The Complex and Critical Role of Brands in Social Crises
How Airbnb is Leveraging Purpose to Drive Long Term Survival and Success
September 16, 2016
Success, as I’m sure you all know, is often fleeting. And nowhere is that more evident than in the tech-world where brands and fortunes rise and fall in vertiginous sweeps. Silicon Valley, HBO’s popular tech satire, even features a clever opening title sequence where well-known valley brand logos rapidly expand and contract. Fresh off their own unprecedented success, the founders of Airbnb happened to take a look back at the ten most popular tech brands of the 90s and discovered some sobering stories. Of the ten, nine of them were either extinct or near it. What gave Airbnb’s founders even more cause for concern was that all of the brands had seemingly done everything “right.” With an eye for not only maintaining their brand and its platform, but also growing it, Airbnb utilized the same sense of pragmatic inspiration and innovation that helped launch them to success in the first place.
The result is Samara, a new division and innovation lab of the online home-sharing giant that welcomes in a bold new sense of socially-conscious purpose for a brand that has already built a great deal of its identity around it. Launching right now in Tokyo, Samara’s first effort revolves around helping revitalize a small Japanese town, Yoshino, that has seen its fortunes decline as young people gravitate to urban living. Left with an older, graying population, residents were concerned about their town’s long-term economic viability, and after a local woman found success in putting her own home up for rent on Airbnb, a small cottage industry began to bloom as residents found their own sense of purpose and employment as tour guides, hosts and translators. Inspired by the story, Airbnb partnered with a Japanese architect to create a community center for the town that acts as a launching point and meeting place for locals and tourists. In addition to its large kitchen, dining area and meeting places, the center also features rooms for rent and is part of Airbnb’s larger ambition of communal housing and urban planning. If all goes well in Yoshino, the plan is to scale Samara in small towns around the globe.
What makes Samara more than just another brand extension is that rather than merely offering another product or service, Airbnb is expanding on its already well-defined sense of purpose, Belong Anywhere, to create a wealth of new ideas that still connect back to the original. Just as Airbnb isn’t just helping you find a place to stay, but rather, providing the opportunity to belong someplace new and exciting, with Samara, they’re not just building their own lodging space, but rather, they’re creating human connections, fostering communities, helping to revitalize a small town and giving people a sense of pride in where they live and a chance to earn money by sharing their knowledge. In simpler terms, Airbnb is a facilitator of meaningful real-world connection and community between locals and tourists. Are there any hotels out there saying that, or making that their well-defined sense of purpose?
Airbnb’s commitment to a larger social purpose, combined with improving and growing their actual service, means they’re able to claim an emotional high ground with today’s increasingly savvy consumers and are therefore less vulnerable to rivals that want to compete on specifics such as price or other features. It’s not only an example of purpose done well, but a wonderful example that doing good can mean good business.
Image via Flickr courtesy of user Esteban Chiner at https://flic.kr/p/seDt8W