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Branding for Startups at the example of AirBnB and Uber

branding for startups airbnb and uber logo

Like a young teenager, a young company struggles as well in finding their own identity. Quite often the business model is still changing and adapting to real life market situations.

At the beginning it might be just the founders sitting together in a room sharing the same dreams, but when the awaited bliss of funding money comes, it is time to grow the team and build a company.

It is exactly this moment, when a lot of young entrepreneurs struggle to either maintain or actually build a company culture and common brand identity.

Although time is always short, especially in the founding days of a company, it is essential to set some time aside, to fully focus on what kind of company and brand one wants to build.

Unfortunately a lot of young entrepreneurs take branding too easily and worry about it too late. However history has shown that some of the most influential companies have built powerful worldwide recognized brands that allow them to generate a huge amount of their revenue, merely through their fan base.

Building a strong brand from the early days on, can help you tremendously in achieving your business goals. In this post I am analyzing AirBnB and Uber, two very successful companies with a massive brand awareness.

Let’s dive in.

 

Introducing our case study companies

In case you are not yet familiar with the two companies I am comparing, let’s have a closer look at them.

AirBnB
Founded in 2008, the company has been growing at an astonishing pace ever since. AirBnB has built a community of local hosts and travelers, allowing people across the entire world to rent and stay with locals in their private accommodations.

Today the company is one of the most recognized brands and has built a network spreading over 190 countries and more than 34,000 cities.

Uber
A multinational transportation network with one of the probably most controversial growth strategies in business. With very deep financial pockets (to date more than $10bn total funding) Uber allows everyone to transform their private car in a taxi and offer competitive pricing to traditional taxi services.

Both companies, Uber and AirBnB are revolutionary brands changing and actually building entirely new industry sectors. Doing this of course creates a lot of controversy (many city governments tried and still try to prohibit the service of both companies), which needs to be countered through a (very) strong brand and a huge fan base of supporters.
First let’s understand what branding is, why it is so important and how you can create the same brand power for your startup.

 

What is branding

First things first, to get a better understanding of what branding means, we look at the official definition:

“The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumer’s mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.” – businessdictionary.com

There are two key aspects about branding I would like to point out once more. Consistency and retention of loyal customers. Branding done well, focuses on building an image around your company in the long run, which will be loved by your target audience. This image will define everything your company does and stands for, and its consistency will deliver the trust required to purchase your product or service.

Your brand image influences how people will be talking about your brand and this reflects in all sorts of conversations and has a huge impact on any buying decision made. Let’s have a look at what we can find about how people perceive the AirBnB brand.

quora airbnb topic questions numbers

The screenshot above I took from Quora. As you can see on Quora alone more than 42,000 people are following the topic of AirBnB and more than 3,100 questions have been asked.

Further you can find AirBnB fan websites on the internet covering all sorts of stories around this topic.

airbnb fan website

Of course you should not leave up the general perception of your brand up to good luck and people but instead take full control of your brand and influence how people are seeing and perceiving your brand.

Let’s see how AirBnB is taking charge of their own brand message.

One of the most recent brand campaigns that AirBnB is pushing through is called “Don’t go there. Live there.” And this core message shows in all their of their communication form website to TV ads.

airbnb baby ad

 

As you can see their message is consistent about all their channels, be it video or display ad or their website.

Now that we have established how powerful branding and brand campaigns are let’s have a closer look at how you can do the same for your company, even if you are still in a very early stage.

 

Brand Basics – Start with a strong vision

Like in every part of life, you need to start with the basics to get your branding right. Surprisingly this is the part which most companies and founders struggle with defining.

The very first thing you need to have in place is your vision. So what is a vision?

A vision statement gives your company a strategic direction that states what you want to achieve in the future and where your company is headed.

It usually contains a vision for the market in which you are in and the role your company is playing in either this particular market or even growing out of this market. Let’s have a look what Travis Kalanicks says about the vision of Uber.

Uber will be the number one transportation company in the world. – Although paraphrasing here, this is what you can take from the visionary statements of the Uber CEO. Uber is aiming to not only dominate the transportation industry as such but it will entirely revolutionize the way transportation is working.

 

Here is what Travis Kalanicks has said in an interview with Business Insider:

“…Just imagine a city where traffic speeds along smoothly and quietly, even at rush hour — this is my dream…This is our ultimate vision of the future…Smarter transportation with fewer cars and greater access.”

 

If you are not sure why a vision statement is so powerful and why you need a clear vision from the beginning, then here it is:

While the vision does not necessarily give your company and daily business a purpose it will give you a final goal you are working toward to. This defined drive will be there to motivate yourself and all your employees to achieve something great.

To make it easier for you to find and define the vision of your company I have collected three tips you can apply:

Tip #1:
Think about the current problems and challenges of the market you are currently in. Why did you start your business in this market and how would you like to see the market in 10 or 20 years from now?

Tip #2:
Think about your personal wish and dream for your company. Think deeply about what role your company should play in the world and in your market. Do you want to create a monopoly? Do you want to take humanity to a different planet or do you want to build a small but highly profitable company?

Tip #3:
Keep it short and to the point. The vision statement should be short and simple to understand. Don’t explain why you are doing what you are doing, but focus on the what you want to become 10 or 20 years down the line.

Now we have established that you will need a strong vision in order to keep your company goals on track. Let’s have a closer look why you will also need a mission statement you can identify with.

 

Your Mission gives you clarity

“Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone” – Uber

While the vision of your company concentrates on what your company wants to be in the future your mission statement concentrates on the why. Why you are doing what you are doing.

In the case of Uber, the company wants to ensure that mankind can count on reliable fast automated transportation of all sorts which reduces takes us to our destination whenever and wherever we need it.

If working to make a living and a career was the main motivation of young graduates in the last decades there seems to be a trend that more and more young people, especially from industrialized countries, are rather looking to work for a purpose they can believe in than just for a pay check.

This trend in which money is not the main factor for attracting new talent, the purpose of why we are doing business needs to be redefined. And this is exactly where the mission statement comes in.

If you are thinking of the mission statement as an empty slogan that you can put on your website or hang somewhere on the wall of your office, then you are mistaken. Let’s have a look at how the mission of Uber shows in their advertisements.

When Uber says that traffic should be reliable and fast, we’d expect to be spared long waiting times and complicated booking services or trying to stop a taxi on the street. And this is exactly what Uber is showing throughout their advertisement.

uber moving people ad

In heavy populated cities daily traffic jams are the norm and to reduce the congested streets Uber created Uber Pool, which is a ride sharing service by Uber. This goes hand in hand with their mission statement of making traffic fast and reliable. Here’s a great ad that manages to combine the mission statement, a serious issue and fun in one:

 

As you can see, mission statements have a strong impact on how a brand is communicating and hence how a company is perceived by the public. But don’t think that a mission is only important to communicate to the outside. A strong mission statement also has a tremendous effect on employees of a company.

Various studies have shown that giving people a purpose of why their work is important has a huge impact on performance and job satisfaction.

Now we know that having a strong mission statement is essential for your company, let’s have a look at how we can define a mission we are happy with.

To define a strong mission here are three things you can do:

  1. Ask yourself what it is that your product does. But look for the real purpose behind your product. For example if you are selling a juice maker, don’t think that the purpose behind your product is to squeeze fruits but instead see that your product is saving valuable time.
  2. Take the ‘real’ purpose behind your product and combine it with a real problem people are facing. For example: Did you know that 31 Million Americans are not having breakfast in the morning? This has a huge health impact. Now taking the time saving ability of your juice maker and combining it with this fact, your mission could be: ‘Making people healthier by enabling everyone to have a quick and healthy breakfast’
  3. Validate your mission statement. Talk to people, if you already have employees ask them what they are thinking. It is important that you find a mission which is inspiring and gives the company a real purpose to focus on besides making money.

What type of person would your company be?

“A critic should be taught to criticise a work of art without making any reference to the personality of the author.” – Oscar Wilde

The problem is, most people are not critics.

In everyday life we judge people rather by their personality than by their work and people that are liked by other people get faster ahead than others. The same applies to companies.

Even if it is more subconsciously but we do think of certain companies as cool, fun, attractive or boring. Portraying the desired image is exactly where branding comes in. It is in your hands what type of personality your company should have.

So how can you define your brand character? Let’s try to answer this question by looking a bit closer at Uber and how their brand personality is portrayed across all their channels.

Uber is a great example of how important branding and also the evolution of branding is. Uber started out as a company that concentrated on bringing the novelty of a luxury to the people. A ride in a nice car through the city. Also that was not that cheap back in the days.

But over the recent years of tremendous growth Uber faces different challenges and changed itself completely compared to the beginnings. Uber needed find a different way of how to portray itself. There needed to be a brand that reflects exactly what the company is doing as of today and what it stands for.

If you look at the brand documentation of Uber itself you will notice a couple of things which are very different from what companies usually do.

First, Uber has two different icons for drivers and for riders.

new uber logos

But it’s not only enough that Uber has two different icons, on top of that those icons appear in different colors depending on the country you are in. Like this Uber has different mood boards for let’s say India, China and Ireland.

mood board china

What can we take from a company that seems to change its face depending on who is looking at it?

With its new look Uber is trying to make something hard and challenging reality. Uber itself is a huge international company, but at the same time the company needs to be as local as possible as well.

If you think of it each market Uber operates in is totally different from another. The Indian market is different from the US one and there will be even differences between cities. So by going very narrow, adopting their colors to local culture and even offering two different icons for both riders and drivers, Uber is managing to establish micro communities within their overall community.

Uber is going into the direction of becoming a super close, local friend you can rely on anytime.

So Uber wants to become your local reliable friend but how can you define what your company’s character should be like?

  1. Identify who you want to receive your product from.
    1. Think about it, if you were to drive through the city to your destination, who would you like to drive with the most, so that you get there on time and you have fun at the same time. Yes it is most commonly the best friend.
  2. How does your product feel?
    1. Does your product or service require to be super professional or is it more on the relaxed side of life?
  3. Ask your customers how they feel about your product or service
    1. If your customers tell you a completely different story of what you were thinking how your product should feel like, it is either upon you to do some changes in your communication or maybe you should change your thinking as ‘the customer is always right’

 

Establishing a voice – Looking at the tonality of AirBnB

A commonly underestimated and actually really hard part to cover in branding is the voice of a company. Huge companies have multiple linguists consultants or inhouse working for them to ensure that every outside communication follows a certain style.

Having a common style of talking and expressing yourself across the entire company is very important as it demonstrates unity and it makes it easy to identify team members in an instant.

Let’s have a look at how AirBnB ‘talks’ and what kind of language they use across their entire organisation.

airbnb tweet

airbnb tweet 2

Looking at some of their tweets you notice two things. Most of their tweets have an image and secondly their language is very casual.

If you look at some of their recent blog posts even here you will find both stigmas of the tweets again. AirBnB blog articles are very image heavy with short and casual sentences. This shows again through their entire website and communication strategy.

Anytime you see bright colorful images of great scenery it is very likely that you are looking at one of the many contents of AirBnB. By focusing on this style of communication, AirBnB managed to influence their entire community as well and people are mainly sharing images when they are communicating to or about AirBnB.

As a common language brings a common feeling of belonging so does a common language show unity to a customer.

Now that we have established that you need to find a fitting style of talking let’s have a quick look how you can define certain language rules yourself. I have compiled three tips for you which you can apply today.

 

#1 Identify the personality of your company
Although you might not think of a company having a personality, every company does have one. This is mainly derived from the target group you want to attract as well as from the culture you want to establish in house. For example if you are trying to disrupt how people within a company communicate amongst each other your main and first target group are most likely young and forward thinking companies. So the best way to talk would be informal and casual.

#2 Identify the main character of your product
A product or service usually has many USPs but, then there is always a main character sticking out. The main central core purpose your product or service plays in the life of your customers. A health insurance might be secure, a movie subscription plan might be joyful and a bbq grill might be powerful. Based on the main character of your product you are able to identify the language you want to user. For example a grill might want to sound manly, loud and strong.

#3 Identify who you want to be

You are what you eat. That doesn’t just apply to food and looks but it also applies to language. If you want to be a futuristic and innovative company you should also talk like one. Quite often companies neglect the effect of such language on their own perception.

 

Raise your flag – corporate colors & style

Last but not least, we reach the topic which probably most of you thought of when thinking of branding. Colors, logos and design. Yes indeed, that is an important part.

The way you look will have a big impact on your target audience. Let’s say you want to target a wealthier audience with a luxury product you want to make sure that you also look more luxurious and high class.

AirBnB like most brands went through an entire re-branding change. A reinvention of oneself if you will. Looking at the old logo and website style we can see a childish and playful looking logo and color combination with a heavy focus on the city itself.

airbnb old website

After the rebranding AirBnB changed its look completely and for the ones of us that knew AirBnB in the old look it took quite some time to get used to the new style. However now you can tell that the company has a completely different focus and direction compared to the old days.

new airbnb website

Looking at the new design there are two main factors that catch the eye. The cleanness and the people.

With this change of brand design also the mission and vision has changed from the old version. It is important to know that most companies will evolve their brand and look over the course of their existence in order to fit either new business models or the change of their target audience.

Despite knowing that you will iterate on your brand image constantly it is beneficial to have a strong look and feel right from the start.

 

Conclusion

When you are thinking of growing your revenue online and you are looking to increase your marketing spend on SEM & Social Media. You will then only succeed if you have a powerful core message and a strong voice that puts your brand in the focus.

So figure out what is the mission and vision of your company, define clear goals and develop a common language and look.

Once you have done that, make sure that in every piece of communication you put your brand in the center, don’t lose your values or the feel of your brand. Doing all this will get you on the right track to building a great and memorable brand.