The Rich and the Restless – A look at Chesky’s Road to Success
In 2017-18 Airbnb hit revenue of $2.6 billion with 3100 employees around the world. The founders, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia (who could not afford the rent of their San Francisco apartment in 2007) are now running one of the biggest online businesses today with international offices in the UK, Thailand, Indonesia, and Iceland. The story of Brian Chesky’s success is a great example of how online marketing can help you set up and grow a business.
Brian Chesky, a Niskayuna, NY native, secured a college degree in industrial design from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and was a noob in the tech industry. Chesky went to San Francisco with his college friend and future Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia. There, Chesky and Gebbia decided to turn their apartment into a rental space to make ends meet. The idea came to them when there was a design conference in town, but the hotel space for the attendees was unlimited. So, the duo decided to offer their living space for rent on a website.
As Gebbia explained:
“We did not want to post on craigslist because we felt it was too impersonal. Our entrepreneur instincts said ‘build your own site’. So, we did.”
Thus, they set up a simple website with pictures of their apartment turned into a lodging space – with air mattresses on the floor and a promise of breakfast in the morning. They got their first three renters through this website and earned $80 per renter. Soon after, they started receiving emails from people around the world inquiring about the availability of this website for destinations like Japan, Paris, London, Buenos Aires, etc.
The Turning Point
A few months after the construction of the website, Briand Chesky and Joe Gebbia enlisted former engineer and roommate Nathan Blecharczyk as a third co-founder and officially named the business website as “Airbedandbreakfast.com”. The goal of this website was to give people a place where they could rent out their space to help other people (mostly travelers) find a place to stay. The trio got initial funding of $200,000 from Y-combinator and converted their apartment into an office. Gradually, as the business model grew and gained more popularity, it attracted more investors and launched their first app for Android devices in 2012.
After a roaring success of the application, they opened a second international office in London and a year later announced the acquisition of Localmaid – an online cleaning service. The business continued to expand globally and partnered with more Home Cleaning agencies.
Fast forward to today “Air, Bed and Breakfast” is now Airbnb – a platform with 60 million guests and more than 7 million listings including, luxury rentals! It is ranked as the second-highest valued US startup with more than $32 billion. The app has more than 1 million downloads on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
How Digital Marketing Helped Airbnb
Brian Chesky’s Airbnb has come a long way since its inception in 2007. The smart business model of collaborative consumption has transformed the hospitality and travel industry making Airbnb an undisputed leader and the most trustworthy online community and marketplace for home-based rentals. The company was valued at $38 billion right before the coronavirus pandemic.
Digital marketing has played a significant role in the success of Airbnb. With more than 16 million likes on Facebook, 4 million followers on Instagram, and 700 followers on Twitter, Airbnb has created a prominent online presence in the travel industry. Brian Chesky has refined how people interact with one another while traveling by creating a new concept of an online, global community connected through shared spaces. Travelers now want a personal touch and do not want to see the world as a tourist; they want to experience the place and live like locals.
Thanks to its digital marketing campaigns, Airbnb has attracted millions of hosts and travels from around the globe. This is why it has corporate headquarters and offices spread across 19 countries in more than 27 locations.
Online Marketing Strategies of Airbnb
Airbnb depends on travelers looking for more than just a place to sleep at an affordable rate and the hosts that offer them such a place. Thus, the marketing strategy adopted by Airbnb aims to influence and encourage maximum people around the globe to become hosts and travelers. Keeping this approach in mind, Brian Chesky and his team implemented a clever online marketing strategy.
- Craigslist Platform Integration
Although the original idea was to avoid general online listing platforms like Craigslist, it eventually became Airbnb’s most famous growth hack. This is because Craigslist had one thing that Airbnb did not – a huge user base. The founders realized that people looked for listings on Craigslist to look for lodging options other than hotels. Hence, to attract their target market, Airbnb worked on craigslist integration. The process was far from simple, but it proved very successful for the business. In this way, Airbnb listings got the much-needed traffic through Craigslist.
- Google Display Network Partnership
To attract more customers, Airbnb made their offers visually appealing by collaborating with Google. Google search ads helped Airbnb increase the listings from 10,000 to 80,000. The ads featured images of real apartments and rooms with complimentary breakfasts at affordable rates. This inbound marketing strategy worked wonders for the company to build valuable relationships with both the hosts and travelers.
Social Media Marketing
Brian Chesky understands the importance of social media today, so Airbnb has continued to grow its social media engagement. On Facebook, Airbnb has more than 16 million likes. The marketing team regularly updates its content through posts and photos of the unique listings attracting travelers to visit the place. Moreover, they regularly post relevant content and inspiring videos to encourage online engagement.
Coming to Twitter, the second-largest social media platform, Airbnb promotes its blog posts and attractive listings on Twitter to engage with potential customers. Brian Chesky himself has an official Twitter profile where he regularly shares news about Airbnb and retweets the posts.
Instagram has become a powerful marketing tool for any business, including Airbnb. The official profile of Airbnb has more than 4.7 million followers on Instagram, where guests can share their experiences using the hashtag #airbnb. They can also directly book a rental place through the feed.
Using smart engagement strategies and social media marketing, Airbnb constantly encourages followers to comment and share the images and videos on their feed – ultimately attracting new followers and users.
- Website Content and Blog Marketing
Content is king when it comes to online marketing. Airbnb is now an integrated online space for everything travel related. The website blog works as an informative repository for travelers sharing stories and experiences of travelers. These engaging articles and blogs are strategically crafted with the right keywords and phrases for SEO purposes and optimized with high-quality backlinks. Moreover, Airbnb also publishes a print magazine called “Pineapple” featuring travel stories and inspirations about shared spaces. It also offers more written content in the form of city guides, itineraries, and reviews.
- Image and Video Marketing
Video marketing has become an important element of content strategy. According to IronMonk, one of their clients in the travel niche saw a 120% increase in conversion rates through short-form video promotions (Source: Forbes).
Similarly, Airbnb also uses images and videos to grow their business. Airbnb has a network of more than 3,000 freelance photographers in six continents to take high-quality images of their listings. These good quality images increase the attractiveness of the space and reassure travelers that they are getting what they are paying for. Airbnb also regularly shares videos and hosts random video contests to increase their online visibility and awareness.
Email Marketing is the most lucrative digital marketing strategy with a 4400% ROI (Source: ClickZ).
Airbnb encourages its users to refer new members to the website or application via email invites. The referrals are rewarded with a $25 travel credit when a new member completes his first trip. A $75 credit is offered when they host for the first time. Using this smart email marketing strategy, Airbnb has converted new leads and paid out referrals only after new users took action – allowing the company to grow sustainably.
Another reason that makes Airbnb an exceptional email marketer is that their emails are aesthetically pleasing and personalized. Though the emails are up-selling, they are not very salesy – they help customers and offer exactly what they are looking for. Thus, the strong tailored messaging attracts the customers and grabs their attention.
Over the years, Airbnb has worked with multiple influencers where the influencers share a sponsored post in exchange for free stays at some of the best and most extravagant properties listed on Airbnb.
The influencer marketing strategies for Airbnb began in early 2015 when Mariah Carey stayed in a luxurious Malibu mansion. By leveraging big-name influencers and celebrities, Airbnb has effectively generated brand awareness among the mass audiences – mainly through Instagram (a platform with more than 1 billion active users).
Digital Marketing During Covid-19
Coronavirus has destroyed the travel industry while also impacting the business of the hospitality industry. Though Airbnb appeared unstoppable for a long time, it also faced a sudden downfall due to the impact of coronavirus on the global travel industry. However, it did not let this unprecedented and unexpected lag stop the business from flourishing.
As soon as international borders closed and the travel industry came at a still, Airbnb redesigned its products and created a new digital marketing campaign focusing on long-term stays, quarantine spaces, and special offers for medical professionals. Thus, online marketing was certainly focused on three important things: Online experiences, Monthly stays, and Frontline – a feature allowing hosts to offer housing to health care staff and responders.
Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO, Co-founder, and Community Head, said:
“Airbnb will emerge from the storm of the pandemic even stronger, regardless of how long the storm lasts.”
Now, as international travel is slowly resuming, Airbnb’s rentals are back in demand – thanks to its continuous digital marketing efforts.
Digital marketing is a dynamic landscape, and any online business today cannot survive without investing in a digital marketing campaign. Thus, businesses need to create a bespoke mix of strategies and techniques changing overtime to meet their unique goals and challenges. The marketing innovation in technology has contributed to Airbnb’s colossal success, and social media marketing has helped the brand get immense brand awareness. From digital storytelling to video contests, Airbnb’s digital marketing efforts have made the company into a billion-dollar business today.
Like any business, when Airbnb initially started, it did not do well and almost collapsed in 2009. By changing the online image of the business through high-quality images, Google ads, and Craigslist integration, Airbnb saw a drastic shift in its growth. Brian Chesky found several ways to not only build his business but to grow it exponentially. As a result, they have adopted a smart digital marketing strategy that is well-executed even today.