Airbnb’s CMO Wants to Redefine Experiential Marketing With the Company’s New Offering

And how that will play out with agencies

Thursday, at its Airbnb Open event in Los Angeles, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky revealed that the company is fundamentally changing. In adding experiences and much more to the platform, it will also have to revamp how it functions as a marketer. Adweek sat down with Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall to learn how the company will do that, what it is trying to accomplish and how it plans to redefine experiential marketing. 

Adweek: How are you going to market this expanded offering?

Jonathan Mildenhall: A couple of things. Airbnb did democratize travel because we created greater access for people all over the world to travel the world. But it's still not a fully democratic business because in order to participate as a host you have to have a home. But now as we're moving into experiences, you no longer need a home. You've just got to have an interest in people and a passion that other people find interesting. So now we can connect everybody. It's also experiential based so the marketing itself needs to be very democratic, and it also needs to move into more of an experiential mindset than a traditional mindset. 

So for the first time, and I do believe this is a world first, all of the marketing content is going to come out of the product content and all of the product content will have to serve as marketing. By that, I mean that every host has a 30-second trailer, every host has a poster. All of my print work is just going to be the hosts' posters. All of my digital, video, TV, cinema work is just going to be the 30-second trailers.

But I'm going to stitch the 30-second trailers together so I can do 90-seconds, so I can do a two-minute cinema ads and things like that. I'll never start afresh, so as the business scales and the product creates this great content—which is created in-house by my team—then I have the media people who are looking at all the content and going, 'Actually in this market this particular piece of content would work well,' and we'll push it out.

The only difference will be the invitational end cards. All of the paid advertising will have this end card, which is the kaleidoscope of posters that says 'Welcome to the World of Trips.' You'll be able to click on that, and it'll take you directly to that trailer that you've just seen on your mobile phone in your social feed. It's an infinitely loop of product content becomes marketing content, gets you back to the product, etc. 

What's the relationship with your agencies going to be like if your in-house team is creating all of the content? 

We have three agencies that are [our agencies] of record. We have a design agency, which is an agency called Koto, and they're responsible for the overall look and feel of the Airbnb Trips identity. We then have a product marketing agency called Bokeh, and they're responsible for wherever you see the user interface. Bokeh is doing all of the functional videos that help everybody understand what this thing is and how it works.

Then you have [TBWA\Chiat\Day] and Chiat's relationship with me is really the agency that helps figure out the overall strategic approach to marketing this thing, figuring out exactly what the communications idea is and they'll figure out the bigger stories that rely on the product content that we make in-house. Chiat will help me really work out how to stitch it all together so that we can do anthems, and we can surprise people with cinema work that showcases the trailers but has a bigger narrative at the core. Strategic positioning and anthemic storytelling, that's still Chiat's wheelhouse.