Airbnb has been storming the fortress of travel. Matching individual travellers with spare bedrooms and apartments for rent, they might be the embodiment of market disruption and certainly the hottest travel brand in town.

I talked with George DiGuido, while he was head of Email Marketing at the global HQ of Airbnb. Today he is heading up Email Strategy at About.com.

What is unique about Airbnb’s email marketing program and their view on the travel industry?

A focus on retention and helping users have meaningful experiences

George starts out: “Email marketing plays a key role at Airbnb. We focus our email program on retention and helping our users have meaningful experiences using Airbnb. Email is the channel that helps us facilitate the conversation between the hosts and the guests who would like to travel. With transactional email we notify both hosts and guests when they have a new message and bring them back to the platform.

Inspiration comes standard

“As a promotional channel, email marketing allows us to inspire and bring new and interesting properties and travel ideas to our users.”

Inspirational the emails truly are. Look at the example below, the subjectline “Imagine yourself here”. I almost couldn’t resist hopping on a plane to Bangkok that instant. The email is very simple, but a picture of a rooftop pool with sunset and 360 view overlooking the city says more than a thousand words. And on top of that, they also have a flabergastingly excellent selection of tree houses.

Variety of different email campaign types at Airbnb

“We have tested a lot of different types of campaigns at Airbnb to inspire and highlight. Campaigns have featured travel to unique and interesting destinations, becoming a host to welcome travellers and to provide their own unique experience, It also allows us to bring new experiences and tell stories about the things people are doing with Airbnb. We’ve done campaigns specifically geared towards the business crowd to show that there are alternatives to normal travel options.

But there is also a big challenge, we are a global organization that has users all over the world. But travel is just as much local. So we rely on our teams on the ground in those countries to provide us with travel insights and expertise that help inform our international email campaigns. The email team here (in the HQ) provides strategy and guidance and really relies on our local experts to help us be relevant to our global audience.”

The best time and day to send email

From the email marketing in Travel benchmark report (warning Dutch only) we saw that on average sending in the weekend showed an upward trend, becomming more popular across the board in the Dutch travel industry.

George measures varied results: “Our campaigns have been more effective during the week than over the weekend. Time of day is more important for us…especially when we consider habits in different countries. For example…we tend to email later in the day when sending emails to Spain.”

Email and social, from monetization to community

“Email plays a key role in the transactions on the site, unfortunately I cannot speak to specifics around traffic and sales… Email is a channel that is often only looked at from a monetization standpoint. But email also holds the potential for to help enrich the lives of recipients, a lot of good can be done. I would advise others to look for opportunities to build a community amongst users.

We use social media to help reinforce themes we are looking to get across in all our communications channels, not just in email. Email is used to help build our community and engages them with products that benefits them not just as travelers or hosts, but helps them enrich their daily lives.

We’ve recently launched a tool that allows our host community to get involved and form groups to foster that sense of community. Email has been the tool to invite and promote this new product to our audiences.

Playing into the community has really worked well for Airbnb. George showed me an example of a simple community invitation email that garnered a 70+% open rate and a 30+% clickthrough rate (it was for a BBQ though, so that partially explains the high level of interest).“

There is data in each email we send

“We make use of data in every email that we send. Be it data from our wish lists, search trends, seasonality, there is a component of every email that is rooted within data. As you can imagine we have a lot of different data points on our users. With email in general you always have to walk that line about what data would be beneficial to use and what comes along as too “big brother”.

For instance we use previous travels and clicks to help inform what kind of creative and listing details we put in emails to our users. We use the data from wishlists in campaigns that have other purposes like a newsletter or a specific community communication.”

Here is an example of wishlist communication and promotion from their French newsletter.

We have had moments of success and moments of learning of what data to use and what data might be better not to use.”

Big thanks for George DiGuido for his time to share with us a bit about the inner workings of their email marketing program.