Enterprise Ecommerce / How to Sell Online

How to Build a Recognizable, Consistent Brand: Lessons from Airbnb and Virgin Airlines

David Callaway / 4 min read

I went to MozCon, and all I got was this massive amount of marketing and SEO knowledge.

If you’re unfamiliar, MozCon is an annual three-day conference of forward-thinking, actionable sessions in SEO, social media, community building, content marketing, brand development, the mobile landscape and analytics. It’s a great conference for anyone building a brand online and looking to solidify that brand’s status on search engines, as well as in the mind of customers.

This year, there was a lot of talk about disruption. Almost every speaker mentioned it — new business models disrupting old, new strategy and tactics disrupting traditional marketing, and even Google constantly disrupting themselves (and SEO). It was easy to be a little freaked out by the idea that you need to constantly be innovating to keep up.

But the message was ultimately hopeful, because there are certain things that always matter. Things that, when done right, are really hard to disrupt. And then you don’t need to worry about what Google is doing or what tech changes are coming down the road, because you’ll have a solid foundation upon which to add new tactics. Here’s how to build a consistent, “undisruptable” brand.

Why Building a Consistent Brand Matters

Will Reynolds gave two great examples of why brand matters, showing why investing the time to build a brand that people like and remember can be much more effective than time spent getting top search results placement for a keyword.

The first is VRBO vs. Airbnb. If you type “vacation rentals” into Google, VRBO is the top placement. They probably put in a lot of work to get there.

Airbnb, on the other hand, is about eight places down. But they invested resources in building a great brand, one that has become synonymous with vacationing. For instance, they create these fantastic neighborhood guides:

From Will Reynolds’ MozCon 2015 deck


And when you type “London neighborhood” into Google, you get this:

From Will Reynolds’ MozCon 2015 deck


While VRBO was focused on rankings, Airbnb was focused on vacations. They understand what their customers are looking for, what their needs are, and in response, want to solve problems for them. After all, solving problems for people never goes out of style.

The results?

From Will Reynolds’ MozCon 2015 deck

Building a great brand is playing the long game. It takes a while to get it right, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.

The other example Will gave is United vs. Virgin Airlines. Both play videos at the start of a flight. The United video is basic, boring and features their CEO. Here’s the Virgin video:

Travel is a slog. So why not make it fun with a catchy song and dance number? Virgin is a beloved brand because they think through those types of details, and people go out of their way to fly Virgin over other airlines.

Of course, it’s not just the video. Virgin does an outstanding job of creating a consistent brand, from buying tickets on their site, to their gates at the airport, to their in-flight experience. All of it is fun and memorable down to the last detail.

Tips for creating a brand strategy

As Dana DiTomaso said, your brand is your promise. Your promise needs to match your reality at every touchpoint you have with customers. Virgin excels at that.

From Dana DiTomaso’s MozCon 2015 deck


So how do you do that for your own company? Create a brand strategy.

Even the smallest company can (and should) build a brand strategy. And the bigger you are, the more important it is, because it becomes much harder to control your brand if you have more touchpoints but no game plan in place.

Here are Dana’s tips.

  • Start with Your Core Values: What do you and your company stand for? It helps to think about your brand as a person, and recognize both the good and the bad.
  • The Brand Is/Is Not: Now that you know what you stand for, figure out what your brand is, what it isn’t and what it will be in the future. Card sorting is a good way to do this. Write down about 40 attributes related to your business on individual notecards, and have employees or others close to the company pick from them. Each participant will choose two cards for each category: “is”, “is not” and “will be.” It’s actually easiest to start with “is not.” It’s best to do this individually rather than in a focus group so that you avoid groupthink. Once you have the results, you can compile them and see which terms stick out.
  • Create a Brand Voice: Using your core values, is/is not results and your knowledge of your audience, you can create your brand voice. Figure out how you want to present yourself and how you’ll talk to customers and prospects. Give concrete examples of how the voice should be used and how it shouldn’t, and explain why.
  • Now Carry it Out Everywhere: Share your brand with everyone in your organization, and make a plan to ensure that it’s reflected in each touchpoint. Your HR team should only hire people who fit the brand. Your customer service teams should only use the approved brand voice when talking to customers. Your marketing should reflect your brand whether on your site, in emails or in advertising. That consistent experience is what really makes a brand.
  • Show the Dream: The best way to get everyone on board is to show them the ideal experience. Illustrate every step of the buyer journey from your new brand — from a tweet that first makes a consumer aware of your brand, to the metadata she sees when she types your name into Google, to your site, to your in-store experience, to your purchase follow-up, to a customer service interaction. Being specific about every touchpoint is the best way to create consistency.

Bigger companies can spend a lot of time and money researching their audiences to get brand right. But Dana’s tips can jump start your branding efforts no matter what size your company.

Have questions about this or other topics you may have seen from MozCon? Let me know in the comments.


David Callaway

David Callaway

David Callaway creates and edits content for Bigcommerce marketing and the platform itself. He is a writer of words, sharer of ecommerce wisdom and digital high-fiver of Bigcommerce clients. He is also very tall.

View all posts by David Callaway
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