Getting a Piece: Brands and the Sharing Economy
I was at an event a few weeks ago where General Motors debuted the new Cadillac ELR — a plug-in electric coupe done with all the luxury you would expect in a Cadillac. Lovely car. More efficient than traditional gas-powered cars. Enough on-board gadgetry and personalization settings to keep a smartphone addict consumed.
The truth is: I live in downtown San Francisco and I’m probably not going to buy a car anytime soon. But I do have a Zipcar membership and regularly use both Lyft and Uber.
I’m typical of the young professional urban consumer who lives in a major metropolitan area and under other circumstances might be buying a car, but instead prefers the non-ownership model of the sharing economy.
So how does an automotive brand engage me?
Imagine if auto brands bought into the sharing economy and released an entire fleet of Cadillacs (or Lexuses or Fords) that could be signed up for and shared within a city.
General Motors has dipped a toe into peer-to-peer sharing with an investment in Relay Rides and enabling OnStar subscribers to easily share their cars through the Relay Rides mobile app. I love the idea of a car company leading with the assumption that everyone who buys a car may be at some point share it.
Daimler has also done some experimenting in the sharing economy with the Car2Go service, but their fleet of small electric cars is less about the car brand experience and more about the convenience of picking up a car only when you need it.
Users of the sharing economy have a reputation for being brand agnostic, but we’re just as brand conscious as any other consumer. We still cling to our affinity for Android or iPhone. And the sharing of clothing via sites like Bag Borrow or Steal or Rent the Runway is about nothing if not extending your fashion brand buying power.
Brand sharing is the new brand owning
Technology has given us the ability to share at scale and the movement toward collaborative consumption has given us even more consumptive power — power that can be used to experience brands in a completely new way.
Brands who embrace the sharing economy can find an entire customer base that they couldn’t engage before. Combining the convenience and community of these platforms with the desire of consumers to experience the brands they love gives consumers the opportunity to have a completely new brand experience.
Consumer brands should be empowering us to experience their products in the way that we want — not by owning, but by sharing.
Thanks for the post. i live in Prince George’s County MD which is between Baltimore and Washington DC. We have zipcar. It services people in your demographic. i have yet to see the high end cars in the zipcar fleet. I think you are right about companies participating in the sharing economy and engaging markets that they have not in the past.
By the way, are tech founders in the San Francisco area willing to relocate if a locale has financial and talent resources that can help get their startup going?
I think it’s a hard sell to get entrepreneurs to move out of San Francisco/Bay Area. All of the major investment opportunity is located here and this is where great talent wants to live.
I do think there’s a lot of opportunity to cultivate a startup community and a culture of innovation outside of the Bay Area. Places like Austin, Kansas City, and Raleigh-Durham are good examples of places that are completely different from the Bay but have impressive entrepreneur communities of their own.