Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall on exhilarating startup culture, and the story behind that new logo

I cannot believe quite how much ground I have seen this dynamic team at Airbnb cover in the four short weeks that I have been here.

Jonathan Mildenhall: Airbnb chief marketing officer
Jonathan Mildenhall: Airbnb chief marketing officer

Sure, I had read about the incredible energy and pace of "start-up culture", and my friends at the likes of Google, Facebook and Spotify seem to have reinvented their respective worlds every time we meet, but nothing could have prepared me for the enormity of my first month as the CMO of this business.

You see, my first day was 9 June, and on 16 July, we introduced to the world the most comprehensive brand evolution in our six-year history. Every aspect of the Airbnb brand experience has been reimagined and pushed to a level of incredible excellence. With such quality of thinking and execution, I am confident that Airbnb will soon be able to hold its own against some of the world’s most iconic and established superbrands.

The impetus for the brand evolution came from the simple truth that the Airbnb community of hosts and guests, who now share experiences in more than 195 countries, had outgrown the limita­tions of the old brand. Airbnb has a universal ideology at the core that needs to be told. That truth is that, in a world that is increas­ingly suspicious of strangers, it can create a deep and meaningful sense of belonging, more connection and less isolation.

Social scientists tell us that belonging is one of the primary drivers of humankind, as we all search for people and places that help us feel a safe connection to something bigger than ourselves. The same is true for Airbnb. Our hosts feel that they are part of a new global community and our guests feel it, too, as they are welcomed into the safety and comfort of someone’s home.

Universal truth

With this universal truth apparent, our challenge was to develop a brand agenda that inspired even greater understanding and momentum across the community.

Our challenge was to develop a brand agenda that inspired even greater understanding and momentum across the community.

Introducing the Airbnb brand evolution encompassed several initiatives. We broadcast the introduction live to more than 190 countries in two strategically timed live streams from 19 Rausch Street, the location of the first Airbnb. We introduced the world to the Airbnb symbol of belonging, an iconic marque that we call the "Bélo". We articulated our ideology of a world where, through Airbnb, you can truly "Belong anywhere" through the power of story, film and music.

The idea was to disrupt marketing and trademark norms because, at the very same time as we introduced the "Bélo", we also launched Create Airbnb, a website that invites hosts and guests to adapt the symbol, make it their own and develop bespoke, personalised goods for their own Airbnb homes and experiences.

Our site is now a cinematic showcase of people and places depicted through amazing photography. That is allowed to dominate the site, as everything else has been edited down to brutal simplicity and intuitive navigation.

I joined Airbnb for three primary reasons:

  1. I believe in the mission of helping to inspire and create a world where we can all feel a much greater sense of belonging.
  2. I believe in the hearts, minds, creativity and spirit of the Airbnb team.
  3. I believe that we should all push ourselves out of our comfort zones and embrace new ideas, approaches, technologies and experiences.

I have been working for 25 years, but never before in my working life has my learning curve been so steep, my work environment so exhilarating, my team so energetic and inspiring and the work so utterly rewarding. Honestly, I have asked more questions than I have answered and, if anything, I have possibly slowed my team down a little.

Looking ahead, I know in my heart that the very best work of my career is ahead of me. After all, I have found my place in life where I know I really belong.