After witnessing the sharing economy leader – U.S. tech giant Uber lost the battle to the local rival Didi Chuxing in China last year, Airbnb certainly is not willing to pull back, yet is determined to succeed by doubling its investment in the country to increase its local presence via its branding localization strategy. Considering that Chinese is the largest outbound tourism market in the world, with 122 million travel abroad leaded by millennials in 2016, it’s extremely critical for Airbnb to access to this market, but how to win their hearts through right brand positioning is very challenging.
To achieve so, lately Airbnb has released its flashy Chinese name “Aibiying” (爱彼迎)， means to “welcome each other with love.” However, it receives tons of negative comments on social media, complaining it sounds awkward, difficult to pronounce and hardly understood. Furthermore, it also gives a low standard impression and someone says the brand even sounds to have an association with sex products.
Brand’s name encapsulates brand’s true essence and reveals its personality, therefore, international companies have to be very careful when they choose a Chinese name in order to avoid misunderstanding or unintended associations. To decide whether a global brand should have the same “personality” in multiple international markets, it depends on the characteristics of the target customers, namely whether the customers from different countries and regions share the similar values and establish a common comprehension towards the original brand personality.
According to Airbnb’s marketing strategy in China, the company is targeting on the Chinese millennials who look for unique experiences abroad, which are completely different from other generations as they are more open minded, well educated and tech savvy with an international viewpoint. Unlike Uber who is facing to the mass market, Airbnb’s target segment group has little difficulties to understand Airbnb’s brand message, and in fact, they choose Airbnb over local rivals due to its international background and western culture. As one Weibo user put it: “Airbnb has given itself a stupid Chinese name and even shot an MV (music video) for it. It is just like a foreigner trying to speak poor Chinese.” It might be better to keep its original name in China as it was since it’s easy for the Chinese millennials to pronounce and interpreted as cool and trendy.
In front of the cultural barriers, international brands obviously have disadvantages versus to local competitors. Instead of trying to fight a battle on the weak points by changing the brand personality, it is wiser for Airbnb to leverage the competitive advantages such as host communities, a larger pool of international listings, and diversified management team. Keller (2013) points out the consistency in the brand image is particularly important “where customers move often or media exposure transmits images across national boundaries.”
Besides adopting a Chinese name, Airbnb also extends its celebrity endorsement strategy to China market, such as entitle the world famous supermodel Liu Wen as a celebrity host in Shanghai, to provide a lifetime experience that everyone dreams for. However, making the host the attraction instead of location, price or even the service quality, which offers a different consideration factor during traveler’s decision journey. It also not 100% matches with the brand message “live like a local”, as celebrities are not necessarily able to offer the travelers all the best local activities and venues. It is also common for a Chinese celebrity to endorse several products sometimes even within the same category. Celebrity endorsement may be effective to increase the brand awareness, however, in this case, it has little to do with brand personality and easy to be copied by competitors.
Keller, K. L. (2013). Strategic Brand Management: Global Edition. Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited.