Airbnb is not a brand. But I wish it was.

In the marketing world, there has been a lot of talk and praise for Airbnb’s shift from performance marketing to brand marketing. The company is booming, hitting highs in hosts, bookings, cash – all the things the business or Airbnb should care about. But how much of the recent success is because of this shift from performance to brand? Not much, in my opinion.

The reality is that Airbnb is not a brand; it is simply a marketplace for everything and everyone. Their most recent campaigns boast about empowering the customer (guests) to search for homes/stays however they want. Do you want a treehouse? We have that! Do you want a cottage? We have that! Do you want an Airstream? We have that! We have something for everyone. And there is one of my points – you cannot be a brand if you are trying to be something to everyone. You need to differentiate.

The best brands in the world differentiate across core customer touchpoints that Airbnb has strategically decided not to.

  • Price… hosts set the price, not Airbnb.
  • Location… You can list an Airbnb location pretty much anywhere.
  • Experience… hosts build the experience; Airbnb can only hint at ways to improve or elevate.
  • Values… I love Airbnb’s values, but what percentage of their hosts could recite them if prompted?

I so wish Airbnb would become a brand. I love Airbnb. I’ve followed their journey from day one (who remembers the cereal days?) and find Brian Chesky to be one of the most inspiring, hard-working, and earnest founders who has come out of Silicon Valley. Brian is an industrial designer. He hired Jony Ive from Apple. I know he has it in him. He’s just been sidetracked by making one of the most successful companies (sans brand) of the past 20 years.