Just a few year ago, topics related to the emergence of networked hospitality companies hardly appeared attractive to people. The hospitality industry was experiencing the evolution, which were boutique hotel companies. These hotels concentrated on designing and offering travellers a unique and unpredictable experience. By following the success of these trends and taking advantage of online marketplaces, Airbnb began as simple proposition that combined economic benefits for customers and for residents of tourist areas.
After that, it developed a new disruptive business model and became the largest networked accomodation service. According to a report from Boston University in 2013, a 10% increase in Airbnb supply leads to a 0.35% decrease in hotel room revenue in Austin, Texas, which is home to the highest Airbnb supply. Airbnb has already disrupted the global hospitality industry; forcing longstanding incumbents adapt or offer.
In 2014, this brand decided to have a rebranding campaign that refreshed the website. As a part of campaign, Airbnb released a new logo named Bêlo. And the controversy concerning Bêlo arouse.
A story behind a new logo
Airbnb describes itself as ‘a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world’ (Airbnb, 2013b). Since they felt their existing identity fail to capture what Airbnb is, it tried to find a design company that could understand its concept and create a new symbol for it as a community. Ultimately, Design Studio, a London based firm, became Airbnb’s image maker, and released a new logo with four meanings – People, Places, Love and Airbnb.
Joe Gebbia, one of Airbnb’s co-founders, said that their new logo was “playful, unpretentious, and looks good in big and small scales, in digital and print formats, and as a three-dimensional object“.
That was just what brand saw!
According to Iacobucci (2013), customers can be educated about the meaning of the brand as well as its logos and symbols, and the logos itself can engage the customers visually. However, it did not seem to be explicit for customers to understand all the information conveyed through its new logo.
This new Airbnb logo closely resembles the logo of Automotion Anywhere, an IT company majored on automation. At that time, customers seemed to notice about the similarity between two brands, instead paying attention to what the message was conveying from their brand. Moreover, Airbnb’s logo faced social media backlash where there were many commentators indicated that it looked like some parts of the human body.
So if the meaning of brand logos confuses a customer, will the relationship between a customer and brand be affected? The answer is YES.
A research about the role of brand logos accomplished by Park et. al (2013) showed that there was positive effects of logos on customers commitment that could influence on firm performance. They were descriptive-cognitive, functional and aesthetic benefits. In my view, Airbnb’s new logo failed to describe the definition of the concerned consumer or differentiate the customers from others (descriptive-cognitive benefits). Airbnb’s customers were unable to recognise what this brand could differentiate them from Automotion Anywhere’s customers. Also, the new logo did not bring aesthetic benefits. The failure of aesthetic appeal and descriptive-cognitive benefits weakened customers’ commitment and prevents the firm from maximising its performance.
A logo can be a critical tool for providing brands with a face and enhancing creditability as well as authenticity (Walsh, Winterich, & Mittal, 2010). Thus, when Airbnb has defended its controversial new logo, it unintentionally lost its customers’ willingness to engage with the brand.
What can learn from this story?
Firstly, the brand should concentrate on function. Logo, as visual representations of brands, can bring functional benefits to them (Park. et. al 2013). Thus, the design should emphasise features, which give a direct benefit to consumers. Red Bull’s logo with two charging bulls in front of bright sun, for example, suggests the brand’s promise to “vitalise body and mind”.
Secondly, testing a logo is necessary. A logo can be considered as a product of a brand; hence, it also needs to be in a market research process before launching. Focus group or quantitative testing can be a sufficient method. Although Airbnb did semiotics research, it did not address the potential problem.
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