Airbnb: It’s Good to Be a Revolution

Airbnb is having a moment. Not only has it put together impressive marketing campaigns with the likes of Audi and Sweden, the leader of the sharing economy revolution is beating the giant travel sites online.

Airbnb is having a moment. Not only has it put together impressive marketing campaigns with the likes of Audi and Sweden (yes, the country), the leader of the travel sharing economy is beating the giant travel sites online.

They say it’s good to be king, but it may be better to be a revolution.

As reported by eMarketer, SimilarWeb’s “US Travel Trends and Insights 2017” report found that Airbnb has passed Booking.com, Hotels.com, Marriott International and more in Q1 Web traffic.

Airbnb beats the top hotel sites in online traffic, Q1 2017.

Now, SimilarWeb attributes this success (in a separate case study) to Airbnb using its platform. eMarketer suggests that it’s due to the rising spending power of Millennials (who they say are more comfortable “rolling the dice” on the kind of experience it offers).

I think those are both factors, but they miss the big picture: Airbnb isn’t another hotel website or travel aggregator. It’s a revolution, which lets it change the paradigm and break out compared to the other sites.

That’s a real competitive advantage, and it’s the heart of all Airbnb’s marketing and brand.

eMarketer comes close to identifying that when they finger Millennials, but it’s not that millennials are comfortable with a more crapshoot experience. In fact, much like Uber, Aribnb has built its brand by steadily using reviews to eliminate the crapshoot from its experience.

But Airbnb still does offer a revolutionary, kinda scary, experience. And all revolutions are built on young people converting to those new ways, becoming believers, and then evangelists who are willing to fight for the new way.

And if you think that sounds a bit like the customer journey, you’re right! And that’s really why Airbnb is starting to clobber the competition online. By being a revolution, a movement, it’s become the most exciting travel option, the coolest travel option, and the travel option with the most loyalty behind it.

And nowhere is that better demonstrated than in the Audi and Sweden ads i mentioned at the beginning. Airbnb has other brands paying to be associated with it.

Hotels.com has Captain Obvious.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVlBQtfbiYU

Even Captain Obvious can see Airbnb’s revolution is a massive marketing win.

Don’t Be ‘That’ Brand

Everyone’s annoyed — or at least millennials are, according to eMarketer, and they are taking action. Ad-blocker software use by millennials has grown over 34 percent since last year and will grow another 24 percent by 2017 — all because consumers are looking to control the annoying ads delivered to their devices and now can readily and easily do so.

Millennials are annoyed, according to eMarketer, and they are taking action. Ad-blocking software use by millennials has grown over 34 percent since last year and will grow another 24 percent by 2017 — all because consumers are looking to control the annoying ads delivered to their devices and now can easily do so. But this has implications for more than just those making ad-blocking software and millennials: As marketers, we must tread carefully.

Sprout Social recently unveiled their Q3 Social Index report that polled social users to determine what makes them follow a brand and what annoys them enough to sever their relationships with a brand. The poll identified five primary annoyance factors (numbers 1-5 below) that consumers encounter with brands in social channels. That seems like a good place to start if you’re trying to avoid being “that” brand — the one that constantly has to rebuild their lists and communities, elicits little brand engagement, receives no loyalty and maintains high acquisition costs.

To avoid this, you must know your audience, track your successes and avoid certain bad behaviors.

  1. Don’t over-promote. You do have other content, don’t you? Plan your communications and consider the volume and cadence that best support your audience. And don’t forget all the factors you can’t control, like the other brands bombarding your audience at the same time you want their attention.
  1. Don’t use slang and jargon that doesn’t fit your brand or audience. There is an appropriate place for slang and jargon — you’ll know if it resonates with your intended audience or not.
  1. Don’t be boring, forgettable or undifferentiated. Create and maintain a brand voice and personality. This extends into the content you produce and the relationships you foster with consumers online.
  1. Don’t use humor indiscriminately. Be very careful mixing your brand with satire or news events. Too many brands have been guilty by association and tarnished by misguided efforts.
  1. Don’t ignore consumers who reach out to you. Respond directly and personally as the consumer holds great power and reputations are on the line. A recent Twitter study reported by Techcrunch noted that:

“ … brands see the best results when they respond more quickly, and that businesses shouldn’t be scared off by negative tweets — 69 percent of people who tweeted negatively said they felt more positive after the business responded”

How else can you avoid annoying your customers and prospects?

  1. Don’t use predatory, creepy techniques to get your message in front of desired audiences. No one wants to feel stalked, and no one likes a stalker.
  1. Be polite. Don’t use disruptive ad types that force your audience to jump through hoops to get back to their intended activity. The brand message is not the reason that users are available to you. They came to check some scores or read an article or play a game or get directions.Don’t assume that more is better. Show some restraint in email, ads and other content. All the over-the-line brand attention cumulatively makes the consumer a target, and they feel that bull’s-eye on their backs.
  1. Don’t make new technology a goal. Shiny objects are about what you want and your marketing efforts should revolve around what your customers need.
  1. Don’t overreach in ways that can jeopardize your consumers’ privacy or security. The very least you owe them is a safe interaction with your brand.
  1. Don’t treat everyone and every interaction alike. Depth of relationship, prior responses, intent cues, device choice and other factors should all play into your communication style and content.

Consumer backlash against brand presence and promotion across digital touchpoints reveals our lack of patience with communications. We get annoyed too, and we panic: Is this an outgrowth of climbing consumer expectations?  How will brands keep up? There are real pressures on brand managers and marketers to continually raise the bar and get in front of desired consumers — sometimes at almost any cost. But that is a short-term solution that can cost you in the long-run.

Being a jerk of a brand turns consumers away and raises the price of keeping and acquiring customers. Instead, work on the value proposition you bring to customers and then display some restraint and selectivity in how you message and promote. Choosing not to be “that” brand might just make you the “it” brand in the long run.

Smartphone Conversions: The Uncrossable Chasm

Monday we ran my video talking about how TV ads don’t matter anymore, largely because of changing viewing habits. Tuesday morning, I came in and saw a chart from eMarketer showing that 96 percent of Americans go online while watching TV, 79 percent from smartphones. Hallelujah! All of those viewers can respond to your TV ads! … If it worked that way, I certainly wouldn’t be making videos about how TV ads don’t matter.

Monday, we ran my video talking about how TV ads don’t matter anymore, largely because of changing viewing habits. Tuesday morning, I came in and saw this chart from eMarketer, showing that 96 percent (!) of Americans go online while they’re watching TV, 79 percent from their smartphones.

91.6% of U.S. Internet users go online through one or more devices while watching TV.Hallelujah! All of those viewers are just a web address and a swipe from converting off of your TV ads!

If it worked that way, I think all the old media would be in a lot better shape. I certainly wouldn’t be making videos about how TV advertising doesn’t matter anymore.

Smartphones Don’t Play Well With Others

The thing is, I watch TV every night with my smartphone and/or laptop by my side. In fact, I’m at home watching TV as I write this.

There have been a few days I’ve used that time to go to the website of a catalog I got in the mail, especially if I have a laptop out. (That’s your best case scenario if you send me a catalog, by the way: I go to your website on a laptop, there’s a chance I buy something, and I might sign up for your newsletter.)

I can’t remember ever doing that for a TV ad.

The problem is huge with smartphones, which have the lowest e-commerce conversion rates of any device. And by lowest, I mean conversion rates a fraction of what you see on tablets or traditional computers. According the “Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly Report for Q4 2015,” e-commerce conversion rates on traditional computers in the U.S. are 4.66 percent and tablets are 3.89 percent, but smartphone visitors convert at only 1.43 percent.

While more and more people watching TV are also tapping around on their phones, getting them to interact with you and actually buy something is almost a lost cause.

No Sign of the Invisible Bridge

That’s been the story since smartphones were invented, and it comes down to both the interface, and what people are doing while they’re on smartphones.

Tapping a web address into a phone is really difficult (and swiping isn’t even an option). That discourages people from using their phones to go to your e-commerce site from a commercial or other ad. Inputting the address, credit card and the other information needed to complete a sale is even worse.

If you want a recipe for conversion rates that are a third of other channels, that’s it. And it’s a well-recognized issue. Over the years many technologies have tried, and are still trying, to bridge that gap.

On the interface side, several startups have tried introducing tech to make it easier, from optical techniques like QR Codes and image recognition, to audio recognition like Shazam.

Will Ad Spending Really Be ‘Sluggish’ in 2016?

I was surprised as anyone to see reports last month from GroupM that ad spending may only muster modest growth of 4.5 percent in 2016 — after 4.3 percent growth this year. I’m not an economist, but it’s hard to fathom that that’s all we can expect. But then again…

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

I was surprised as anyone to see reports last month from GroupM that ad spending may only muster modest growth of 4.5 percent in 2016 — after 4.3 percent growth this year. I’m not an economist, but it’s hard to fathom that that’s all we can expect. But then again…

Usually, years of Presidential Elections and Summer Olympics are boon years for advertising, certainly here in the U.S. Taken together with continued U.S. economic growth and China stabilization, if ad spending is only going to grow this slowly, one must ask what’s holding it back?

According to the report, television advertising in the U.S. is competitive — meaning there’s softness in the market. This is primarily because eyeballs are migrating to digital, video streaming and mobile devices, at the expense of television — eMarketer records more than 5 hours of a day spent on digital channels, and just four hours on TV. Globally, however, TV is resilient in strength.

GroupM also reported that 90 percent of ad spending growth is in digital – which now comprises 30 percent of global ad spend, compared to 19 percent in print media.

Perhaps, sluggish may be the new normal — as media shifts continue to flow in fits and starts. 2016, with all the traditional bolsters for U.S. ad spending in place, should really show if there is indeed a less bullish norm.

In two weeks, before the Direct Marketing Club of New York, The Winterberry Group will present its forecast for U.S. media spending – including general, direct marketing and, within direct, digital media spending. I’ll be there taking notes!