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The Collaborative Advantage in the Sharing Economy

In the early days of Web 2.0 – boy, I’m dating myself – we talked about sharing in terms of social media. But we’ve now evolved from people sharing status updates among themselves or with brands to something much more concrete and disruptive. People are now bypassing established brands entirely to get what they need from each other. That’s “the sharing economy” – just one part of an overarching collaborative ethos that is fundamentally revolutionizing not only our global economic system, but also our lives and our communities.

What started as scrappy adaptations to cope with the economic downturn – through couch surfing, do-it-yourself manufacturing, and barter – has taken on a life of its own, and persists and is expanding despite the return of disposable income. People are discovering that – through sharing and material collaboration with one another – they can not only potentially save money, but more importantly, have a sense of control and feel that they’re having an impact.

The “sharing economy” is gaining momentum, and the collaborative ethos it exemplifies is already influencing every aspect of how companies do business. At the same time — and at the other end of the spectrum — Big Data is starting to deliver on its promise to predict behavior and tailor offerings based solely on machine-driven methods with no direct interaction with consumers.

Ironically, the huge promise of Big Data also lies in its biggest limitation. In some respects, it is so useful because it’s entirely passive – it doesn’t rely on the self-reporting of flawed, biased, and forgetful respondents, but on observable behavior. It doesn’t ask people what they’re going to do; it measures what they’ve already done. It doesn’t rely on sophisticated statistical analyses because there’s so damn much of it that algorithms and extrapolations aren’t necessary. In short, Big Data stands a good chance of replacing large-scale survey research in many domains, and I’m actually pretty excited about that.

But in the business world, in the political world – everywhere that people and companies like mine are engaged in ongoing conversation with consumers – we’re doing it with the ultimate goal of not just gathering facts, but of moving people, of partnering with them to change minds, behaviors, and products.

And while Big Data can tell you what, it can’t tell you why. While it can tell you what people do within the realm of what’s available and observable, it can’t help you create the future.

Creating and retaining customers every day is not only essential to growth, but an important part of why companies exist in the first place. And in this emerging sharing economy that is modeled on the notion of collaborative creation and consumption, companies can’t effectively create customers without a deep, empathetic, and evolving understanding of their aspirations, challenges, and needs. They can’t serve them without active, ongoing collaboration in developing and refining products, services, messaging, distribution, and the overall customer experience. At the same time, companies shouldn’t turn their backs on the speed and surgical marketing that Big Data enables.

So how are smart marketers and researchers reconciling these trends? Why and how can Big Data-driven methods be coupled with direct, interpersonal collaboration between consumers and brands? That’s the topic of my latest webinar, The Collaborative Advantage: How to Activate Consumer Collaboration in a Big Data World, where I explore:

  • What is the “collaborative ethos” and how is it being manifested in new businesses, business models, and consumer trends
  • How Big Data works with — and how it works against — this emerging ethos
  • Why is it more essential than ever to marry passively-captured Big Data with interpersonal approaches that rely on empathy, creativity, and common purpose
  • What you can learn from the successes of major global brands

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