by Kerrie LeBourveau-Smith
November 13th, 2014

If you’ve forgone a taxi in favor of an Uber ride, skipped a hotel in hopes of a unique AirBNB experience or pitched in money to a random person’s Kickstarter campaign, you are one of millions of people contributing to the collaborative economy. While the idea of sharing goods and services certainly isn’t a new concept, new technologies are enabling this movement to grow far beyond car-shares. In a world where people are empowered to get what they need from each other, the role for businesses is significantly evolving.

So what are the three major opportunities for brands in the collaborative economy?

Offer Access Over Ownership

The line is blurring between product ownership and access to products. Brands must evolve by offering their brand as a service. Consumer preferences are shifting toward on-demand access to products over ownership, as evidence by the explosion of services like Uber and Netflix. Nordstrom’s recent acquisition of Trunk Club is proof that companies are recognizing that a service-based membership model can help drive sales and feed consumer demand for more customized, convenient and technology-forward shopping experiences.

Embrace The Cycle of Product Exchanges

Technology is allowing products to be easily transferred when they are not needed or no longer useful, allowing items to exchange hands over and over. Brands are now asking, “How can we be a part of these transactions?” Take for instance Patagonia’s eBay program that encourages consumers to purchase products second-hand.

Build Platforms That Reward Loyalty and Community

Brands are seeing the potential for tapping into the power of the crowd by creating platforms that give a voice to communities and loyal customers. Take Hasbro’s partnership with Shapeways, a 3D printing marketplace, which allows consumers to create custom My Little Pony artwork. “Instead of trying to prohibit it, they’re enabling it, and I think that’s awesome,” said Peter Weijmarshausen, chief executive of Shapeways on New York Times. “By embracing this new technology, it’s good for everybody. The end-user is happy because he or she gets what they want, and we don’t get into a fight.”

Still not sold?

Consider that collaborative economy programs and partnerships are powerful mechanisms to build a company’s social mission – which is especially important at a time when sustainability is becoming just as important as profitability.  50 percent of global consumers say they will buy from companies that give back to society and ninety-one percent of U.S. consumers will switch brands to one that aligns with a good cause. The business case for the collaborative economy is hard to deny.

Kerrie LeBourveau-Smith is Digital Director, Weber Shandwick San Francisco 

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