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Brand Management — autocratic or democratic?

How would brands be managed better? Would it be a strong control from the centre or a democratic guideline? There are pros and cons for both ways.

Given the evolving roles of brands, ‘to encourage people to adopt it and adapt it’ is the way moving forward, as brands are becoming a platform for people more.


Take Airbnb, a platform brand, which will go public in December 2020 with a possible value as high as nearly $35 billion*. ‘Belonging anywhere’ is their big idea, and the ‘community’ in 220+ countries is their product.

One of the most distinctive aspects in their brand management is that it is not practical nor true to their value propositions for Airbnb to control everything, especially for 2.9 million hosts, who are the biggest differentiator from traditional hotel services.

How does Airbnb encourage the hosts to adopt it and adapt? They make hosts resonate with the Airbnb values to create coherent brand experiences wherever travellers go; if hosts live with the value, they are likely to treat their guests like their friends rather than someone paying for their mortgage. And that is what Airbnb wants to offer — they want Airbnb customers to feel a sense of belonging through new friends.

From my experiences as an Airbnb user, I am often welcomed with a homemade local guidebook by hosts in the living room of the accommodation. It is lovely to know where I can buy a lovely coffee to start a day in a strange place or grab a cocktail with the view. This small gesture elevates the whole Airbnb experience for me. I appreciate the precious information that I cannot find on the internet and this is the moment of small 'like'. The pile of small 'like' turns into big 'likes' and translates into brand resonation and brand value in the customers' mind accordingly. You would presumably imagine that guidelines from Airbnb would not include such a trivial courtesy to tell where to get a coffee — even if they would have created it.

In addition, you may also realise how powerful the shared value is, as it can reach to different stakeholders - from travellers to Airbnb employees - to ensure the alignment of what Airbnb stands for: Airbnb employees developed tools to support creating brand experiences for hosts. Examples include a YouTube channel and a private feedback system between hosts, where travellers can contribute to deepening the bond of community in an authentic and organic way, not a controlled way. Airbnb, the brand owner stays behind the scene to help run the brand in a democratic way.

Memories from trips

This reminds me of another successful brand creating deep customer experiences — Ritz Carlton. The credo is, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” which exemplifies the autonomy and natural talent of each staff to take service to the next level by addressing unexpressed wishes. The credo acts like a north star for hotel staff who embody the brand thus it supports creating a brand experience. Although Ritz Carlton and Airbnb target different customers, the ingredients for success to manage a brand seem to be shared.

A brand can become like your kid, who you have invested so much time and money and developed many attachments; however, at some point, they start building their own world. They need gentle guidance by showing what is important to your life. So as to brand — brand would not get too wild to lose its success and brand value if there is a north star telling you what it stands for at least.

* It reached a market cap of $86.5 billion


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