Collaborative Economy Strategy: Marketplaces Expand Your Brand

The other side of the Hill [Explored]
Mature software companies allow a “thousand flowers to bloom” as 3rd parties would build and sell new wares around their online marketplaces. Now, every company can tap this strategy.

Make no doubt it, the Collaborative Economy continues to grow.  At the start of the year, I was tracking just over a dozen examples of big companies engaging in the change.  Today, just over six months later, there are over 50 examples of big brands who have moved into the collaborative economy.  That is a 76% increase!

What is the Collaborative Economy?  It’s where people are sharing goods among each other, or making them on their own.  Existing, traditional model companies are beginning to realize that the way to join this trend is to enable these behaviors, using the three business model shifts, we’ve outlined here.

One business strategy is for single brands to shift to a marketplace strategy, thereby enabling a community of buyers and sellers around them to gain on a brand platform.  In the past week, we’ve seen two new examples, in addition to two older ones.  Let’s take a look:

TOMS commits to social good, allowing makers to resell on their platform.  This week, Toms launched a marketplace for 30 makers to resell their own goods, items that are not Toms’ products.  This means that they are willing to support the growing community of mission-driven makers around them.  What’s really striking is their homepage banners says, “We believe commerce can be about more than just profits,” which aligns with the theme that “purpose matters more than profit” to a growing number of people.

Staples launches a collaborative marketplace, increasing their SKUs by 500%.  A few hours ago, Staples announced they will expand their number of SKUs 500% by launching a marketplace.  This new marketplace will take Amazon head-on, by enabling them to move from 200k SKUs to 1,000,000 SKUs, expanding their total market offerings.

GM tapped location technology to activate a car sharing marketplace.  An earlier example, GM partnered with RelayRide, which allows people to rent their own cars to strangers (I tried it, and let a stranger drive my family car). Using their OnStar technology, GM could identify where idle cars are parked and develop that ability to activate a collaborative marketplace of car owners and car renters.

Patagonia encourages selling used goods –proving commitment to sustainability.  The prime example that most people know is Patagonia’s big partnership with eBay for the CommonThreads program.  They encouraged people to purchase used goods – instead of buying new – with the profits from the transactions going to non-profits.  This bold move proved Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability, and also showed they had quality products that could withstand secondary ownership.

Right now, we don’t see enterprise-class, white-label marketplace software.  There’s an opportunity for software vendors like Bazaarvoice, Lithium, Adobe, Salesforce, IBM and Ariba to create these to enable brands to quickly launch their own marketplaces, rather than building custom from scratch.  A few months ago, I put out a call out to the market for this blue ocean opportunity, and was contacted by ShareTribe, who’s enabling marketplaces for anyone to launch.

What’s the big trend?

Savvy companies know that branded, online communities are shifting to thriving online marketplaces. Not only can they achieve social good, offer more products to sell, activate used goods, but they centralize commerce, community, and people around their brand.

Image by Vainsang, creative commons licensing