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Digital Brand Strategy Examples: Airbnb vs. VRBO

Digital Brand Strategy Examples: Airbnb vs. VRBO

2 Travel Brands Take Different Roads: Who Will Win?

Both Airbnb (Air Bed and Breakfast) and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) are digital platforms that facilitate online booking of short-term private vacation rentals. These two brand strategy examples show different approaches in the travel space.

In the last year, both of these companies were impacted by COVID, as states shut down and people were advised to not travel.  Both responded differently to the pandemic situation and, despite playing in the same space, have taken quite different brand strategy approaches.  Below is a side-by-side analysis and assessment of these two different brand strategy examples.

Brand Strategy Examples: Side-By-Side Analysis

LogoLogo redesigned in 2014, meant to stand for more than just travel. It’s a “symbol of belonging”Logo redesigned in 2019, meant to bring vacations to mind and inspire movement, discovery and adventure. Modern but timeless
BackgroundLaunched in 2008, went public in 2020. 7+ million listings in 220 countries#1 leader in Europe  Launched in 1995, acquired by Expedia in 20152+ million listings in 190 countries #1 leader in North America  
Estimated Marketing SpendDecreased marketing spend during COVID 2019: $1.14 billion marketing budget2020: Down to $482 million, halted marketing spend in March Shifted marketing spend to focus on brand marketing and reduction in performance marketingIncreased marketing spend during COVID. Undisclosed amount, estimates below 2019: $73 million in ad spend2020: $103 million in ad spend Continual spend on performance marketing
TargetMillennials – budget conscious travelers and young families Book a room or full houseHelping “Families and friends travel” No single-room bookings
PositioningDiscovering and Experiencing the Airbnb CommunityTravel Better Together  
Growth FocusDiversification: Expanded offerings beyond online vacation rentals to include experiences (in-person and online in response to COVID)Has invested in other programs like movie productionVRBO is one of the local vacation rental listing brands within Expedia’s brand portfolioFocus is on owning local vacation rental category and maintaining leadership in key markets

Brand Strategy Examples: Assessment

In recent months, both companies have rebounded, as consumers perceive private vacation rentals to be safer than hotels, offering longer stay options and social distancing. According to STR and AirDNA research, short-term rentals dipped 47% between January and April of 2020 but have since been on the rise, with average stay length increasing. 

What is interesting about Airbnb is that it has intentionally positioned itself to play beyond the short-term vacation rental space, focusing on experiences and investing heavily in the brand building of a community.  This broader frame of reference better positions Airbnb for long term growth, but it needs to be strategic in its new ventures. Otherwise, it can spread itself too thin. 

VRBO is staying true to its heritage, infusing its brand with new branding but operating within the confines of Expedia’s broader company portfolio. Its role is to focus on owning the vacation rental category and maintaining leadership in key markets, particularly North America.  Its increase in marketing spend during COVID was a smart move, betting on built-up demand and further aided by Airbnb going dark. 

Brand Strategy Examples: A Look at the Homepage

Digital Brand Strategy Examples: Airbnb vs. VRBO

The Airbnb website highlights exploration and curated experiences, including the option to not only book a place but also book experiences (in-person and online).

Digital Brand Strategy Examples: Airbnb vs. VRBO

VRBO’s website is more focused on finding the perfect vacation rental and showcasing preferences.

Only time will tell which of these companies will win – what is clear is that both of these brands are investing heavily to maintain relevance as the hospitality landscape changes. Airbnb is doing a better job of elevating emotional and community connections with consumers, while VRBO is strategically choosing to stay more focused, with functional benefits being more prominent on its platform. 

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