Dear Brands, Our Relationship has Changed

Dear John

Dear Brands,I want an open relationship.

All my life, we’ve had a committed and dedicated relationship.  You told me what to buy.  I bought it and I bought it again.  But now, that’s about to change.  I don’t want to buy from you directly.  I want to rent, subscribe to, and borrow your goods.  If I end up buying your product, I want to use it with others to resell, rent to others, swap or lend.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Our world has changed, and along with it, my preferences.  From a more socially responsible mindset, economic pressures are sufficient, and technology makes it for me to find other consumers who can supply the things I need, virtually on demand.  Here’s how my behavior chains changing:

I will use AirBnb to find vacation spots, rather than stay at hotels.  I will use Uber and Lyft to get around town, rather than hire a traditional taxi.  I just put my spare car on RelayRide to rent out to others.  For my wife’s birthday, I bought her a subscription to Rent the Runway, rather than buying her a new dress.

At work, we’ve tapped into LiquidSpace to rent office space on demand.  I use Taskrabbit to hire folks at the office rather than using traditional staffing models.  We’ve bought refurbished laptops for our staff. Most of our software is already on demand.

Because of this, I’m more interested in renting, subscribing to, or borrowing products, rather than buying outright.  If I do choose to buy a product, I want to make sure it has great resale value so that I can sell it or rent it to make money.

It also means that the relationship I have with other people matters.  Now, I rent my car on RelayRide or sell my used electronics on Gazelle.  The trusted relationships I have with other customers matters as much, if not more, than my relationship with you.

I still love you, but in a different way.

If you want to be in a relationship with me, recognize that it’s not going to be exclusive.  What happens between us has changed.  I need you to change, as I want to rent, borrow, subscribe, co-op, and swap, rather than buy.

Ergo: I just want access to your offerings.  I don’t need to own then.



Jeremiah Owyang
Speaker, Writer, Business Owner, Consumer

PS: To learn more, you can read the rest of my thinking on how brands can leverage this movement, called the Collaborative Economy.

Image credit used with creative commons, by MyEye.

37 Replies to “Dear Brands, Our Relationship has Changed”

  1. Great stuff… although I question how much you still “love” brands, as that (at least in the literal, if not colloquial-commercial), sense implies giving as well as taking. But to stretch the analogy, I think that brands are like the spouse who grows fat and happy and takes their partner for granted… and is too dim and self-satisfied to notice that all the love, lust or whatever attraction originally brought them together is gone… along with their spouse.

    Now I need to go check out the rest of your thoughts on the Collaborative Economy…

  2. Great point Jeremiah. I think it’s more about what brand means in the era of social. The relationship has evolved from just being a transaction.

    @Chuck, great point on brands being a lazy spouse, at times.

  3. Interesting. Harvard Business Review posted a case study about this economic movement last week, How to Play in the New “Share Economy” by Susan Fournier, Giana M. Eckhardt, and Fleura Bardhi. This is an interesting twist on bartering, and on the value of ownership.

  4. Been watching the Collaborative Consumption movement for a while now and waiting for someone to address the question that I keep wondering: how will the government handle all this sharing (and lost revenue)? I suspect it won’t be long before we have to declare goods + services we’ve bartered or paid for.

  5. This isn’t new, though new technology has made it far more feasible than before.

  6. This is an interesting idea, but it only lends itself to certain kinds of products and situations.

    There are certain products I like to own, others I’d like to rent, and a lot that I’d like to swap with or rent to other people. BUT, I think the idea of this relationship can be harmful in someways.

    For example, I’ve been reading a lot about the new bill being introduced in the US that will make it criminal to unlock a smartphone and take it to another carrier. I’m Canadian, so this has less effect on me (for now), but the sound of the bill is quite strange. Essentially, it’s saying that even though you paid for something you don’t have the right to do with it as you will. It’s saying that even though I paid, I don’t actually own the device, which in the case of a phone I see as a problem.

    Yes, it would be great to rent a super fancy dress that may only be needed once, but as I said, the business model only works for certain types of products and situations. There’s so many issues to deal with in terms of copyrights (which are an ever pressing issue these days and causing lots of trouble in certain industries), actual ownership, resale values, and the list goes on.

    The article I just read sums it up as; “The copyright monopoly is dividing the population into a corporate class who gets to control what objects may be used for what purpose, and a subservient consumer class that don™t get to buy or own anything “ they just get to think they own things that can only be used in a predefined way, for a steep, monopolized, fixed price, or risk having the police sent after them.”

    It’s really something to think about.
    If nobody (the everyday consumers) actually own anything, then who really owns it? And who gets to control how these things are used?

    Just playing a bit of devils advocate here.

  7. Everything new is old. I was at an enterprise software company today who reminded me that cloud based services are along the same realm –not new at all.

    Concept is not new, yet the markets it impacts is new, the velocity of adoption, and mainstream acceptance we will likely see.

  8. Great thought provoking read, but my former Big Agency self wants to define the “Brand” part of conversation somewhat differently.

    Yes, your relationship with traditional companies and their non-sharing offerings has changed. But that’s not their brand or brand promise- their brand promise is your expectation of what that product means. It’s the shorthand your mind quickly makes when you choose them over other offerings. Their actual product or service offering itself may be out of date, but that doesn’t mean that the perception itself has changed. For example, Rolex could introduce a Rent the Runway for luxury watches, but that doesn’t materially change my opinion of the Texas Timex brand.

    Car companies, hotels and even dresses can be part of this new sharing brand relationship- but we should be careful not to conflate offering with brand.

  9. The brand experience doesn’t change, but the delivery mechanism of the business model does.

    There is one thing that *does* change tho. Previously, brands often cared about customers up to the point of sale –then it was “off to the support phone line with you”.

    Now, companies have to redefine the experience to extend to the relationship between customers –not just a direct brand experience.

    Scroll down here

  10. 40 these are excellent points. So to summarize the challenges you listed are: 1) Easily transferrable products could benefit the criminal element 2) Only certain product types and verticals are impacted, 3) Greater social governance and ownership models.

    I’ll just respond to #2 now. There are many verticals where this is already happening.

    For one, shared servers are now called software as a service. That’s in traditional B2B.

    Here’s the full list, it’s not every industry, but quite a few

  11. I get what you’re saying @jowyang:disqus , but I just wanted to step in and point out that makers of goods may not always be into these things.
    The cellphone example was just one (although it’s one that gets to me). But there’s also the taxi’s in NYC trying to fight back against Uber and other other stories.

    I’m with you on where you’re going with this. But I do wonder what will happen when companies start stepping in and trying to apply strange copyrights, IP laws and other things to this new economy?

  12. Jeremiah,
    I like the concept of your post and I agree with you. HOWEVER, I’m sending you a private email regarding a “meta-aspect” of brands|branding, ok?

  13. Love the metaphor. It reminds me of a favorite definition of branding: the ‘outsourcing of choice:’

    Robert Reich, in …The Future of Success, notes that modern consumers, like corporations, respond to the marketplace by outsourcing choice. They hire experts”critics, in the old way of looking at things. While many experts, such as interior decorators, offer personalized service and charge a mint, the masses have access to choosing services that are essentially free. That, in effect, is what a brand is. (Christopher Caldwell, Select All: Can you have too many choices, The New Yorker, March 1, 2004)

    But that definition has really evolved to the one you described, where consumers are even smarter outsourcers and bring their procurement team to the table for more and more categories. I think the key word in the quotation above is “corporations:” consumers are behaving like businesses in response to the myriad of choices.

  14. Renting is often more expensive than buying. It only makes sense with regard to things you don’t need/use often, or only need for a short amount of time. Chainsaws and tuxedos, sure. But do you really want to rent things like, say, underwear? How about appliances or furniture for your house? There are already plenty of places like Rent-A-Center that are happy to cater to those needs, but if you plan on needing a TV or sofa for more than a few months, it’s much cheaper to buy something outright. You can already lease cars easily.

    When you talk about things like AirB&B or Lyft, those aren’t really examples of rent vs. own anyway. You’re really just talking about shifting your dollars from corporations to individuals, which is fine, but don’t confuse that with a discussion about ownership.

    It’s also worth noting that (at least for now) much of this only applies to people living in high density population areas where there are enough people willing to participate in these ventures. For example, I live 15 miles west of Boston and tried to see if I could use Lyft to get a ride from the commuter rail station near my home to my house after a beer festival next month. The local cab company wants $20 to drive me two miles. Here’s the result: “Sorry, Lyft is not available in this area…”

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