Airbnb’s “Pineapple” publication connects the online startup to world travelers

With hosts in 30,000 cities across 192 countries, Airbnb wants to be seen as a legitimate hotel and hospitality brand. Valued at about $25 billion, the travel rental company has seen plenty of controversy, growth, and success in recent years. But it still lacks in one key area: branding. As part of the new “sharing” economy—where anyone can rent out a room or a whole apartment to travelers by booking online—the Airbnb experience lacks the visibility of other hotel brands simply by not having real-world branding and a physical location. How does an online travel brand connect to its real-world travelers?

The travel brand’s next logical step was to recalculate its own branding, shifting away from its tech startup roots (the logo was blue, obviously) for a brighter pink hue. After a logo redesign (mocked by some, admired by others), the company could move forward to focus on its content marketing and face its real-world visibility issue.

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Enter: Airbnb’s content marketing via a printed publication. Making the leap from online content, Pineapple—named after the fruit that was a symbol of hospitality in colonial New England—tethers the online startup to something tangible. In its introduction to the world, Airbnb wants the magazine to be “be rolled up and stuffed into backpacks, to be flipped through on trains and planes, pages bookmarked. It should be passed along from host to traveler, stranger to friend.”

Employing a combination of in-house designers, videographers, and photographers with locally-based freelance writers, Pineapple is aspiring to start coffee table conversation for the curious-minded traveler, hoping to connect strong editorial content with travelers looking off-the-beaten path. The magazine wisely puts travel photography in the forefront, eschewing traditional verticals in favor of city-based storytelling.

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Each issue is advertisement-free, over 120 pages, and focused around three cities that are notably Airbnb advocates (the first batch features London, Seoul, and San Francisco). What’s smart about this approach is that Airbnb will distribute 18,000 free copies of Pineapple to Airbnb hosts around the world as well as selling it in bookstores.

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Christopher Lukezic, publisher of Pineapple, emphasizes that print was the best option to tell this story. “Our community is 20 million strong; there are so many stories to be told by members of this community. This isn’t a magazine about homes, it’s about the connections that our community makes in the environments where they live or travel. For us, print was the perfect medium to tell these stories.”

What we can learn from Pineapple

  • Consider the medium. Print is not dead. The desire for physical and tangible content—books and magazines—will always remain. For some brands, print is more relevant for connecting with their customers and consumers.
  • Solve branding issues with content marketing. Airbnb lacks a connection to travelers without a WiFi connection to read their content. Print content reminds them of Airbnb and travel all-in-one. Thus, content marketing can strengthen and clarify your brand in the eye of consumers.
  • Advertisements aren’t necessary—yet. According to The New York Times, the startup is currently exploring “ways of scaling [advertisements] going forward.” The startup is taking a calculated risk to produce purely content-driven magazines. Advertising, then, isn’t necessary to compile a branded publication, especially if there are other benefits like customers recognizing and relating to that brand.
  • Content is still king, especially for brands. In his interview with FIPP, Lukezic says, “Building a loyal following of readers requires a commitment to producing high-quality content that has strong editorial integrity. This is something a lot of brands haven’t yet mastered when they enter the realm of content, but I think that is changing rapidly.”

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