• Main
Opinion

The Airbnb debate rumbles on – the brand strategists hit back!

Posted by It's Nice That,

Two weeks ago we featured DesignStudio’s Airbnb logo. One week ago copywriter Rob Mitchell of We All Need Words wrote an Opinion piece calling for an end to convoluted brand stories. His article was cheered by some people and incensed others; Sam Peskin and Liam Hamill of VentureThree want to have their say and defend brand strategy. Again you can add your views using the comment thread below…

To say that the Airbnb rebrand has polarised opinion is to put it lightly. But in evaluating all of the contributions so far, perhaps the most curious thing is the apparent disconnect in critical response between the design and strategy disciplines. For a piece of work that is so clearly defined by a sense of ‘joined-up’ thinking, there have been very few responses that have considered the project as it was executed and intended – holistically.

It begs the question of what we really mean when we talk about a rebrand. Is it just a fancy way of justifying the redesign of a logo? Or is it something bigger?

In this column last week, Rob Mitchell of We All Need Words criticised the “puffed-up nonsense” that went into “justifying the logo” as an “over-cooked brand story masquerading as strategy”.

We sympathise with Rob in that we’re painfully familiar with agency processes that sound exactly like this. Strategy has gotten a bad reputation from valueless navel-gazing like “If your brand was an animal, what would it be?” Not to mention the constant agonising over “pyramids” and “playbooks” when what really matters is the power of the thinking that goes into them.

In a world where it is possible to analyse the 50 most successful businesses of the past century, and prove “a cause-and-effect relationship between financial performance and their ability to connect with fundamental human emotions, hopes, values, and greater purposes” (Jim Stengel, Grow), an approach to brand as logo and words, as Rob appears to champion, simply doesn’t cut the mustard. Such a definition massively underplays the value of brand as a force for business and the world.

We all pride ourselves on having sensitive bullshit detectors. And yes, there’s a lot of it around. But here’s the simple truth: businesses that stand for something bigger than their product, and seek to have a meaningful impact on the world, enjoy more success and more longevity than those that don’t.

They connect with consumers on a different level. They give their employees a clear and inspiring reason to get out of bed in the morning. They set the direction for how they want to develop and grow.

They do this through understanding that brand goes beyond a logo, an identity and even marketing. It defines your purpose and reason for being. It represents what you stand for and believe in. It drives culture and performance, product innovation, the customer experience and more. It gives people belief, pride and motivation. Businesses that embrace brand in this way do better. Simple.

“Here’s the simple truth: businesses that stand for something bigger than their product, and seek to have a meaningful impact on the world, enjoy more success and more longevity than those that don’t.”

Sam Peskin and Liam Hamill

IBM’s “smarter planet” brand idea had nothing to do with clever words and logos. It was all about the power of an idea to drive business change and action. Persil’s “dirt is good” whilst a clever and unexpected turn of language came from forensic strategic insight into the attitudes of parents towards play and cleanliness. Sky’s “believe in better” isn’t just a tagline, it’s a philosophy that drives the entire culture of the business.

John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods who is not a planner, strategist or brand manager puts the power of brand for business better than we ever could: “Every business has the potential for some other higher purpose besides just making money. Of course, it has to make money just like my body has to make red blood cells if I’m going to live. But the purpose of my life is not to produce red blood cells. My purpose is more transcendent than that. Similarly, business has that purpose for some type of larger contribution to society. So business people need to begin thinking in those terms… What is the value that it’s creating for other people? What is its contribution to the larger society?”

This is what the Airbnb brand aspires to; brand as purpose and idea, not product, logo and words. “Belong anywhere” isn’t about justifying a design solution, it’s about unifying the company’s efforts behind a meaningful and valuable strategic direction.

When all’s said and done, perhaps giving a logo a name like a character from the Jungle Book strays a little into the land of brand bollocks. But the overall thinking and ambition behind Airbnb’s rebrand is to be admired.

comments powered by Disqus
Nice

Posted by It's Nice That

The It’s Nice That byline is used on posts that relate to the site in general, specific announcements or pieces where there is no clear single author. Contact us using the email address below if you have questions, feedback or complaints.

Most Recent: Opinion View Archive

  1. Marcel-ingloriousfruits-itsnicethat-list

    After the Design Museum names its six category winners for the 2015 Designs of the Year, Rob Alderson argues that the victor in the graphics section is a very worthy winner. You can add your thoughts using the comment thread below.

  2. List

    Ben Tallon’s new book explores the difficult transition to going freelance which many in the creative world make, and by which many more are tempted. To mark the publication of Champagne and Wax Crayons Ben has written a piece about how he found taking that giant leap. You can add your thoughts below…

  3. Grayson-perrys-dream-hous-007-list

    A few years ago, you wouldn’t have expected Channel Four to show a documentary about a cross-dressing artist making a house in Essex on a Sunday evening. But that’s the magic of Grayson Perry: there’s no such thing as low and high culture, no such thing as people not being “into” art, no such thing as stereotypes.

  4. List_sarah_lucas_i_scream_daddio_its_nice_that_

    One of my favourite exhibitions of the last few years was Sarah Lucas’ Whitechapel show, described by The Guardian as “Breasts, bums, blokes and their bits.” Naturally, I was thrilled when Sarah was announced as the artist creating the British Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. Like the work of Jeremy Deller, the artist chosen in 2013, Sarah’s art can be messy and funny and fearless. It’s hard to make sense of, and big issues are frequently masked with a wry humour. Britain could be said to be the same; for all our perceived stuffiness, as a nation there’s a gloriously dishevelled side – a bold sense of “why the fuck not,” experimentation and our famed eccentricity which has made such a small place such a big deal when it comes to creativity.

  5. Oliviacharlesworth-itsnicethat-1

    At a time when debates surrounding art and design education and the way they prepare students for the creative industries are intensifying, Kingston University tutor Zelda Malan explains why it’s still so important that creative courses continue to teach ideas. You can add your thoughts using the comments thread below…

  6. Marianbantjes-designawards-itsnicethat-list

    It’s design award season (like the film world equivalent but fewer red carpets and more pictures of people staring at posters) and as ever the winners will be much discussed across the creative industries. But genuinely useful advice for those who enter has been thin on the ground, until now. Having relaunched her website, the brilliant Marian Bantjes has also started a new blog (huzzah!) and recently wrote a series of tips for those designers putting their work up for awards, based on her extensive experience as a judge. You can add comments below, or just soak up the wisdom…

  7. Newswall-itsnicethat-list

    Yesterday saw the launch of a brand new form of news presentation by Channel 4 in 4NewsWall – a Tumblr-hosted website dedicated to the day’s top news stories, listed chronologically, with each presented by a GIF. Thought up by 4Creative’s Jack Croft and Stacey Bird and developed by the creative team, it’s flashy, image-led and uncluttered – with each GIF offering a click-through button to a more detailed report – and looks set to be an interesting and exciting progression for news journalism.

  8. Graphicdesign_-opinion-itsnicethat-list

    A couple of months ago there was a lot of interest in this survey in which clients described the four worst types of creative agencies as they saw it. Now we have a chance to hear from the practitioners themselves, by way of Graphicdesign&’s in-depth industry study. Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright have partnered with social scientist Nikandre Kopcke to create a questionnaire which explores “practice, perceptions and prejudices alongside the usual questions about age, education, work and pay.”

  9. List

    It’s fast approaching the time of all-nighters (not the fun ones), tears, last-minute panics and all the other things that come with the end of learning and the impending beginning of the terrifying thing they call real life. But like the mum that tells you you’re always the best and most talented and most beautiful, or the best friend that bursts into your house and pops the kettle on/pours the gin, we’re here to remind you of some of the advice that might be able to help you.

  10. Stevedaniels-hero-list

    There is an awful lot of discussion around starting a new magazine and for many creatively inclined people it remains one of their foremost ambitions. Last week Makeshift founder Steve Daniels wrote an excellent blog about the things to consider when planning a new publication, and in doing so summed up many things we too feel are important. Steve’s now become an advisor to the title he founded, a move which maybe gives him a little extra distance to write “not a guide to the nuts and bolts of finding a printer and selling subscriptions but a contemplation of the major elements that will set you up for success.”

  11. Kingadz-autenticity-list

    In the branding and advertising world, authenticity seems to have become the Holy Grail. Seemingly melded to whatever people need it to convey, it’s become a buzzword whose significance has mushroomed while its meaning has all but vanished. With this in mind King Adz, aka Adam N. Stone – whose new book Unbrandable is out this summer – considers what authenticity really means in a contemporary creative context. You can add your thoughts using the comment thread below…

  12. Kinfolk_14.cover

    The latest issue of Gym Class magazine has an eye-catching cover; with bold block capitals on a black background spelling out: “Nobody cares about your oh-so-cool, Kickstarted, tactile, minimalist unoriginal magazine.” It’s intended as a “call to action,” Gym Class editor Steven Gregor told MagCulture, “make magazines, and make them exceptional.”

  13. Applewtach-list-int

    The Apple Watch was officially unveiled yesterday (as was a super-thin 13.1mm new MacBook) and as ever the internet is awash with run-downs and reactions slobbering over the new products. For Wolff Olins design director Jan Eumann though, the imminent arrival of the new timepiece got him thinking about logo design, and in particular how app buttons have rehabilitated the logo. You can add your thoughts using the comment thread below…