How Airbnb used education to drive their most profitable quarter ever

Airbnb just reported its most profitable fourth quarter ever - over $55m.

Sales are surging, yet they significantly cut their marketing budget. How were they able to do more with less?

Two years ago, Airbnb slashed its marketing spend. But the cuts weren’t unilateral. Instead, they shifted focus from performance channels to brand building.

Even as sales and marketing spend increased towards the end of 2022, the vast majority of investment remained on brand marketing activities.

The reasoning? CEO Brian Chesky says Airbnb now looks at the role of marketing as one of “education”, not “to buy customers”.

Brands become Educators. It’s a smart move indeed (even the Airbnb CFO agrees) - and something we often riff on at Wavetable.

But here’s the thing. Do people really want to be ‘educated’? I’m not so sure.

Education suggests something that is done *to* you.

Instead, what people really want is to feel equipped and confident to apply knowledge into the real world. It could be booking an Airbnb in a new place, trying a new cooking technique, or persuading your boss to subscribe to that new software package.

For companies, this means going beyond standard content marketing, or spending a ton on polished brand videos.

The onus goes from education to learning: not to force something down people’s throats, but to create the right conditions to for learning and discovery. Your role is one offering support, optionality, connection - plus a few sparks of inspiration.

Whether your brand an established player or an emerging challenger - you want to be a Guide, not a Guru.

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