Are you preparing for the Collaborative Economy?

Share The RoadI spent some time last week reading about what is becoming known as the “sharing” or “collaborative” economy. Versions of the sharing economy have existed since the beginning of time — and, I remember my parents when I was a kid had an “allotment” that provided land and shared tools, etc within a larger, shared vegetable growing space. But, as Jeremiah Owyang points out there are forces at play today — societal, economic, and technological (as well as legislative) — that are accelerating, cementing, and legitimizing this phenomena by the week.
There isn’t a single sharing economy. Ownership and access models vary — and are fragmenting. For example, you can imagine a spectrum of car “sharing” that begins with leasing a vehicle, rather than owning it. Of course, you’ve been able to rent a car from Hertz or Avis forever and a day; but then along came Zipcar (recently acquired by Avis) which allowed us to rent by smaller increments of time; followed by Uber and Hailo that altered how we think about car hire; followed by lyft and getaround that allow us to share a car that someone else owns (or has rented) or to monetize our own. And, a similar spectrum exists in multiple industries.

The whole subject is intriguing, but in this new Wild West, what stood out to me is that there doesn’t appear to be too much of an emphasis on data and IP ownership. From an IP perspective, collaboration is great while I’m getting some benefit, but as soon as someone else starts to benefit more than I do off the back of my idea or work, how will I react? And, who’s liable if something goes wrong?

As it relates to data, how do I learn about the types of people that collaborate on my product or business? Who owns any data output? For example, what information does lyft or airbnb own about me and about the people that I have shared/collaborated with? Do I have access to that data? Of course, I also have data about the types of people that I have shared with, opinions on what worked and didn’t, and preferences for how I share moving forward. Is there any value to my sharing that data — either with my collaborators or any central entity that is managing the process. Unless these questions are considered and thought through, I am concerned that we’ll end up in a similar situation to the mobile market where the device manufacturers, carriers, app producers, payment players, and corporations all own disjointed elements of customer/user data without a useful and holistic customer/user understanding.

Building on the data theme, there’s also an interesting question about “trust” and portability. If I’m a respected seller on eBay, a highly rated traveler or Hailo, or a trusted guest with airbnb, how can I take that reputation and benefit from it elsewhere? In chatting with Jeremiah, he pointed to FaceBook connect (which he also pointed out doesn’t have a reputation index) and TrustCloud, which seems to have the right idea, but lacks traction. I sense the growth of the collaborative economy (and its embrace by the mainstream) will be linked tightly to the idea of trust and reputation portability — it’ll be interesting to see whether TrustCloud or some other entity emerge as the credit bureau for reputation.

Overall though, as I read about this growing phenomenon, I was intrigued by a quote in Jeremiah’s research from the CEO of about how disruption in the future may come from meeting needs in new ways. What’s cool about this is that it begins from an understanding of customer needs. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s where most companies start from today in their customer service, promotion, and even, in many cases in their development of products and services. But, if you’re not thinking in those terms today, it’s going to be even harder to pivot your business, to think about new ways to meet those needs — and it’s going to leave you wide open to disruption by smaller, more nimble competitors that have figured out what it is that customers really need, and how they can deliver it to them in new, more interesting, and more effective ways.

Smart firms are already adapting, and collaborating to offset disruption. Regus (which offers office sharing) and Zipcar recently trimmed up to offer a combined offering to customers. Are they meeting customer needs in new ways? Not necessarily, but it’s a smart defensive move in the immediate term.

How about you and your company? What are you doing to understand customer needs and how you can meet them differently? If you’re not thinking in these terms, watch out, because your competition is starting to do so. And, your competition may be some small company that you haven’t even heard of yet!



Can marketers actually learn from the NSA and NYPD?

Stop and friskLet me be really clear from the start. I don’t intend to enter into a political debate with this post. But, a thought occurred to me while reading the arguments raging in the political and public sphere lately about two unrelated Government programs — the NSA surveillance issue, and New York’s “stop and frisk” policy. I’ve been struck that ultimately both programs (and certainly the conversations surrounding them) appear to center on an idea of “targeting” — targeting which phrases to listen for; which ethnic minorities to engage; which languages to listen to; and so on.

It’s pretty analogous — albeit at a different scale and with a different desired outcome — to how marketers target customer segments. Marketers ask questions and analyze data to target customers and prospects alike: they determine who to send which message to; consider who’s likely to churn; and try to predict what products a customer is likely to buy.

And, yet the NSA issue in particular is raising public awareness and getting certain privacy oriented organizations salivating at the opportunity to curb marketer’s opportunity to leverage customer data. And, here’s where the analogy breaks down — whether you agree or disagree with these political programs, their advocates are seeking to justify them by evoking a need for a balance between privacy and security/safety. These programs, they argue, are for our own benefit. They protect us.

Even if you don’t agree with that sentiment, it is at least a meaty idea. You can picture the front cover of the Economist with privacy on one end of a see-saw and safety on the other.

But what about marketers? What do we offer in return? Better targeted stuff we’d like them to buy? More relevant ads? Unless marketers — and the companies they work for — start to demonstrate the customer value and utility that derives from using customer data, they should start to prepare for the day when they have a lot less access to it.



Engagement plus data capture? Brilliant!

Those of you that know me are probably shocked that it took this long for me to write a post that centered on Guinness. I’ve long believed that Guinness excels at marketing, but this week it introduced a brilliant concept leveraging near field communication (NFC) which will give it the opportunity to engage with customers, learn more about them, and reward them in a single swoop.

Photo by Lyn Hughes Photo

Photo by Lyn Hughes Photo

During the 119 seconds that it takes to pour the perfect pint, customers can hold their smartphones to the harp on NFC-enabled Guinness taps (or founts as they are apparently called) and discover whether they have won a complimentary drink. There are already more than 13 thousand taps installed in the UK and Ireland, with another 65 thousand to come during the next couple of years.

This is smart on so many levels:

  • It gives Guinness the opportunity to engage directly with its customers. CPG/FMCG firms have always struggled to engage with customers, since they don’t sell to them directly. Now, Guinness can engage with customers during consumption — the ultimate moment of truth — as well as capture all sorts of personal and device information;
  • It’s 100% opt-in;
  • It makes data capture an integral component of their engagement strategy. It will give Guinness data that they can apply elsewhere – for example by understanding consumption by time of day/evening, it could help guide their media buying decisions; or they might be able to determine how environmental factors (like weather) impact consumption;
  • It provides a platform to capture more information. I’d be more than happy to answer a question each time I connected if it increased my odds of getting a free pint. If Guinness asked just one question each time a customer connected, they could quickly build a phenomenally rich profile of their customers.
  • It will drive brand awareness. Just seeing people take out their phones and connect with the tap is going to encourage conversation. It’ll probably also drive sales in the immediate term based on the novelty factor alone.

I simply love this idea – and can’t wait to try it out. As the Guinness ads would say: Brilliant!



What’s the next application for your intelligence?

I had a great conversation last night with the receptionist at my dentist about the not-so-new Citi Bike program in NY (yes, it’s odd that an Irishman travels from Florida to NY to see an English dentist, but I’m a big fan).

Citi Bike Station

Michael was raving about the scheme – spending $100 on it will save him $1400 annually in subway spend; he’ll get at least 30 minutes of cardio a day, and so on. As he explained the scheme, it seems to have been really cleverly-thought out. Participants can see on a website or app which ‘stations’ have available bikes (to pick up) or bays (for dropping off – and if a bay is full they give you additional time to go to another bay without charge). They can report mechanical issues and flat tires at the touch of a button when docking the bikes. And, Citi is getting phenomenal branding by being ridden all over the City, while including some clever tie-ins like discounts for Citi card holders.

Then when I went to the website, what got me really excited was a tab for “System Data“. They use an open source tool to provide simple but slick visualization of information ranging from the number of annual members that have signed up to how many miles have been ridden to date.

But, if that’s the information they’re sharing, what about the information that they have behind the curtain. The City can begin to understand which neighborhoods are greater adopters – so that they might provide additional stations – but also to examine factors that might be holding other neighborhoods back. In other words, they can use intelligence to improve the system over all.

And, because this is a New York City initiative, they can presumably use the intelligence across multiple departments:

  • when planning for bike lanes – by understanding common routes/paths;
  • to adjust police feet on the street – if there’s an especially high or unusual spike of people in a given area;
  • to prioritize road repairs – if a given neighborhood has an unusually high number of punctures or bent forks, maybe the pot holes are to blame;
  • to plan other transportation system loads – the MTA might staff up subway booths in preparation for an influx of regular cyclists if there was a big dip in normal usage on a give morning.

There are so many ways the City can use the data – but its the same in every company. It’s always worth pausing when accessing insight about your customers for one specific reason, to consider how else the intelligence can be applied. Brainstorm non-obvious uses of the intelligence that might deliver further utility and value for the customer, and hopefully further insights and revenue for the business.


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