Liza Dunning
Brand Writer and Content Lead, Airbnb, Liza Dunning

Liza Dunning has spent her career as a copywriter and branding expert and is currently a brand writer and content lead at Airbnb, the travel accommodations community marketplace. Prior to Airbnb, Dunning was a founding member and the brand creator of Scoutmob, a mobile app and e-commerce platform connecting locals to the best of independent makers. We talk to Dunning about her creative process, collaboration, brand publishing, and the wildly popular, Airbnb #HostWithPride campaign.

What do you think takes a good branded campaign to great?

I think a good branded campaign starts with a sound emotional insight. It has to do more than explain product benefits; it has to speak to personal desires. Figuring out who that person is and what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, what values they stand for, etc. is key.

To be great, I think a campaign has to inspire and empower someone in that deeply personal and unique way.

What feelings do you hope readers evoke after reading your copy? 

Honestly, it really depends on the purpose of the copy. What are they here for? What is the mood they are in when they reach this copy? What have they seen just before they’ve reached this point? Are they annoyed and do I need to soothe? Or are they looking to be inspired? This is my favorite, obviously, because it means I get to hopefully weave some dreams and light some fires.

How much does cross-departmental collaboration play into your day-to-day? 

At a rapidly moving (and growing) company like Airbnb, it’s something we have to really push for. Each department is so busy working on its own projects, it can be challenging to make sure we are constantly communicating. But we’ve seen such great success when we’re able to do it—the work just turns out so much better. So I’d say we are getting to a place where every big project is as cross-functional as we can make it … and to do that, we have some really amazing project managers who keep everyone in the loop and moving forward.

All writers have their own creative process when it comes to producing work – what’s yours? 

Ideally, it starts with a well-written, strategically sound brief that’s chock-full of great insights. Then it’s about digesting that along with my own research on what kind of relatable/inspiring material exists out there in the world already. I usually like my alone time to digest, do research, and write out my thoughts before bouncing ideas with others. But at some point early in the game, that collaboration time is key. And then it’s back to alone time to focus, write, and get in the zone without distractions. A well-curated Spotify playlist is key.

We loved the Airbnb #HostWithPride campaign. Would love to know the process on how you went from concept to campaign execution and the steps involved from a content perspective. 

We had a great brief and a great creative insight that came from the core of the Airbnb community. We also had a great collaborative creative team (a designer, an experiential creative lead, and myself) to ideate on this brief. After a lot of back and forth on different ideas, we landed on the concept of these personal ‘moments of welcome’ (inspired by the handwritten notes, welcoming greetings, support and acceptance that our hosts create for guests on a daily basis.) We felt like it aligned so well with what the LGBTQ community deserves from the world around them—this acceptance and these personal gestures of love and welcoming. It gave us a lot of room to play.

In some of the design explorations, we loved the idea of these personalized “touches” being represented by fingerprints — all different colors representing the diverse and colorful community of hosts and guests. We wanted something that could visually represent the concept on its own, and the collage of fingerprints definitely did that. We were playing around with the idea of these headlines reading like welcome notes to guests of Pride, and the fingerprints became the perfect “Love, Airbnb” sign-off for each note.

Social media was really fun as well because the welcome notes felt really playful as a way to add commentary on what was happening in the news. The format of the note gave us a lot of room to be fun, and personal, both sentimental and somewhat cheeky at times. I’ll admit that I was lucky there was so much to talk about giving the timing of SCOTUS, etc. in the weeks leading up, so every time something big was happening, I was able to play off that with a headline in real-time. I loved seeing how people reacted to those.

One thing that’s lacking in a lot of branded content is an emotional connection to the reader – however, Airbnb seems to have mastered that craft. How do you make that emotional connection as a brand writer? 

In terms of Airbnb, I don’t want to say we have it easy given our product, but I will say that there is a lot of fertile storytelling to work with when you mix the deep passion people have for travel with our diverse, global community of creatives and hosts. The product of Airbnb in itself has an emotional connection to the user—trust. Being able to stay with a stranger in their home, or opening your door and providing hospitality to someone you’ve never met before—that is huge in terms of emotional currency. The true stories we hear from our community are incredibly inspiring and give us plenty to work with in terms of how we connect with likeminded people. However, I think being smart about what we do with these stories and how we continue to make it fresh is something that we pride ourselves on continuing to push. (It’s really a writer’s dream, right?)

Aside from your smartphone, what’s the one bit of technology you couldn’t do your job without? 

I can be pretty easily distracted, so I have to rely on technology to keep me focused and organized. I use Evernote to remind me of everything I’m working on—and to keep all of the brainstorm-y notes that I would forget otherwise. It’s nice that I can have it on-hand in my phone, but also sync to my desktop so I have all my notes and thoughts and to-do lists right there together no matter what. That said, I do still love a good old-fashioned handwritten to-do list.

What do you think is next for the content industry in the realm of branded and sponsored content, and native advertising? 

I can’t say I know what the next big revolutionary ‘thing’ will be, but I do think we will continue to see brands evolving the idea of brand publishing—merging editorial and brand marketing and owning their own publishing entities. I feel like only a small handful of brands are doing it well right now. A lot of branded content feels educational—the listicles and how-to’s. I look forward to seeing more emotional, creative-driven stories. I also think as everything continues to become more customized, personalized, interactive and experiential, branded content will follow suit.

The Authors

Content Science is a growing content strategy and intelligence company and the publisher of Content Science Review. We empower digital enterprises for the content era by taking their content approach to the next level. Customers of our professional services and one-of-a-kind products (such as ContentWRX and Content Science Academy) include the Fortune 50, the world’s largest nonprofits, and the most trusted government agencies.


Liza Dunning is a Brand Writer and Content Lead at Airbnb.

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