In the last few years I have seen a popular business model emerging which embodies a greater focus on social and environmental responsibility, and a new requirement for trust and sharing, as well as customer and community collaboration. Companies like Airbnb, Uber, Zappos, and Whole Foods are setting the example, and leading the way in profitability and purpose.
In her classic book, “We-Commerce: How to Create, Collaborate, and Succeed in the Sharing Economy,” veteran marketing strategist Billee Howard calls this movement an economy centered on the power of “we” instead of “me.” She presents a roadmap to help us navigate this new business landscape, retaining the best of the old, while innovating the path to success.
In my work with many entrepreneurs and investors, I also see and support the strong movement to this business model, which can be characterized by the following attributes she outlines:
- Deliver value to the greater community, as well as customers and insiders. Provide real value and give-back to the global community and employees, generating trust and loyalty, which in turn brings in more customers. The result is a win-win situation, with more profits for the business, satisfied customers, and happy employees at all levels.
- Develop a personal-engagement extraordinary service mentality. The days of mass production and commodity pricing as an asset are gone. The new customer generation wants to provide input, and wants to be treated as one-of-a-kind in their solution, delivery, and service. Being good in business now looks like an art, with creativity and innovation.
- Customers and team members must be inspired, rather than pushed. Companies that offer value beyond their product or service, for social and environmental good, are seen as leading the way forward to a shared future abundance. This results in a new loyalty inside the organization, as well as outside, building momentum and profit.
- Grow bigger by thinking smaller in the beginning. Start with a niche that you want to be known for, and knock it out of the ballpark by being the best. Narrowing your focus actually broadens your appeal and allows you to charge a premium because you are “the expert.” This give you the credibility to expand to other niches and grow the market.
- Make innovation, creativity, and artistry your core competency. This requires team members who’ve been taught to think like innovators, and a reward system that fosters creativity. It requires actively listening to customers, and a culture of change. Most of all, it requires leadership and communication from the top on purpose and shared goals.
- Tell your purpose story for engagement and improved recollection. Stories have been an essential driver of change and engagement throughout human history. Good stories make us think and make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph won’t.
- Bridge the physical and digital worlds for your customers. Make sure all relevant customer interaction data, regardless of channel or source, is immediately available at every step of the customer’s journey. Empower all team members and customers, both in-store and online, with the right information they need in order facilitate a buy decision.
On top of the current pandemic, the business world has been forever altered by the growth of the world-wide Internet and global telecommunications. The customer and business universes are now globally and totally connected. This means that all customers see social needs and the environment as part of their own world, and expect these to be part of every business focus.
Thus, as the new sharing economy challengers continue to evolve their new business models, the traditional incumbents are being forced to change, or forced out of the marketplace. It’s time to take a reading on where you are in this spectrum. Is your company innovating a path to success, or riding an old wave into a cliff?