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'Fearless' marketing drives Airbnb

News, 02 December 2015

ORLANDO, FL: Airbnb, the accommodation rental service, believes that a mixture of fearlessness and marketing "at the speed of light" offer it – and other start-ups – an advantage over many established brands.

Jonathan Mildenhall, Airbnb's chief marketing officer, discussed this subject at the Association of National Advertisers' (ANA) 2015 Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando, Florida.

"Marketing at the speed of light is the biggest difference between a start-up and a traditional multinational marketer," he said. (For more, including how the brand is activating this principle, read Warc's exclusive report: Airbnb's marketing advantage: fearlessness.)

"Experiment without fear. Fear and conservative thinking is the one thing that's holding back the growth of a lot of traditional organizations."

As a digital-first enterprise founded seven years ago, Airbnb is free from much of the legacy thinking and systems which often hold back larger, more entrenched players.

While Airbnb relies on many tried and tested branding fundamentals – including Storytelling and a clearly-defined mission – it has also employed more community-based thinking and leveraged tools like growth hacking.

Its success in this endeavour is evidenced by a dramatic growth rate. "The first weekend of August, there were one million people staying in Airbnbs on a single night," said Mildenhall.

Despite such impressive numbers, the organisation has considerable room for further expansion. And here, again, an ability to move at speed and with courage is a clear benefit.

"I only have 1% spontaneous awareness all over the world; aided awareness in a market like the US goes up to 18%. I come from Coca-Cola Co., where aided awareness in the United States is 98%," said its marketing chief.

"So the first thing I have do is: I just have to make people aware of the Airbnb brand. And the strategic platform that we're using is really the power of human hospitality to open up the world."

And "fearlessness" comes fully into play for Airbnb here. "We have nothing to lose. And that means that we use innovation to grow our marketplace each and every day," Mildenhall said.

"The thing that drives a lot of traditional companies is the fear of losing what you already have. That means you grow incrementally; you put artificial constraints on imagination, creativity and innovation – particularly around marketing."

Data sourced from Warc