Why Airbnb’s new ‘obscene’ logo is genius

Airbnb has unveiled a brand new logo and redesign that has sparked a wide range of responses.

Some people think the logo looks obscene. Others wonder if this rebranding may end up being one of Airbnb’s biggest mistakes ever. But I’d like to argue that everything – even the logo – is actually a stroke of genius on Airbnb’s part.

Conveniently, I happened to watch a brilliant TED talk by Simon Sinek.

My biggest takeaway from the talk was this quote Sinek kept repeating: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Many people focus too much of their efforts on what they do. Sinek’s main example was Apple.

We all know the computer giant makes beautiful, user-intuitive computers, but why do they do it?

The core of Apple’s mission is to challenge the status quo and think differently. It just happens to make computers that fall into this category. This is just one of many reasons why people become loyal to Apple products.

Let’s apply that logic to Airbnb.

As the world’s largest community hospitality company, Airbnb has more than 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries. That’s quite a feat for a company founded in 2008. With these numbers, it’s hard to challenge the fact Airbnb is a very successful company, despite its controversies over the years regarding security and legality.

With so much success on its current model and design, why do a complete rebranding? Here’s where we tie back in with Sinek’s TED Talk: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Take a look at the new Airbnb website. After you wig out over the new logo and website structure, the part of the site that should speak loudest to you is the section that says: “The story behind the new Airbnb.” Click on this giant button and you’ll be led to a lengthy blog post written by Airbnb’s CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky.

This extremely thoughtful post goes beyond the “what” behind Airbnb and goes into great detail about the “why”.

“Belonging has always been a fundamental driver of humankind. So to represent that feeling, we’ve created a symbol for us as a community. It’s an iconic mark for our windows, our doors and our shared values. It’s a symbol that, like us, can belong wherever it happens to be … we’re proud to introduce the Bélo: the universal symbol of belonging.”

I don’t know about you, but after reading this snippet from Chesky, my entire perspective on the new Airbnb logo and rebranding shifted. I stopped looking at the new logo as a possible obscenity and viewed it with a new understanding an appreciation.

This rebranding is about taking Airbnb beyond being just a hospitality service and transforming it into a lifestyle and community where everyone can take part. And it doesn’t stop here.

Further down in this page is a section called “Create Airbnb”, where users are now being encouraged to form their own unique symbols as part of a “shared brand identity”.

That is a big step forward for a company pushing interactivity among its users. This is a very clear and modern mission that goes along with my own values and would make me more inclined to use Airbnb’s services more and more going forward.

It’s tough to say how Airbnb’s rebranding will play out in the long run, but as long as it sticks with its newly iterated mission statement, I think good things will come of it.

The writer is Suzi Pratt is co-founder at US-based digital marketing company Gemini Connect.