This week we’ve been reading about the changing face of the global sharing economy and a few insights have caught our eye…

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While it has transpired that WeChat’s recent ‘rent a dad’ initiative was nothing more than an innovative marketing ploy by furniture brand Oppein, there is little debate that the sharing economy has moved well beyond ride sharing and renting spare rooms over the past decade.

According to Nicolas Voisin, founder of TheAssets.co, “80% of the things in our homes are used less than once a month, and self-storage has increased by 1,000% over the past three decades.” It is thus unsurprising that people are getting creative about how they make use of surplus time and assets.

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WeChat’s ‘Rent-a-Dad’

Then and now

While owning things was once the marker of the middle class, with house purchase and car ownership considered the pinnacle of “making it” in life, as millennials move into adulthood, the notion of “access over ownership” has started to redefine almost every aspect of their lives.

And with 75% of the workforce estimated to be comprised of millennials by 2025, there’s going to be a major shift in purchasing decisions. As the newer generations take over the consumer and business world, brands will have to acknowledge their needs and values.

However, this is no longer simply a millennial preference, it is a core part of modern society.

Rejection of consumerism or desire for community?

With an increasing movement towards minimalism and cleaner consumption experiences, the sharing economy has become a crucial ingredient for those looking to disrupt the status quo. Not only is there a disillusionment with conventional consumerism, but the advent of the digital and sharing economies has made everything so much easier.

Equally, emancipation from owning has become an increasingly freeing notion for people, and sharing is fostering seeds of community — a rare condition in a society that now find their sense of belonging from social media. All this ladders up to far more than simply convenience, the sharing economy could be beginning to re-forge the connection eroded by technology.

What it looks like and why brands should care?

The sharing economy is projected to grow from $15 billion in 2014 to more than $335 billion in 2025. There are thousands of companies and individuals with assets waiting to be used, and there are millions more consumers looking to take advantage of this.

This dramatic shift in consumer behaviour is enabling people to access things they might not otherwise be able to afford, providing an onramp to greater economic participation welcoming the emerging middle class, women and the elderly. With the middle projected to double in the next 10 years, women already among the most ardent sharing-economy customers, and an ageing population looking to gain access to extra income, this could be just the start.

With that in mind, here are a few of the brands pushing the boundaries in this space…

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Zipcar sharing car service

Here for a good time, not a long time

As the conventional work-life balance evolves, and the ‘gig economy’ continues to grow year-on-year, the sharing economy will play a far bigger role in the movement of people than most would have ever imagined. Sites like TaskRabbit, Care.com and Upwork have recognised this shift. With each specialising in a unique and differentiated sector — covering everything from traditional freelancing to dog walking and caregivers — the platforms have managed to carve out a niche that makes it possible to connect those offering services with those seeking them.

Cutting out the retailer

Services such as Le Tote offer subscribers the ability to borrow clothes and return them like a Netflix subscription for your closet. In the premium sector, Rent the Runway allows women to rent designer gowns for a special event at a fraction of the price of buying one. Beyond the likes of Lyft and Uber, Zipcar allows people to borrow cars for very short periods of time, with everything from a big shopping trip to a weekend away. On a more day-to-day scale, Neighborgoods enables people to borrow resources — such as tools and kitchen appliances — directly from their neighbours. All of these platforms enable both the growth of stronger communities and the prevention of underutilisation.

Anyone want to borrow my mum?

The Asian market is (and not for the first time) reimagining what the sharing economy could look like. Founded in Hong Kong in 2013, ECrent encourages people to share all sorts of products, from bicycles to popcorn machines. But among ECrent’s more eccentric offerings are mums-for-hire, for those single salary earners who yearn for some of mum’s home-made soup. In China, single men and women are also now using online partner rental services (such as Hire Me Plz), to hire fake partners in order to stop their parents nagging them about settling down and starting a family. Japanese company, Family Romance, goes one step further as they re-evaluate how fundamental the concept of traditional family really is in the first place. For $50 an hour, you can hire a replacement family member to fill in for the absent person.

The Human Experience (HX) learnings?

Where Baby Boomers and Gen Xers once had shelves and shelves dedicated to books, magazines and music, today we can fit the same amount of media and more onto the pocket-sized computers we anachronistically still call phones. As such, people are now far more receptive to the idea of sharing and borrowing products as a means of ensuring they have the freedom to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of consumer trends.

If brands are able to create innovative platforms, models and products that enable consumers to access the thriving peer-to-peer economy, they have the potential to fulfil a real human need. The consumer is more in charge than ever.

Simon Hall is a consultant at Brand Genetics, an insight and innovation agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With a background in reinventing big businesses at pace, he has experience in creative problem solving, thought leadership and reframing human insight and has worked in strategy, leadership and change across business sectors.

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Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics www.brandgenetics.com

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