November 4, 2015

Gamification: Why San Francisco Loves Airbnb

SMITH BRAIN TRUST — San Francisco voters had a chance Tuesday to kick Airbnb to the curb with a ballot measure designed to restrict short-term housing rentals. Instead, the San Francisco-based company and similar firms, such as VRBO and HomeAway, scored a comfortable victory. One reason might have been an $8 million campaign, which plastered the city with snarky Airbnb ads. But Oliver Schlake, a clinical professor at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, traces Airbnb’s success to another factor. He says travelers simply love the Airbnb experience — for many of the same reasons that gamers love Halo 5.

Gaming as a customer engagement strategy has been around since the invention of dice and playing cards. More recent iterations include McDonald’s Monopoly, Coke and Pepsi bottle cap prizes, and mobile apps such as Angry Birds. As gaming goes mainstream, Schlake says companies are moving away from early gimmicks such as collecting tokens and achievement badges toward more serious business strategies. “We are revamping the way we interact with the target audience,” he says.

So what does this have to do with Airbnb? Schlake says the company figured out a way in 2008 to engage people in a storyline that starts online and then crosses to the real world (when a stranger shows up on your doorstep, suitcase in tow). “They came into an industry that was so stuffy,” he says. “They completely identified a group of people willing to live in somebody’s house and get a better travel experience at a lower price.”

Something similar happens in video games, when players open a portal or enter a cave to see what happens next. “What people want is an experience,” Schlake says. “If you go Airbnb, your experience is up close and personal.” Read more: Five Ways That Smart Companies Hook You with Gaming Principles…


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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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