Airbnb recently rebranded, redesigned their website, and adopted a new homepage headline and positioning statement, too.

Having been a very active Airbnb host over the past year myself, I think the new copy offers insights on how an evolving brand can connect with its audience—even with very short written messages.

Old copy

Airbnb's old homepage headline and positioning statement.
Find a place to stay.
Rent from people in over 34,000 cities and 192 countries.

 

New copy

Airbnb's old homepage headline and positioning statement.
Welcome Home
Rent unique places to stay from local hosts in 190 countries.

 

The headlines: practical v.s. emotional

The old headline succinctly nails Airbnb’s offering, no doubt. It educates the uninformed user, which would have been important as the service was starting out. But it’s kind of … transactional. Impersonal. It has all the warmth of a bank offering to “Store your money securely”.

The new headline is less effective at neatly summarizing what Airbnb will do for you. But what it loses in information it more than gains in its emotional hook: “Welcome home. What could be more warm, personal, and, well, welcoming than that?

But the strategy goes deeper than that, for two reasons:

  1. The ‘home’ element—staying in peoples own, private homes—is a key differentiator for Airbnb. It’s what sets the service apart from the traditional hotel experience. And, as an Airbnb host myself, I can say that its likely the #1 reason guests choose Airbnb accommodation over hotel accommodation. They want the personal experience that no hotel can duplicate.
  2. Emotions drive customer experience. We’re emotional creatures. Emotions play a big part in our purchase decisions—whether or not we want them to. In this case, targeting user emotions right up front is probably likely to get them to spend time exploring the listings than the earlier, more rational-minded headline. This is important, because they more time they spend doing that the more likely they’ll find a listing they like and want to book.

Welcoming back returning users

“Find a place to stay” only has something of value to say to first-time users. Anyone returning to the site would already know what Airbnb is offering. But “welcome home” will continue to resonate as a user comes back, time and again, and begins to see themselves as part of the Airbnb “community”.

Defining their users as a community is a key part of the company’s evolving brand strategy. I’ve experienced this first-hand in host-related events, and I’ve witnessed how it resonates.

The positioning: Legitimacy v.s. differentiation

That original positioning statement—

“Rent from people in over 34,000 cities and 192 countries.”

—Is  a case for acceptance. And absolutely, it does that, and no doubt was absolutely important as the service was growing up over the past few years.

But the new line—

“Rent unique places to stay from local hosts in 190 countries.”

—Does away with the emphasis on numbers and seals the headline promise of a great, personalized accommodation experience with two key descriptors:

  • Unique places, and
  • Local hosts.

The positioning has gone from “we’re legit, see?” to “you’ll have a really special travel experience”. That sounds like a way more valuable deal to me.

The takeaway

What can we can this change tell us about how to write effective brand messaging, no matter how short?

Know your audience

Airbnb’s knows its audience has evolved. They’ve gone from uninformed newbies to loyal ‘community’. They want a unique, non-hotel experience. Knowing this, Airbnb has been able to craft a message for maximum resonance.

Know what offer them—what you alone offer them

Unique and local. Home. These things are exactly what the average hotel experience isn’t—the hotels that are Airbnb’s competition. They know this, and they’ve chosen these words explicitly for that reason.

Know how you want them to feel

Airbnb wants to evoke the warmth and comfort of home. That’s what its (deceptively simple) headline is designed to do. More than any numbers or facts, that’s the one thing a user is going to remember (without looking, can you remember the number of cities and countries Airbnb operates in?).

So yes, even with a two word headline, the effectiveness of your brand messaging boils down to an experience.

 

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