Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Sharing Economy Is Dead. Long Live the Leverage Economy!

Let me start by saying that I am a customer and fan of the services offered by Uber (took a ride Monday!), Airbnb (recently booked a family member into a nearby property) and other so-called “sharing” companies. In fact, just this week I gave a presentation about customer experience in which I cited Uber as an example of what brands can achieve with customer-centric product and service experiences. So, I say this as a fan and not as someone who is either anti-tech or anti-innovation: The time has come for companies in the space to stop hiding behind the “sharing economy” label and to improve collaboration with all concerned parties. Failing to do so puts these companies at risk as the industry, customer relationships, and regulations mature.

A year ago, I mounted a passionate defense of the term “sharing economy.” At the time, I argued that the word “sharing” was appropriate given these business models facilitate the mutual consumption of assets in contrast to traditional individual ownership and consumption. While this is still true, I cannot shake the feeling that companies have gotten a lot of PR and are camouflaging risky corporate practices thanks to the humanist adjectives they use, including “sharing,” “collaborative,” “trusted community marketplaces,” “the crowd” and “connected.” Who can be opposed to those ideas? It’d be like hating motherhood and apple pie!

The problem is that few of these “collaborative” companies are, well, collaborative. For a while, this was easy to overlook, because many consumers agree that some of the regulations these companies flouted were unpopular and, arguably, unnecessary. For example, Uber bypasses municipal safety regulations in many cities, and most of us don’t care because we feel safer in an Uber than a taxi. (On my last taxi trip, the driver exceeded the speed limit by 25 mph and barreled through a late yellow light near to a phone-distracted pedestrian, and I reached for my phone to give a bad review only to realize I could not.)

Because we agree some codes are outdated and appreciate the much stronger customer experience offered by the startups, it has been easy to disregard how these companies unilaterally pick which rules they like and which they do not. Laws that shield the companies from unfair practices orprotect their intellectual property–yes, please! Laws requiring they follow standard background checks or adhere to local rental ordinances–hey man, can’t you see we’re trying to innovate here!?

But it is getting harder to ignore the dangers of self-determined laws and regulations. After all, while we give a wink and a nod to Uber snubbing livery laws, do we want the manufacturing plant in our town deciding which environmental standards they’ll ignore or food companies to go maverick on safety codes?

As citizens, we all are part of the greatest collaborative platform of all–no, not Uber or Airbnb but democracy. If people don’t like certain laws, they can petition their lawmakers to change them; if citizens are not satisfied with their elected officials’ response, they can mount a recall or campaign for their defeat. Unless we want companies to set their own laws based on what is best for stockholders (or a handful of VC investors hungry for rapid and sizeable returns), then we must question the green light we give to sharing economy firms to pick the laws they deem worthy.

It seems that green light may be turning yellow. Los Angeles charged a handful of landlords with illegally evicting tenants to convert their units to short-term rentals. The New York State legislature has passed a law that would ban Airbnb users from listing some short-term rentals. Chicago just implemented new (relatively mild) rules for Airbnb. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a law requiring Airbnb hosts to register with the city. And Austin residents rejected a plan to allow Uber and Lyft to self-regulate.

In response to the new regulations, the sharing companies and their supporters have too often returned to the same old scripts. They accuse officials of being in the pockets of traditional companies. They label new laws as anti-consumer (even as consumers are asking for them). And they accuse officials of being opposed to innovation. In short, these companies ignore that their industry is maturing and many stakeholders are now asking for actions to ensure safety, equitable tax collection, a level playing field for all players, affordable housing availability, and fair rules that protect residents living adjacent to high-traffic, unlicensed hotels.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Where Virtual Reality Fits In Your Marketing Funnel (If It Fits)

Lowe's Holoroom; Photo from Lowe's and Marxent Labs

In my recent report for Gartner’s marketing clients, “Virtual Reality: What Marketers Need to Know Now,” I share an organized and cautious approach to ensure marketers get value from any investments made in virtual reality (VR) programs. As with past digital innovations, VR is creating excitement as agencies gear up their VR practices and marketers seek new ways to reach consumers. But what we can learn from past digital innovations is that the best use of VR will not be flashy top-of-funnel strategies that seek to gain awareness but programs lower in the marketing funnel that improve customer experience.

When innovations occur in communications and technology, the marketing department is often the first within the organization to act. Your marketing group likely took the lead in creating the original website, launched your company’s first social media profiles, and deployed the first mobile applications.

But while marketing’s willingness to experiment is both admirable and necessary, not every experiment pays dividends, as fan-accumulating Facebook contests, ignored advergames, abandoned Second Life islands, and other innovative concepts often failed to deliver the results marketing needs and wants. By learning from the past, we can see that the solution for marketers is to anchor their VR experiments not at the top of the funnel but toward the bottom and to understand where VR can best enhance their brand’s customer experience.

To learn more about how marketers can align VR to customer experience needs and deliver better VR programs, and to see how Lowe's Holoroom program meets both brand and customer expectations, please continue reading this post on my Gartner blog.

Monday, June 6, 2016

First Impressions of Oculus Rift Virtual Reality (and What It Means For Marketers)

Me in my Oculus Rift: "Yes, honey, I am paying attention
to you and not playing a game right now." 
As a frequent early adopter of technology, I have sometimes experienced a unique and contradictory set of feelings when using groundbreaking tech: I can be simultaneously dazzled and also modestly disappointed. The former sentiment comes from the unmistakable leap forward the tech represents and the latter from the apparent limitations of version 1.0 (along with the knowledge my expensive new hardware will quickly be surpassed).

These conflicting emotions describe how I feel using my new Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, a product recently launched by Facebook. It's an impressive piece of tech that clearly demonstrates the promise of the future, but the drawbacks of this first version are also easy to recognize. Both the strengths and the challenges of today's VR devices will impact consumer adoption, as well as the opportunities for marketers.

My feelings about my new Oculus Rift are identical to the ones I had with my Atari 1040ST in 1986 and Palm Treo 600 in 2003. The Atari was one of the first home PCs with a graphic user interface and its 320x200 color monitor displayed images that seemed wondrous at the time, but I couldn't help but be frustrated at its slow speed and the need to continually swap floppy disks when using software. Almost two decades later, my Treo encouraged the same feelings--the ability to respond to email, take (terrible) photos and access the Web were awesome, but the kludgy interface, size of the device and pokey responsiveness were constant reminders of the hardware and software improvements to come. Using the Oculus Rift provides me those same synchronous feelings of wonder and mild exasperation, and that fills me with high hopes for the future of VR.

By mentioning some of the limitations of today's VR hardware, I don't intend to discourage others from considering a purchase, but anyone who invests in the initial iteration of leading-edge tech must expect some bumps in the road. Consumers and marketers interested in VR should be aware of the strengths and challenges of today's tech and what is likely to occur in the future. I will first share some of my feelings as an Oculus Rift user and then convey some observations about what this all means for marketers.