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On 16 June 2014, Airbnb announced new branding that includes a new logo as well as a redesigned website and upgraded mobile apps. The moves were a shift from focusing on the types of lodging available on the website (typically unique structures such as treehouses and castles) to a focus on the people within the Airbnb community. The rebranding aims to position Airbnb as a lifestyle brand to enable the company to broaden its product portfolio beyond lodging services. Given the harsh reaction to the logo, though, it remains to be seen if the new branding will be enough support the company’s new direction.
The company’s founders and first Airbnb guest revealed the new branding in an online presentation that featured many stories about Airbnb’s community, emphasising the company’s new core tenant of “belonging.” “Belonging is based upon four key themes of people, places, love and Airbnb, which influenced the new symbol as part of the new company logo. The new symbol is called “Bélo” and is simple so that anyone can recreate it. It is also abstract enough to allow Airbnb to use it as it moves into offering other products and services. CEO Brian Chesky envisions that the symbol may become a “universal symbol of sharing” and be displayed by many different businesses, such as restaurants.
The company launched a tool called Create that people can use to personalise the logo. People can put their personalised logos on merchandise, such as mugs, stamps and stickers, and purchase it through Airbnb’s partnership with Zazzle, an online company that enables customisation of products. However, critics point out that the new logo resembles risque parts of the human anatomy and the logo is also similar to one for the company, Automation Anywhere, but both companies reached an agreement whereby Automation Anywhere will use a new logo.
With the new branding, Airbnb updated its online presence, www.airbnb.com, to reflect the new brand and logo. The website’s main architecture remained the same after a significant update in 2013, so the changes were mostly aesthetic, focused on a new typography and a heavier emphasis on visuals.
The new homepage has dynamic, moving photos that demonstrate the experience of staying in a home, rather than the fun, quirky structures previously spotlighted. Scrolling down the page shows a personalised discovery section that displays cities and hosts that are recommended based on the user’s location. For example, a user in San Francisco would see local getaways such as Lake Tahoe and Portland. This is followed by a section for Airbnb news and a section for postings from the Airbnb community.
The company updated its search function, including context into the searches. Location and price are displayed prominently as they are the main metrics for a decision. The listings are more visual with a large photo at the top of each listing with a new image viewer and the host’s photo is featured within the listing results and in the listing itself. The calendar shows real-time availability with the option to book instantly and stays with the user as they scroll through the listing. The company also broke out more detail in the amenities section to cut down on questions asked by guests of the hosts. At the bottom of some of the listings is a map-based neighbourhood guide.
Like the website, the mobile applications did not experience significant changes – the functions of booking, listing management and other features are the same. According to the company’s update release, the new applications have “richer colours and more vibrant photography inspired by Airbnb experiences all around the world”.
A corporate rebrand is always a risky endeavour and Airbnb has certainly demonstrated this. The controversial new logo with a heavy-handed announcement of its meaning and its resemblance to another corporate logo certainly garnered a lot of attention, but probably not the type of attention the company sought. One question is whether the logo can become a universal symbol that the company can use for other products and services, especially offline, if it inspires smirks from the peanut gallery. It also remains to be seen if the more abstract logo with an emphasis on community rather than quirky lodging types will appeal to a more mainstream audience.
Even if people adapt to the logo, it will, however, take more than just an announcement to make the logo as ubiquitous as, say, a TripAdvisor sticker. The big reveal probably would have been more powerful if Airbnb had rolled out new products along with the new logo to cement its position as a lifestyle brand that caters to the traveller’s every whim. A new logo along with aesthetic online upgrades seems to be much ado about nothing at this point in time.