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Geoff Seeley

Geoff Seeley



Marketing and Technology

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TRENDSETTERS: Airbnb's Geoff Seeley Discusses New Standards of Cultural Relevance

The Internationalist Trendsetters is written by Deborah Malone, founder of The Internationalist.

Geoff Seeley, Global Marketing Director of Airbnb, believes the way in which a company shares its mission through its products is just as important as how it conveys its message through its advertising.  Actions, for Seeley, certainly speak louder than words in today's marketing world.

Last month, he shared his views at the World Federation of Advertisers' Global Marketer Conference in Lisbon in collaboration with APAN, the Portuguese Advertising Association, as part of the WFA's annual Global Marketer Week '19.  His talk entitled "The Same, But Different" focused on how several fundamental marketing issues continue to remain relevant over time—no matter how much seems to change in our industry.  Yet, at the core of his discussion was the recurrent theme of how a contemporary brand like Airbnb—or one that leverages technology to connect millions of people around the world-- succeeds because the company literally lives its purpose, which is to createa world where anyone can belong anywhere.  Airbnb's expanded statement of purpose includes providing healthy travel that is local, authentic, diverse, inclusive and sustainable.

Geoff Seeley stressed that brands will always hunger for cultural relevance.  However, the approach has changed from the daring stunts of the 1990's designed to simply "get press" to solving problems differently in a tech-enabled society.  "Ads are just one gateway into our company," he said.  "The platforms we pay to make our brands famous are themselves among the most valuable brands on earth.  They're more famous than we'll ever be.  How does Airbnb weave itself into popular culture?  We've solved a real problem in a new way: the problem of finding accommodation, but also feeling welcome anywhere in the world."

This enables Geoff Seeley and his team to do things "outside of advertising" to bring stories to life.  However, he advocates a valuable lesson for brands in today's highly-charged social media world-- "Know what you believe in and know what you're against."  Quite simply, he says, "At Airbnb, we see this as a decision to live by our purpose."  

He shared how in Australia Airbnb helped put marriage equality back on the political agenda where it was blocked despite support by 75% of citizens. Not only did this underscore the company's mission of belonging for all people everywhere, but Airbnb took bold action by marketing an "Acceptance Ring" that was incomplete or with a space in the band representing the gap in marriage equality.  "Until We All Belong" was engraved on the inside of the ring.

Airbnb encouraged people to wear the ring in support of those Australians who could not yet marry-- whether people within the LGBTQI+ community or their friends and family members in solidarity with their wishes to wed.  Despite popular logic that business shouldn't get involved with politics, the "Until We All Belong" campaign was overwhelmingly popular-- achieving 98% positive sentiment for Airbnb.  Plus, some of Australia's biggest brands-- Qantas, Google, ANZ and eBay-- supported it with their own endorsements or complementary efforts.

Geoff Seeley continued with a new mantra for marketers: "Use your product to do good.  And use your marketing to share that."  He described an initiative called "The Italian Sabbatical" in support of the small hilltop village of Grottole in southern Italy's picturesque province of Matera.  The tiny village is at risk of disappearing with only 300 inhabitants in its historic center and more than 600 empty homes.

Airbnb and Wonder Grottole, a local NGO that promotes urban regeneration, is working to save the village and its ways of life by creating a contest to find four people to volunteer as Experience and Home hosts for three months. They will be transformed from tourists into temporary citizens of Grottole where they will learn Italian, help run the community vegetable garden, and cook local dishes with their neighbors.  The goal is to help preserve these communities, so they continue to exist for future generations by inspiring and supporting others to get involved to make real contributions to village life.  Information on those selected will be available on May 7, 2019.

According to Geoff Seeley, "While purpose drives business results and enables great marketing campaigns, purpose really needs to be the reason you get out of bed every day.  It's can't be the excuse to do good marketing.  In fact, the domain of purpose doesn't belong exclusively to marketing; everyone involved with the brand must embrace it.  My job as a marketer is to express that purpose and share it with the world--- and realize that it may not be for everyone, but it will be meaningful and important to those people who find resonance with its mission.   That's how you remain a brand that people embrace and want to be involved with."


Geoff Seeley leads Global Marketing for the Homes business at Airbnb. Most of his career was spent in media, digital and creative agencies before jumping client-side and joining Unilever to build out their global communications planning team. After five amazing years, he joined Pearson to lead their digital transformation until San Francisco came calling and he moved with his family to the Bay Area in the summer of 2017.

Geoff was named an Internationalist of the Year in 2018, along with 20 other marketing leaders from around the world.

Airbnb's accommodation marketplace provides access to 6+ million unique places to stay in more than 81,000 cities and 191 countries. With Experiences, Airbnb offers unprecedented access to local communities and interests through 25,000+ unique, handcrafted activities run by hosts across 1,000+ markets around the world. Airbnb's people-to-people platform benefits all its stakeholders, including hosts, guests, employees and the communities in which it operates.