When Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky approached Jonathan Mildenhall about taking on the CMO role at Airbnb 18 months ago, Mildenhall said he was a bit skeptical. He was, after all, working with one of the greatest storytellers and one of the most visible brands in the world—Coca-Cola. "Our vision for Airbnb isn't just ambitious. It's historic. We want to be the next global super brand," Chesky told Mildenhall when the two first met. With that, the Coke exec was sold.
Joining the Airbnb team meant that Mildenhall would have the chance to take a new brand and build it from the ground up. Speaking at the National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Annual Conference in Orlando, Airbnb's CMO shared his strategy and some challenges he's faced on the road to building a super brand that now operates in over 190 countries and more than 34,000 cities. In his new role, Mildenhall said he knew he needed to look to some of the leading brands in the world, citing Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Disney and Virgin as sources of inspiration. But copying these leaders wouldn't do a startup like Airbnb any good. "We couldn't use anyone else's playbook. We had to create our own," Mildenhall said.