Lish Kennedy, VP of global brand marketing
Lish Kennedy joined Vrbo as vice president of global brand marketing in August after three years at Etsy in a similar position.
For our November theme, PhocusWire talks to marketing chiefs on the challenges of their roles and the impact of technology and data on travel marketing.
In March, Vrbo announced a rebrand – changing both the
logo and style/pronunciation of the brand. Can you walk me through the
reasoning behind this and how the rebrand came about?
VRBO has been a strong, memorable and beloved brand
among travelers and vacation home owners since 1995. Over the years, we noticed
that many of our customers were pronouncing the name “ver-boh” instead of
“V-R-B-O.” Based on that insight, our team conducted research and discovered
that “ver-boh” is easier to remember and easier to pronounce in other
languages, so we decided to officially change the pronunciation.
Our purpose of
connecting travelers with the people and places they love has always remained
the same, but our business has evolved and grown tremendously over the years.
It was time to refresh our brand to better reflect that we’ve become both a
household name in travel and a modern technology company.
In addition to
changing the pronunciation, we introduced a bold new logo that was inspired by the
colors, patterns and shapes we see when traveling. Vacations are dynamic, exciting
and memorable and we wanted our new brand to represent that.
Another part of the rebrand is the incorporation of
HomeAway into Vrbo. Why is this significant from a marketing perspective?
The HomeAway brand still exists, and travelers and
vacation home owners can still find, book and manage their bookings through
HomeAway.com and the HomeAway mobile app, but we are putting our marketing
investment and energy behind Vrbo.
By focusing on Vrbo as our primary vacation
rental brand, we can make a much greater impact and reach more customers on a
With that, why Vrbo instead of HomeAway – which is
arguably easier to pronounce – as the marquee brand?
Ever since HomeAway acquired VRBO in 2006, VRBO
remained a strong, memorable and beloved brand among our customers despite
minimal marketing investment. In 2018, we implemented our first VRBO U.S.
marketing campaign and the results blew us away.
In fact, it proved to be more
effective than our previous HomeAway campaigns. This reinforced our decision to
move forward with Vrbo as the marquee brand.
What campaigns – TV, digital, etc. – did you launch in
coordination with the rebrand, and how have those played out so far?
In conjunction with the rebrand, we launched a digital
and TV ad campaign called “Vrbo Find Me A Match,” which tells a story of
three different groups finding the perfect vacation home that suits their
unique needs. The ad was directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson and produced by
Prettybird and Vrbo’s internal creative team. The ad combines colorful visuals,
fun choreography and a catchy jingle that showcases the new Vrbo pronunciation
and it’s one of our favorite commercials to date.
an SEO perspective, what has Vrbo had to do as a result of the name change and
integration, given HomeAway has a search content history of its own?
As a U.S. brand, Vrbo consistently outperformed
HomeAway as a search term based on Google Trends data. Vrbo also accounted for
the majority of our U.S. business.
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When we tested recall of the Vrbo brand
globally, it proved to be more memorable and easier to pronounce, so
streamlining our marketing efforts and investing in a single recognizable brand
was the right decision for us.
How is the rebrand intended to position Vrbo against more
colloquial brands in the private accommodation space such as Airbnb?
Vrbo has helped families travel better together for
almost 25 years and even though our brand has a new look and feel, our
commitment to giving families memorable vacations has not changed. We are not
the only vacation rental player in the market, but we are distinctly focused on
matching families with amazing places to stay and giving them ample space and
privacy that allows them to spend quality time together.
Given the recent news about “party houses” and some of
the potentially very serious consequences in private accommodations, what role
does marketing play in communicating how a brand plans to approach such issues?
Trust is essential in building any consumer brand and
we take that responsibility very seriously. We know that people put a lot of
time, thought and money into going on vacation and it’s important that their
experience with our brand is positive.
How do you use data to inform Vrbo’s marketing
Data and research informs everything we do at Vrbo.
For marketing specifically, we conducted extensive consumer research on
everything from our new pronunciation to how viewers respond to our ad
creative. Our brand marketing team has a segmentation group dedicated to
understanding our customers, their preferences and their motivations for
traveling, and we use that information to shape our messaging, which channels
we use in marketing and where our brand shows up throughout the customer
How do major technology brands – Google, Facebook – help
or hinder Vrbo’s marketing strategy?
Since Vrbo is an online marketplace, digital marketing
platforms like Google and Facebook are essential to our marketing strategy. We
run many display ads through Facebook and Instagram and YouTube is one of our
most effective marketing channels. In fact, one of our ad campaigns just made YouTube’s Top 10 list for Action Direct-Response
ads this year!
What would you say is Vrbo’s greatest threat and greatest
opportunity in marketing at the moment?
Vrbo has a major opportunity to tell more stories
about connecting families to their loved ones on vacation. There is such a
strong, compelling emotional connection to our brand because people make some
of their most precious memories with Vrbo. Our marketing highlights those
special moments, as well as the unique and beautiful places
available to book and the amazing
vacation home owners who make those trips possible.
As far as
threats, it can be tricky to predict how quickly marketing technologies and
platforms can change. We are continuously exploring new platforms – from video
to podcasts – to make sure we’re reaching customers effectively.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into
One of Vrbo’s core values is being customer-centric
and I’d advise anyone interested in the travel industry to center their
thinking on adding value to the customer, whether that is a traveler, a
vacation home owner, hotelier or travel agent.
it’s up to us to add value throughout the entire customer journey – be that
providing vacation inspiration, making the booking experience smoother, or
sharing memories of a great trip after the stay. Putting customers at the
center of everything we do is a guiding principle at Vrbo. It keeps us curious,
grounded and humble.
As someone new to travel marketing yourself, having come
from Etsy, what’s been the most surprising and challenging thing about moving
into this space?
There are similarities between Vrbo and Etsy because they
are both two-sided online marketplaces, but the travel industry is different
because we are marketing and selling experiences and memories instead of
physical products. You can’t “try on” or “return” a vacation, so there’s
immense pressure to provide our customers with an incredible experience from
beginning to end.
Our goal is to ensure that people can spend quality time with loved ones in
beautiful spaces and drop the distractions of everyday life, which is something
people don’t get to do every day. There is so much thought (and pressure) put
into planning and coordinating a family vacation – deciding where to explore,
what adventures to go on and trying new things outside of your comfort zone.
Taking the time to relax, be present, connect and just be together on vacation
is incredibly important.
As marketers, it’s our job to make sure Vrbo is the
number one brand associated with those memorable moments that bring us closer
to our loved ones.
What are the biggest takeaways from past roles that
you’ve brought into your current role?
My biggest takeaway from my former roles is to listen
and learn. As I’ve gotten older and gained more experience, I’ve realized the
importance of listening and learning to become a better marketer and team
Another one of Vrbo’s core values is openness. We welcome new ideas and
opinions, especially if they challenge our beliefs. We actively listen with
humility and respect. It’s a great dynamic for a team and ensures we stay
connected and aligned as we drive forward.
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