The concept of sharing starts at a young age. In the sandbox we are encouraged to share our toys and play nice with others. But many adults, and as most businesses still demonstrate, are still not willing to operate that way. We “fight for what is rightfully ours”, we “look out for number one”, and we “own this market” vis a vis competitors. Perhaps this is because people, like companies, have largely operated under the assumption of competing for scarce resources to conquer and own. But the new millennium has changed that. Technology has shifted the paradigm from scarcity to abundance. Sharing increasingly trumps owning. And if you’re still trying to command and control and keep others out of the sandbox, you’re actually missing out on opportunities and risk getting left behind.
Pundits of the new “share economy” insist that sharing is the new black. But beyond the notion of exchanges, analysts point out that it’s more than sharing, per se, it’s really about “access” and “collaborative consumption” enabled by technology’s ability to make sharing more and more efficient.
Indeed, the internet has been connecting buyers and sellers for some time. But now, with GPS and social networks we can connect with others around the corner who want to share rides or people in another part of the world that want to share an apartment or just a couch for a night. Importantly, these brands are doing what brands have always done best; bringing an element of trust. For example, Couchsurfer is a community that offers a place to crash on the share principal but keeps tabs on all members to make sure they are good members that can be trusted.And that kind of brand trust factor is paying off. Look at the success of these brands with sharing and trusting at their core; Uber, while owning no vehicles is worth $41 Billion while Arbnb, while owning no property is worth an estimated $13 billion.
As marketers, we can see the opportunities to create value and customer satisfaction in sharing but how are we creating value as makers? As companies and brands, have we come to terms that we need to share? Here, the results are more mixed:
- Sergio Marchionnie, the CEO of automaker FCA has called for more mergers and partnerships to offset high capital investment in the auto industry and the waste of manufacturing overcapacity. Engines and other new technology are high cost items where development costs can easily be shared. Interestingly, while much of Sergio’s plea fell on deaf ears, Mazda and Toyota announced an “engagement’ to work closely in these areas to lower costs and create value. Bravo.
- The software industry has proven to be a pioneer with “open source” software development; the idea is to let developers build on a base of shared community-developed code to create new solutions. But while many developers operate this way, Silicon Valley, and many Fortune 500 companies, remain notorious for “brain rape”; a term coined in the valley for stealing shared intellectual property. In this world, be careful what you share because it can and possibly will be used against you. And, be prepared to lawyer up when ripped off.
- We recently attended a conference where research industry clients implored research vendors to come together, leverage each other’s strengths, and provide the marketer with more innovative big data solutions. But the research sandbox, and its cousin the ad industry sandbox, haven’t generally worked this way. Competition can be brutal and sharing with others highly irregular. Indeed, one of the vendors took a very public critical shot at one of their competitors at this same conference. Sharing, let alone being nice, could be a ways off…
Seven years ago, we launched a start-up and recognized the opportunities of the shared economy. Indeed, we built upon a shared collective talent model that leverages the abundance of the new economy workforce. More often than not, collaborating with perceived competitors has been successful although some marketing colleagues still insist on putting up fences despite their clients wishes to “play nice” and collaborate.
What’s more, we have built a software platform for collaborative marketing and co-design with consumers. Virtual Voice lets consumers share their ideas with brands. What we’ve learned is that consumers and many brands are embracing the clear values of the shared economy. We’ve also learned that consumers like the new access enabled by technology with marketers. But while many brands are getting on-board, many businesses still need some growing up to do. It’s a big sandbox out there. And plenty of toys to go around. Let’s all share.