November 11, 2022 |

10 minutes

How Public Relations helped Airbnb recover from the Covid crisis

Airbnb is considered a silicon valley success story. Known as an accommodation superstar, its public relations and marketing strategy have helped it become a household name. Its modest early beginning was followed by rapid industry-changing success. The organization survived COVID and, unbelievably, came out the other end stronger. Here are the secrets to Airbnb's public relations strategy and success.

How do Airbnb PR strategies work?

In a very crowded market, what it offers is not unique, but where it does stand out a mile, however, is in its PR and messaging. We take a closer look at this here.

An “American dream” story

Airbnb's success story is like something out of the get-rich-quick books. Their idea disrupted an entire industry and turned it on it’s head. Broke and struggling to pay their rent, roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the idea of renting their apartment to people visiting San Francisco for a conference. They even created a website, airbedandbreakfast.com, where a traveler would get somewhere to sleep for $80 a night. This proved a success, and after shortening their name to ‘Airbnb,’ their journey began.

From mattress on the floor to billion-dollar travel business is quite a tale. A great backstory goes a long way to creating authenticity and capturing the audience's attention. They used their story to market themselves as alternatives to mainstream travel and hotel chains. The company is now worth over 60 billion dollars, more than Wyndham and Hilton combined. Between 2015 - 2016, revenue grew by 80%, and in 2021, Airbnb had a record 90 million arrivals, and 100 million nights and experiences booked.

Community and user-generated content

There's a general rule in marketing, the best brands don't tell their own stories, their customers do it for them, and the age of social media has helped make this easier.

With a focus on authenticity and community, Airbnb differentiated itself early from other accommodation companies. They don't just book stays; they connect people. Regularly they use blogs and social media platforms to share stories of their guests and hosts who, in their words, make up this community. Guests are encouraged to use the hashtag #Airbnb on Instagram. User-generated content saves them from creating content themselves and is more effective as it comes from third parties. It is a vital part of the Airbnb digital marketing strategy.

This storytelling helps build a global brand but with a community feel. It improves customer engagement and is more memorable to people.

The importance of brand values

There is no limit to how a brand can develop its story. How the story is converted into brand values and how this is explored can be used to touch lives beyond its customers. Airbnb makes a point of reinforcing its brand values of acceptance and belonging whenever possible.

In 2017, Airbnb supported marriage equality in Australia through its "Until We All Belong" campaign. Here, and in other campaigns, the brand emphasized its values and commitment to diversity, helping to position it as a favorite accommodation choice within the LGBT community. A win win for brand awareness and revenue.

Influencer marketing and publicity generation

Airbnb is the master at grabbing the media’s attention with its original and unusual PR tactics. As a publicity stunt, Airbnb invited journalists, bloggers, and social media influencers to witness a floating house in the Thames river in London. This generated over 200 million social media content views, which were live-streamed during the event. The French government listed a night in the Paris Catacombs to gain attention as a tourist destination.

The rise of influencer engagement has hugely benefitted Airbnb. In 2015 Mariah Carey posted a video of herself at a listing on the beach. She is one of many celebrities the business has leveraged. Instagram is usually the platform where celebrities post pictures of their Airbnb stays. As a result, the website traffic and leads are increased as new audiences are reached.

Strong content marketing

Airbnb uses content marketing to highlight experiences. The content contains videos showcasing customer experiences. Airbnb doesn’t own hotel rooms or apartments, so they must focus on the experience. Airbnb uses well-created photography to attract likes on social media.

Social media

Visual marketing is used to attract people. On Instagram, user-generated photos are posted from its hosts and guests. Its YouTube channel is home to exciting and original content, including a video diary of one family's visit to a potato farm in Idaho entitled "Mash potato time." The company uses Twitter and Facebook to showcase blog content on the Airbnb website, including unique places to stay and hosts' advice on attracting guests. All are designed to showcase the community spirit they are famous for.

Giving back to communities

To fend off criticism about potential damage created in the housing market, they’ve created several economic impact studies on cities using surveys, booking data and the assessments of local economists and published the results. In it, guests and hosts can learn “about the Airbnb community’s positive impact on cities around the world.” During the pandemic, they also launched a program called Frontline Stays to provide safe housing for medical workers.

Airbnb and COVID - a guide in crisis management

The problem

Covid rocked the world, none more so than in the travel industry. Airbnb was hit particularly hard, and many thought they wouldn't make it out the other side. But they did, and what's more, they came out thriving. Here's how they handled the pandemic's financial losses and the negative human impact that accompanied it.

The response

They got back to their core business - hosting. A sensible move in a crisis. They simplified the company and halted their planned expansions in other areas, such as such as transportation and Airbnb Studios, and scaled its investments in luxury properties. To support the core of their host community, they scaled back investments that did not directly contribute to it. This proved to be a winning decision. People were looking for local accommodation as the pandemic spread, and Airbnb was able to capitalize on this with relevant campaigns.

The business turnaround was attributed mainly to this refocus on what Airbnb is known for and, therefore, their highest profit margin area. Lesson: Concentrate on what you can deliver well and remove any risky ventures.

Responding and reacting

The layoff letter of CEO Brian Cheskey was published on the website and gained over a million views. While layoffs and redundancies were unavoidable, how it was handled was particularly noteworthy. He carefully explained why this needed to happen. He shared as much as possible to give the whole picture in what was seen as an important display of transparency. Included was an explanation of what will happen after the announcement and how employees will receive their notices.

They also went to the trouble of making the CVs of laid-off employees public via a platform they created, especially. Chesky outlined the plan for American employees and that more information will come after town-hall-style meetings in other countries. He was praised for being compassionate and encouraging. At a time when companies need strong leadership, Chesky provided it.

Shift to PR

They reduced marketing costs heavily. Chesky switched from performance marketing (spending money to make money) to brand marketing (spending money to raise brand awareness). PR is now widely seen as their most effective channel. Brian Chesky said last year Airbnb views their marketing as a way to educate customers, not “buy customers.” He said, “PR is actually probably the most important channel to build the brand of Airbnb.” He further said, “We are never going to go back to spending the same amount of money on marketing as a percentage of revenue as we did in 2019.”

The Airbnb marketing strategy implemented for its recovery was heavily PR-focused, involving a lot of earned media, minimization of their traditional marketing, and effective crisis management and communication.

Results

It's handling of redundancies went a long way in some people's minds to show them as a company that cares about its workforce. When businesses face crises of this nature, how they handle them determines whether they will succeed or fail.

It seems the shift to public relations has paid off. As a result of increased revenue and marketing efficiency, Airbnb reported its "strongest ever" fourth-quarter results. During the three months to 31 December, the company earned $55 million in net profit, compared with a loss of $3.9 billion in 2020. It generated $1.5 billion in revenue for the quarter, 38% more than in 2019.

The marketing strategy of Airbnb

In this section, we'll look at Airbnb's marketing mix and the strategies that helped them rhea iconic brand status. For Airbnb to achieve its business goals and resonate with people, it uses the 4Ps of the marketing mix. These are product, price, place and promotion.

Product

They offer people easy and affordable holiday or business rentals for customers or a manageable way for "hosts" to let out their room or property. Airbnb's only interaction with customers is when they book their stay. The customer journey is designed to be seamless. Home-sharing gives the customer a unique travel experience. Infinitely better than staying in a chain hotel. Hosts are very important to the business model, and as such, a high-quality app and strong online presence are used to allow for easy bookings on a property. They encourage hosts with financial incentives, labels, and 'status' to reward and motivate people to be dedicated hosts.

They also connect people to different travel experiences with business partners to offer an all-around experience.

Price

Right from the start, their pricing strategy was simple - to price below that of their competitors to gain market share and stand out. It worked! Even today, they are known for providing lower costing hospitality options than their competitors. Even though they now use a more value-based pricing strategy that relies on perceived and comparative value compared to other places nearby.

When it comes to price and the hospitality element, they are heads and shoulders above the hotel companies.

Place

With over 6 million listings worldwide, finding accommodation to match your needs is not challenging. And this is the point. One of their advantages over other lodging companies is the breadth of locations they offer worldwide. Travelers can pick the areas they want at these places too. Airbnb has gone to great lengths to expand its property 'portfolio' but hasn't sacrificed the quality of its offerings. It also shares these unique travel experiences of people on its site and media channels.

Promotion

There are many stakeholders involved in Airbnb's venture. Airbnnb promotion strategy means careful management and market segmentation are required. Airbnb tries to help hosts and regularly use content marketing to show them how to make their listings stand out, and run campaigns such as the "Made Possible by Hosts" campaign.

The company uses traditional marketing tactics and digital and social media advertising to reach a broader audience. Social media is used to generate a buzz about promotions. They also target customers at the local level through their use of city guides and unique travel experiences. User-generated content is also a large part of their social media presence. Through blogs and videos, they showcase the unique experiences that Airbnb customers have had. Instead of selling services, they sell this. User-generated content is great for building engagement and saves time and costs for the company, which can rely on UGC instead of creating this much on its own.

They also use a referral program to attract new hosts (this also means cheaper customer acquisition costs for them).

Conclusion

Here, Airbnb's PR and marketing techniques were explained, as well as how they crisis-managed Covid. We also touched on the Airbnb global marketing strategy. The phrase "Airbnb" is used when planning and describing travel. "Should we get an Airbnb" is a phrase people ask each other when they mean shall they rent an apartment. In effect, making Airbnb into a verb. It reached the level of being synonymous with accommodation by focusing on customer experience.

It has effectively encouraged and promoted user-generated content to promote experiences. They have used segmentation to reach different audiences effectively. This is for both hosts and customers. Their mantra has always been about experience and to "live like a local," creating travel experiences to frame the perceptions of the experiences. They have constantly applied this value proposition in their marketing. 

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