Marketers Need to Embrace Peer-to-Peer Activities

The sharing economy

Peer-to-peer is also having a very real impact economically. In North America, 640,000 people took advantage of car-sharing services in July 2011, according to Innovative Mobility Research, but that number is projected to balloon to 4.4 million by 2016, according to Frost & Sullivan. Since its launch in 2007, Airbnb has booked more than 10 million nights. Rachel Botsman, co-author of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, puts the value of the sharing economy at $110 billion-plus.

Marketing experts suggest that the best way for established brands to be a part of this tsunami is by partnering with peer-to-peer upstarts. Such collaborations can “infuse freshness into the brand’s persona and broaden its appeal,” says Ann Mack, director of trendspotting at JWT. “It’s also an opportunity to learn about the audience, inner workings, strengths and weaknesses of peer-to-peer enterprises.”

That is precisely what the partnership between General Motors and the three-year-old car-sharing service RelayRides aims to do. Using RelayRides’ website and app, customers can rent unused vehicles at a rate set by the owner. Last year, GM tied its satellite-based communications and roadside assistance service OnStar to RelayRides, enabling renters to use the service to check for available vehicles, make reservations and locate vehicles via GPS. (About 6 million people subscribe to OnStar in the U.S. and Canada.) General Motors Ventures has invested an estimated $3 million in the startup.

The pact is part of the auto giant’s effort to position the Chevrolet Volt, Sonic and Cruze as “innovative products that offer what next-gen drivers expect,” says Chevy’s Landy. “The connection with RelayRides also gives us exposure with younger consumers and offers new car buyers a way to subsidize their car payments” by renting out their vehicles when they’re not using them.

Might the Chevrolet brand be in danger of peer transactions gone awry—renters trashing automobiles, say, or owners renting out clunkers? “There’s risk in any social discussion or business these days,” Landy concedes. But like other peer-to-peer services, RelayRides attempts to weed out the bad eggs via user ratings and reviews online. “This kind of sharing service is less adventurous than people might think,” she points out.

This past holiday season, clothing chain Gap partnered with peer-to-peer pioneer TaskRabbit, the five-year-old service that facilitates the outsourcing of random tasks to strangers. The retailer signed on with the service as part of a promotion aimed at lending a hand to harried Christmas shoppers, with customers at select New York and San Francisco locations spending at least $75 receiving a $25 TaskRabbit voucher. Says a Gap rep: “Our brand strives to introduce customers to unusual, up-and-coming services in fashion and beyond.”

Pepsi is another brand to have linked up with the popular service. Last fall, Pepsi Next sponsored a contest across 10 cities in which 200 winners got the services of a TaskRabbit personal assistant for an hour.

“We get two to three overtures a month from brands, mainly consumer packaged-goods companies that have an innovative culture,” says Jamie Viggiano, TaskRabbit’s senior director of marketing. Such alliances help keep the brands social and local, and enable TaskRabbit to reach a larger audience, she says.

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