Trust and a shared Truth are key to Airbnb’s Success – Douglas Atkin, ex-Global Head of Community explains

Douglas Atkin, Brand as Cult and Community Expert

Douglas Atkin became interested in how some brands attract a cult-like following long before social media and digital brands became all the rage. He wrote a book about ‘The Culting of Brands’ in 2005.  — So it came as no surprise that he told the founders of Airbnb that he would rather research what drives commitment among the brand’s loyal hosts and guests than do some strategy development exercise when they asked him for it in 2012.  They liked the idea.  In fact, they made him their Global Head of Community a few weeks into the journey. This journey led to the brand’s definition of a purpose – “Belong Anywhere” – its translation into a communication campaign, a visual identity and, most importantly to Douglas, into a unique way Airbnb host, guest and employees could think about their relationship with each other and act on it.

Among many things, Douglas will share in this interview:

  • How he went about uncovering that higher Purpose of Airbnb and why it was quickly embraced by its diverse stakeholders. – Hint: ‘Ground it in a Truth’.
  • How the big pioneering achievement of Airbnb lies in the area of ‘engineering a system of social trust’ rather than a room sharing platform.
  • How he also took on to evolve the culture of the company and…
  • How ‘constantly doing things that have never been done before’ is exhilarating but also lead to ‘Airbnb Burnout’.



For more insights into what drives the success of brands like Ben & Jerry’s read our book “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueberbrands,” and other posts on this blog-cast.

If you want us to help you elevate your own brand, then write to us at

Here is a link to the Airbnb site, its blog and the Airbnb Experiences, mentioned in the interview.  I found the blog surprisingly ‘corporate’ vs ‘community’ feeling, I have to say.

Douglas’ book ‘The Culting of Brands‘ is a classic.  Find a recent series of articles he wrote on Medium about “How Airbnb found its Purpose – and why it’s a good one.”  Here is the perspective from co-founder Brian Chesky on what Airbnb stands for.  Surprisingly, it was not easy to find this statement.  I found it buried in the middle of their blog.

Of course, not everyone agrees and is happy with the impact Airbnb has on the world. Here is a critical opinion by Gaby Hinsliff on how “Airbnb […] is hollowing out our cities” that appeared in The Guardian, UK.  She writes: “The romantic, if sometimes risky, fantasy of swapping lives with a local for a few nights and seeing the city through their eyes is being replaced with a more corporate, impersonal experience. Sign here for the keys; check out promptly in time for the next guest to arrive. Too bad that what could have been a young couple’s starter flat is now just another asset to be sweated, and one that probably stands empty half the time.

Airbnb’s perspective on its corporate citizenship is reflected on a dedicated site at

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A page from the Airbnb Experiences blog




About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here:
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2 Responses to Trust and a shared Truth are key to Airbnb’s Success – Douglas Atkin, ex-Global Head of Community explains

  1. Pingback: Questions To Answer: How ‘Live The Brand Dream’? | Ueber-Brands™

  2. Pingback: Questions To Answer: How ‘Live the Dream’? | Ueber-Brands™

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