Branding A Unicorn For Super Brand Status: Airbnb

Do you even remember what Airbnb’s branding was a little over two years ago? I didn’t.

I remembered that there was some minor controversy about it. But, I certainly recognize and remember the Airbnb brand today.

As Agency Spotter set out to cover branding and branding agencies for two weeks, I realized that the Airbnb story is really unique and pretty rare. We’ve set out to help companies everywhere do better branding.

Here are 6 branding tips we’ve gleaned from the Super Brand that has become Airbnb

airbnb logo before and after branding

How does a company that is only about five years old rebrand itself so well that no one remembers their old brand?

Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, and Paul Stafford, Founding Partner of DesignStudio, give some really amazing insights to this question and the process they went through. In the video below, Chesky talks about redesigning the identity so that it lasts for “100 years” and about finding the right partner.

In their initial presentation to Airbnb, Stafford and the DesignStudio team built an actual listing from Airbnb into the office that they would present from. That kind of commitment to getting to know a brand and immersing yourself into the brand is very powerful.

Once they won the business, DesignStudio would kick off the real immersion. To make the design team part of Airbnb, they sent the team to work from the Airbnb offices for weeks. Then, four design team members traveled to 18 countries around the world to live as guests and understand what that meant in different cultures.

Branding tip #1: Find the right agency partner and process.

Chesky says to Stafford that half way through the process, “it was so clear that you understood, that you got the heart and soul of Airbnb.” But, he also gives a warning to all marketers, “I think there is always a huge risk when working with creative partners and external agencies.”


Branding tip #2: Empower your partner to immerse themselves in your brand and become part of the team.

The trick is to find a branding agency who will immerse themselves in your brand and to give them the tools (and funding) to make that happen. Many brands make a huge mistake and cut the immersion and discovery parts of branding agencies budgets and timelines. But, this is really where the magic starts to happen, both for the designers doing the branding and for everyone to become part of one team with a common language and understanding of what makes the brand unique.

branding process airbnb


Branding tip #3: Have your executive team involved from day one.

Chesky goes on to talk more about having the executive sponsor directly involved, “Think about some of the great marketing of our age. Apple’s a perfect example. It wasn’t a partnership between Lee Clow and Apple’s CMO. It was Steve Jobs and Lee together creating great work. I think that is a formula at the top, a creative partner and the CEO working together. If those two people can work together it’s magic.”

What do great brands have in common?

Branding tip #4: Brief your branding agencies thinking directly about what makes a great brand.

I asked Airbnb’s CMO and NY AdClub’s Marketer of the Year, Jonathan Mildenhall, about great branding and he immediately replied that:

All great brands have three things in common.
1. Instantly recognizable
2. Compelling cultural truth at the core
3. Consistent value proposition

Whether you look to what David Ogilvy said about brands or one of FastCompany’s Masters of Design, I think you would end up with a similar answer.

marketer of the year jonathan mildenhall airbnb

Mildenhall also talked more about the cultural truth and value proposition components, offering “As the human race yearns for greater meaning. Brands have a responsibility to deliver greater purpose.”

The fact that a company’s chief marketing officer get’s branding is a pretty big deal. If your CMO isn’t thinking of ways that the new branding can work across all your brand’s touch points and resonate emotionally at each one, who do you think will?

Branding tip #5: Make sure your CMO speaks the language and can take your brand across channels to the heights it deserves.

How dramatic can the impact of great branding be?

Chesky says, “I showed this brand to Jonathan Ive [the head of design at Apple] and he looks at me and says, ‘Now you can go anywhere.'”

Even Airbnb’s graphic design lead, Andrew Schapiro, has said that, “It started out as a design project, but I have seen it elevate the entire company.” He added, “Telling stories, for us, has always been a challenge … this shift lets us share the message of our community globally.”

Branding tip #6: What people say should correspond to ROI. Know how to measure it.

The stats speak for themselves. Airbnb is going everywhere. The community-driven super brand has become a great brand overnight for all types of people, all types of situations, anywhere in the world.

Total Guests: 60,000,000+

Cities: 34,000+

Castles: 1,400+

Countries: 191+

Listings: 2,000,000+

I have personally seen the impact and reach Airbnb has achieved near me. Haven’t you? From recent grads coming to stay in the city for an interview with Agency Spotter using Airbnb to stay in a renovated bus to my own parents (the one’s who have trouble with a laptop mouse) using Airbnb while traveling across France, Italy and beyond.

Even LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner has stayed with Airbnb along with more than 60 million others:


Over the past ten years, we have seen top design and creative leaders rise into the executive team of many major brands from P&G to Pepsi. However, the idea of a CEO being a partner at the table with their design lead is something else. Among multi-billion dollar brands, it is unique, just like Airbnb.

However, showing that kind of commitment, starting at the top, for something as important as your company’s brand, is perhaps one of the best signals one can send that your new branding is a mission critical part of our company’s future.

airbnb branding everywhere

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Brian Regienczuk
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