Tech & Work

New 'golden rules' of business: how to succeed in the sharing economy

Lyft, Airbnb and other outlets shifted the traditional marketplace, offering venues for self-starters to earn extra income. Marketing expert Billee Howard shares tips for success in the "we" economy.

Image: Amazon.com

In business, the customer has always been central. But with the widespread adoption of Lyft, Airbnb and other sharing economy mainstays, the importance of customer satisfaction—in the form of reviews, word-of-mouth promotion, and continued support—has never been more critical. This new economy, based on mutual trust, has transformed the way we work.

The domain of the "we-economy" is the subject of WE-Commerce: How to Create, Collaborate, and Succeed in the Sharing Economy, written by marketing strategist Billie Howard, out today. WE-Commerce, which earned a starred review (a top pick) in Publisher's Weekly, draws from Howard's experience as founder and chief engagement officer of Brandthropologie, a consulting firm, as well as head of Mojo Risin Productions.

Here are Howard's five 'golden rules' for success in the we-economy:

  1. Create a brand culture that encourages trust and sharing. In today's economy, said Howard, the idea of collective experiences and collaboration is key. Airbnb guests and hosts are not simply customers or business people—they are part of a community. "Consumers want to deal directly with one another...and to get the middleman out of the way," wrote Howard. So in companies like Airbnb and Uber, consumer and host reviews are fundamental to trust—and, therefore, success.
  2. Be a redemptive leader. Successful companies do not run themselves. They are created by leaders who inspire passion. Howard uses the example of Ford, whose CEO, (until 2014), Alan Mulally, brought together employees and listened to their opinions in developing a strategy to steer the company away from a potential economic collapse.
  3. Recognize that failure is the new success. Howard uses the example of Wall Street's meltdown in 2008 to illustrate how its tendency to "punish" failure led to a denial of real problems and subsequent collapse. "We can no longer afford...to rest on our laurels when times are good," she writes—we must "embrace failure."
  4. Cultivate mavericks and encourage them to break the rules. This seemingly counter-intuitive advice is Howard's way of honoring the "anarchist; tinkerer; nonconformist" that are often at the brink of great discoveries.
  5. Make change a core business competency. The market, says Howard, is evolving at a much more rapid pace. Ideas are quickly outdated, adaptation is key to survival. She uses HBO as a model of how a business can take an idea—quality—and, even at a time when it did not make good business sense, let that trait help the company stand apart, and, ultimately, thrive.

TechRepublic asked Howard about insights from her marketing experience.

What inspired this book?

I was in Rome the day the financial markets collapsed and immediately felt a massive period of transformation underfoot, likely because I was in a nation that had once fallen and risen like a Phoenix to new heights. I think in 2008 a global reset button was pushed and a new canvas of creation was laid out for the taking by anyone, anywhere at anytime. What we are seeing today is only the very beginning of this seismic sea change.

Are there misconceptions about the sharing economy?

Yes. People don't understand that the sharing economy is not just about conveniences like Airbnb and Uber. It's about a fundamental shift in the global economy where trust and creativity are the foundation and ownership is becoming a thing of the past in favor of borrowing. Also people seem to see regulatory hurdles as a reason for the sharing economy to be a fad rather than a paradigm shift and that is completely inaccurate as regulation has always traditionally lagged significantly behind innovation.

Regulation has always traditionally lagged significantly behind innovation. Billee Howard

What is the biggest mistake you see startups/entrepreneurs making?

Trying to be all things to all people is never a good idea. Possessing an ultra niche focus is key to success in this economy whether you are big or small. If you notice all the top players have stuck to basically one core specialization: Warby=glasses, Airbnb=lodging, Postmates=on demand delivery and so on. Not losing focus on the big picture of bespoke detail and an acute attention to incomparable overall brand experience is critical.

How can sharing economy businesses maintain their goals while ensuring that their employees are valued and taken care of?

Sharing economy companies are working to not just be good at what they do, but be good at who they are. We see this everywhere from the recent Airbnb Community Compact which is a call to action for the company to work with local governments to ensure the best conditions for workers and consumers alike. Also many players are providing flexible work schedules and highly competitive compensation to ensure that their workers are well cared for. The idea is for sharing economy players to create collaborative ecosystems that benefit all parties: businesses, employees and consumers. It will be this triumvirate approach to innovation that separates the winners from the losers.

What trends do you see in 2016 for the sharing economy?

New untapped niches will continue to be exploited by the sharing economy. A great recent example is Nimber who was the first to capitalize upon unused space within transportation to courier things from point A to point B through the power of collaborative commerce.

I think we will also see more big business get into the sharing economy game. A great example is Hyatt's onefinestay brand.

Regulation will also likely begin to catch up to innovation, although the perfect balance that needs to occur will continue to be a work in progress for years to come as the economy continues to thrive, mature and fully expand its mighty wings.

Lastly we will continue to see a flattening of the innovation landscape on a global scale with new ideas and creative disruptions emerging everywhere from places as far flung as Virginia to Vietnam.

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About

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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