspect of what they do. The essence ‘Belong anywhere’ is translated to neighbourhood festivals, a non-discrimination hosting agreement, an inclusive HR policy and all communications.

Using brands like Airbnb as an example also poses a challenge, as they seem so polished, finished, and created with a branding budget that is often bigger than ten years of revenue of a social enterprise. However, these cases also offer practical learning points and hope that building a brand is a journey for everyone. Two Airbnb videos offer us a glimpse into attempts to translate the same concept of belonging, in very different ways.

The first video, Welcome to Airbnb, from 2015, is an animation which takes us on a train ride through a miniature global landscape of places and homes to visit. The message of belonging anywhere is at the core of the video: we can imagine ourselves visiting different places. But the way it is presented and the emotion that it conveys has less to do with the feeling of belonging and more about the physical act of travelling. The animation is exquisitely made but by creating a fantasy world, it does not conjure up the feeling that I, too, can belong in Rio or Cape Town. Nor does it bring those far away places truly closer to me. They remain abstract notions of places I could visit, not belong to, nor live in

Video two, from April 2016, translates the sense of beloning in an entirely different way: through documentary videography. Through this documentary style, it is as if we could have made the video with our own phone. We see hosts and guests that are crucial in making guests feel at home, in different locations around the world. Squeezing into a hot tub in Korea, watching street musicians, our jaw dropping when a host eats fish eyes. We get a sense of place, of being a local for a little while, of being a guest staying with a friend, instead of a tourist staying in an anonymous hotel. The elements of documentary videography, real people of diverse backgrounds, showcasing homes and community events, are all exponents of 'belonging'. 

In the span of a year and a half, Airbnb has found the right way to tell its stories.

Find the right way to tell your stories

A great brand essence is a catalyst for everything we do as a brand. It guides the way we communicate. But finding the right way to bring your essence to life will still be a search. Over time, you will understand better and better how you can create messages that are 'you' to the core. Building a brand is a journey. Don't be afraid to experiment along the way.