Content Merchandising: Utilizing the Storytelling Technique

November 14, 2012 Jen Frost

I’m in love with Airbnb. There. I’ve said it. For anyone who attended last week’s Experience Lab, you know just how obsessed I am with the notion that content can be merchandised just like a product in a grocery or department store. If you think the idea has legs…then you should spend time on the Airbnb site.

Although it may seem like an odd notion, content merchandising actually makes a lot of sense. Marketers spend time and money on creating content, and the idea of merchandising provides the freedom to reuse that content in a multitude of ways to up-sell or cross-sell an existing client or capture the attention of a new customer.

Let’s use Airbnb’s Neighborhood campaign as an example. This week, Airbnb came out with a new focus that allows its clients to see a city through the eyes of a local. Although  I can easily go to its site and find a multitude of listings for San Francisco—sortable by availability, price, number of bedrooms and property type, using the same inventory, Airbnb has now tagged the properties to also include insights from a local’s perspective. So for instance, for San Francisco, I can also look at properties that are close to transit or nightlife or are Loved by San Franciscans. In addition, to extend the entire “Neighborhood” experience, Airbnb has “partnered with iconic San Francisco coffee shops to bring you a welcoming neighborhood experience. Stop by for free wifi and your copy of Airbnb's San Francisco travel guide.”

As I mentioned at The Experience Lab last week, many times merchandisers use a technique called “Storytelling” for window design in order to captivate and draw shoppers into their store (think Macy’s during the Holidays.) The idea is that a story can not only engage a shopper, but from a sales perspective, it can also logically pull together a collection of disparate products for the purpose of promoting incremental purchases.

To me the “Neighborhood” concept does just that. It tells a story about a city. It provides insights into what locals like. It gets you to decide that living like a local for a few nights might actually be more satisfying than staying at a hotel. Furthermore, it gets you to stop at a “lounge” to spend some more money on a cup of coffee or glass of wine. The brilliance is, Airbnb already had the content “inventory” in their database—they just repackaged it for added exposure.

I’m sure my colleague Sarah Levine Meyer could weigh in on the role that “curation” plays in the Airbnb merchandising model. I’ll let her do that (although she did send along this article from TechCrunch). But for now, I’m going to imagine what it is like to explore Dumbo or Port-Royale or Georgetown or Ipanema as a local.


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Jen Frost Managing Director, Marketing

Jen Frost is Managing Director of Marketing at One North. She works closely with the Digital Strategy, Experience Design and Technology teams to develop and enhance One North client communication and exterior messaging strategy. In addition, she provides general marketing direction for One North and promotes internal culture.

  • Favorite season: Fall is my favorite season. Probably because I used to live in Massachusetts, and it is just beautiful there in the Autumn.
  • Favorite Chicago spot: The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool hidden in the middle of Lincoln Park.

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