According to the UK general manager of Airbnb, James McClure, although a digital company can thrive in the online world, it would do well to remember that the customers at the heart of it are very real people.
That’s especially true for Airbnb, given that the business itself, while situated on the internet, is based around community – the excitement of planning a getaway, communication between guest and host, and the choice to stay at someone’s home to experience a personal environment unlike that of a hotel.
McClure pointed to the “One Less Stranger” campaign the company introduced at the beginning of January 2015 as a key example of what the company stands for. With a budget of $1m, Airbnb randomly issued 100,000 hosts around the world with $10 on New Year’s Day, providing a recommendation they do something with the money that week to create one less stranger in the world.
Joking that some bleary-eyed Airbnb hosts probably woke up and pocketed the tenner, he recalled how people were treating fellow coffee shop customers to a cuppa, while one standout moment resulted in a stranger in Israel being welcomed to a dinner party being held by a holidaymaker.
It’s a clever proposition from a marketing point of view because it gets people talking, but the true benefit of such a crowd-sourced campaign, according to McClure, is: “You can get ideas a creative agency may not come up with.”
He added that experiences ahead of features, the power of community and culture and core values are important as an online business scales, particularly to overseas territories.
And on the theme of culture, with Airbnb having 2,500 staff globally, McClure said it’s important to channel the local, internal culture. “With the culture of London versus San Fran, you’d recognise it’s similar, but we probably have more cynical jokes some comments I’d get fired for in SF. When you have a store and the chance to make a culture what you want, you can create a local representation of who you are as people.”
Meanwhile, Tony Rivenell has been in the digital market for 20 years and can currently be found controlling the online realm at Halfords chief digital officer, having previously held roles at Boots, Waitrose and Ocado.
Reflecting on the early years of mobile, he reminisced a job where he was given an iPhone 3G and told by his boss to add the entire shop to it, achieved via the medium of apps, which have today become commonplace.
When factoring in an ecommerce component into the business, the important thing is to embrace a company’s value.
“Startups and disrupters create as they go along,” Rivenell said. “But being privileged as a national treasure, sometimes we forget the essence of a brand in the rush to fulfil needs of shareholders. Digital and omnichannnel is about recognising these things and amplifying them.”
From his point of view, digital should be used to relieve pressure of staff – not to replace them or takeover. He was keen to add the introduction of tech throughout a business doesn’t happen overnight either.
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