Is the 'sharing economy' the future for brands?

Collaborative consumption - often using technology to facilitate the sharing of information about goods and services - is on the rise. Online marketplaces, social lending and peer-to-peer platforms in sectors such as travel are thriving, but will brands follow across the board?

NO - Andrew Warner, Vice-president of marketing, Monster, @pubchat

Brands like Uber and Airbnb have combined nous, technology, funding and opportunity to develop compelling sharing propositions at scale, disrupting multiple categories. Yet this sharing economy only works where trust levels are high. Strong brands are ultimately trust marks. So there will be opportunities for brands to benefit from facets of what has, excruciatingly, been dubbed ‘we-commerce’. Though as younger, high-growth companies adapt to the PR, regulatory and taxation issues that accompany becoming big international businesses, established organisations have the benefit of greater experience in these areas.

The sharing movement is only one strand in the fragmentation and proliferation of business models accelerated by the evolution of the digital ecosystem. So the future will depend not just on this one, exciting, field, but on brands capitalising on appropriate new opportunities.

MAYBE - Pete Markey, Chief marketing officer, Post Office, @petermarkey

I’m genuinely excited about the potential that the sharing economy offers. It is already opening up new opportunities that put the customer even more centre stage in the proposition – from hiring out cars, to driveways, homes and even garden tools, it’s clear that a movement is under way.
My hesitation is twofold. First, will it become mainstream? Airbnb has clearly grabbed hold, but it’s taken years to get there and other models and brands are many years behind with a significant investment and a significant customer mindset-shift required before they become truly mainstream. The second is whether established brands can fully play in this space – my sense is that it will take new entrants and unique partnerships for the sharing economy to take off.

So, it’s an exciting time, but the way forward is far from certain.

MAYBE - Jemima Bird, Consultant, Jbird Consulting, and chief marketing officer, Beyond Lifestyle, @jpd26

To read the press, you’d be forgiven for thinking new sharing economy brands are the antichrist. You have to question whether the backlash is born out of jealousy from the status quo with a need to ‘diss’ anything that is disruptive to the traditional.

Legislation is rife: Airbnb is locked in a ‘hotel taxes’ battle with New York’s attorney general and Uber is facing challenges in Europe, not least in Brussels, where the company will receive a €10,000 fine any time a car operating under UberPOP picks up customers. London has proposed its own restrictions, such as constraints on UberPool car sharing.

Traditional brands, with strong brand equity and an understanding of the legislative marketplace, could fill a middle ground. However, the extent to which they are prepared to disrupt is questionable. And without ‘edgy’, will consumers be interested in polished-up same-old?

YES - Natasha Murray, Managing director, Havas Media UK, @frickermurray

Sharing is one of the first basic principles of human behaviour that we’re taught at preschool and, as my six-year-old constantly tells me, 'sharing is caring.' It’s an innate way of reaching out to other humans, showing respect and that you care. What better way for a brand to build meaning into its DNA than through sharing? The act of sharing demonstrates that a brand genuinely wants to have a positive impact on an individual’s quality of life, and also betrays an authentic desire to be a force for good in society generally. Both these metrics are part and parcel of being considered a ‘meaningful’ brand today; something for which we have hard proof through our Havas Media Meaningful Brands research.

Yes, a sharing economy will mean brands will need to re-evaluate how they behave. Good brands should understand that they must earn – not assume – a place in people’s lives.

The Forum originally appears in Marketing magazine (print and online)

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