Global Marketing Done Right. Learn from Airbnb

Written by Artur Kornienko

If you have an idea, he will put that in words and spread it.

December 8, 2016

With valuation at around $25 billion, Airbnb is one of the biggest private companies (still start-ups?) in the world. With presence in 191 countries, it sure did some spectacular international marketing maneuvers. The question is, which exactly? This is what we are about to find out today.

They speak the language… most of them actually

Currently Airbnb is available in 26 languages. And the level of detail of every translation is definitely something to be admired of.  Heck, site even changes vacation to holiday depending on the UK or US English. Devil is in the details, folks. Additionally, Airbnb successfully combines country targeting with language targeting.

Source: airbnb
Source: airbnb

They also use hreflang tags.

Source: airbnb

But it’s not only that what impresses you, it’s also the speed and flexibility of the localization process. For example, Airbnb managed to launch Japanese version of their site in just one week. If we are talking numbers, it is 400,000 words of English content. Thanks to their translation management tool, they were able to prioritize words with the highest view count and ensure that the most visible web parts were properly translated. Additionally, whenever new word appeared on the website, system would automatically take a screenshot and send it to the translator so he can see word in the context.

Translators were also able to edit text within the website using contextual translation tool.

No matter how sophisticated your software is, it is still challenging to localize so much content in just a few days. However, Airbnb always took a pride in its community and their passion towards the service. This is why it did not take much time to find several local hosts who were willing to help with localization. After all, Airbnb’s business model is based around engaged community. Otherwise, how would you persuade people to sign up. In this case, Bay Area company managed to take this idea a bit further. Power to the people, right?

Content Marketing

If content is the king, then great brands should tell great stories. This is exactly what Airbnb managed to do. In the movement entitled #OneLessStranger they encouraged people to perform unexpected acts of hospitality for strangers. Buy a cup of coffee, offer a hug – any small gesture that can make someone else’s day. Perfect example to prove that their philosophy “offer more than just a way to find and list places to stay but provide is a unique kind of hospitality” isn’t just hot air.

What about international marketing? We already talked about how it is difficult to expand to Asian countries. Little knowledge of cultural specifics make them difficult for western companies to penetrate. So this is how Airbnb approached the issue. They created a series of How To videos that features young Asian woman showing how to use the most common features: creating wish lists, contacting the host etc. By simply localizing the voice-overs, videos could be tailored for the specific region. Quite simple and user-friendly way to help prospects to get the hang of the service.


When it comes to international marketing, it is undoubtedly good to be aware of specifics of local culture and traditions. However, knowledge of cultural code only gets you so far. After all, marketing is about business and business is rarely possible without strategic partnership. It becomes especially useful when you are expanding overseas and have little or no knowledge about how things are working there. Airbnb is certainly following this path. For example in November this year, company signed an agreement with Aruba Tourism Authority that will help to create framework for mutual collaboration. Back in 2014, Californian company partnered with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines which enabled KLM visitors to search for hosting on Airbnb through the KLM website along with flight booking.


The ability to get along with local regulators (or at least not to piss them off) is crucial for any business that operates using sharing-economy model. Paradoxically, although these companies provide social and financial benefits (f.e. affordable short-term housing) they are jeopardizing them at the same time (hotel industry is at threat). This concept is known as Creative destruction and it basically means that in order to create something new you need to disrupt traditional order of things. This was happening during industrial revolution and we see it happening now with sharing-economy. Although, Airbnb has been facing legislative issues both domestically and across borders (as well as in hometown), its been making some progress too. F.e. Airbnb is working closely with Japanese government to figure out framework for future partnership. On the contrary, Uber’s Asian quest is one hell of a ride (no pun intended). To the extent that company is losing $1bn a year in an aggressive attempt to gain market share.


We have talked a great deal about partnerships and cooperations. But what about some traditional marketing tecnniques? Are they even working in the international environment. Turns out yes, and pretty good. If implemented correctly, referrral program can be not only effective marketing move but can also serve as a company’s growth engine. Case in point: in about 15 month Dropbox went from 100k to 4M registered users. About 35% of daily sign ups were attributed to the referral program. Launched in 2011 Airbnb programs offered referrers 25$ travel credit and $75 credit for hosting for the 1st time. It helped to propel Airbnb to the current state of more than 2 million listings. For example in South Korea referral program became quite popular channel for customer acquisition.

Here is what Quora readers have to say about the matter

  • Uber competes with cheap offers of transportation (subway bus), when Airbnb is competing with expensive ones (hotels). Market is therefore different. Airbnb is  cashing more expensive amounts
  • Taxi drivers are also more fierce than hotels because taxi drivers are more personal about business. They are big stake holders having paid a licence, when hotels staff are not committed since they do not feel to be stake holders (If they are fired they may find a job in another hospitality business, like restaurants)
  • Also marketing campaigns are quite famous for Airbnb  and it has been much more in communication, digital and even doing an open meeting . Uber has not done these

Expanding your brand overseas is no easy task for sure. In these matters, it is always good to work with people who know how to approach international market. Here at GFluence we help various businesses with executing their international SEO strategy to its fullest potential. Check full spectrum of services that we can provide for you.

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