Two thousand and thirteen, and quite possibly many more to come, will be remembered as the year ‘the sharing economy’ went mainstream. Leveraging private property and services through peer to peer selling has mushroomed from renting out a spare room or sofa to budget travellers to include workspace and offices (liquidspace.com), at-home meals and cooking classes (www.eatwithme..net), experiences for tourists (www.vayable.com) to sharing your car, lawnmower, ladder and other everyday chattels (www.neighborgoods.net, www.liftshare.com). “The sharing economy is creating a new third category,” declared co-founder of Airbnb Nathan Blecharczyk. “People as business.” (And in Airbnb’s case, a hugely profitable, globally viable business growing at internet speed).
It’s not difficult to understand the allure of the sharing economy – a chance for ordinary people to pick up and/or save some extra cash in these economically challenged times, the eradication of the ‘middle man’, and the perception that is it somehow more ‘sustainable’ than traditional paradigms are just a few. But what does the sharing economy mean for the branding and marketing professions?
This article from Fast Company describes the rise of the sharing economy as a disruption – or challenge to the consumer economy. Citing research carried out by the Altimeter Group, it follows after the brand experience era (‘when brands were forced to hire digital specialists’) and the customer experience era (‘in which social media allowed customers to ‘talk-back’ to brands’). ‘As consumers collaborate (or in some instances even conspire) to work around further consumption by sharing their goods and services, brands are fearful they may have no place in the future,’ is the grim prophecy.
The article goes onto suggest three neat ways companies and manufacturers can tap into the sharing ethos: Company-as-Service (offering clients goods on a timeshare basis), Motivating a Marketplace (helping your customers to re-sell) and Provide a Platform – basically taking a leaf out Etsy’s and eBay’s books and encourage customers to connect with each other.
Whist marketing departments are no doubt discussing how these (and other) ideas can be put into action, a simpler proposal that uses the principles of asset sharing has been put forth by Brandgathering, an on-line community of entrepreneurs that encourages and facilitates collaboration. “Everything can be shared, from tasks to space and even debt” it argues. And that marketing is the next step.
Brandgathering advocates reaching out to non-direct competition brands to create mutually viable exchanges; e-newsletters features, using each others’ products in event goodie bags, and co-branded events and products in order to capture new client bases and make business grow. The interesting part in the near future will be to see which brands embrace the sharing spirit, and those that continue to slog it out alone.