Staying relevant in a sharing economy

Staying relevant in a sharing economy

It’s good to share, our parents told us. Turns out they’re right. In an era of collaborative consumption, sharing with others is no longer just nice to do, but a great way to pocket extra cash.

Got a power drill in your shed that lies unused for most of the year? Stick it on Open Shed for others to rent and make some money each week. Got a car that sits dormant Monday to Friday? List it on neighbour-to-neighbour car sharing site Car Next Door and unlock the value of your asset.

Big and small, the ways we consume is changing. Why buy when you can rent? Why outlay when you can access? In today’s connected world sharing has not only become easier to do but opened up real opportunities for micro-entrepreneurship.
The poster child of the shift from ownership to access is community accommodation marketplace Airbnb. And rightly so. In a little over five years, Airbnb has grown from a small start-up in San Francisco to a truly global business, offering travellers places to stay in over 34,000 cities across 192 countries.

It’s an impressive story and one that’s been well told in media across the globe. So much so that amid the noise surrounding emerging collaborative consumption businesses we’ve almost lost sight of a potentially more important question… 

How do established brands respond to the disruptive force of collaborative consumption and stay relevant in a sharing economy?

In other words, how does Hertz respond to rising consumer demand for car sharing? How does Hilton Hotels maintain relevance in a world where consumers have greater control over where they stay and how much they pay?

UTS professor Chris Riedy reckons smart businesses see the sharing economy as an opportunity rather than a threat. He cites the efforts of brands such as BMW, which has launched a premium car sharing service called DriveNow, as an example of how innovative brands are evolving the way they connect with customers.

Whether more brands will follow isn’t clear. What is clear, however, is the need for communications that accommodate a changing consumer mind-set – a mind-set focused on the hole, not the drill.

To put it simply, gone are the days of the exclusive customer relationship. In a collaborative world brands have more opportunities to reach greater numbers of people but less time to interact with them. In the BWM DriveNow example, for instance, the brand may have more people engaging with its product but less time to engage with them.

The communications challenges therefor lie not only in how brands scale their engagement to serve a wider pool of people but how they keep that engagement (albeit short) meaningful and lasting.

While no one yet appears to have the answer, it’s a conversation worth having. After all (as our parents also told us), ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.

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