The Millennial Values That Drive the Sharing Economy and the Future of Brand Success

Woman on cell phone in backseat of a car

Millennials have embraced the sharing economy like no other generation. The generation’s proclivity for sharing isn’t a quirk or coincidence. It comes from fundamental generational values that will determine business success well into the middle of the 21st century.

A few marquee brands typify the sharing economy:

  • Uber and Lyft, where people share extra seats in their car
  • Airbnb, where people share extra rooms in their home
  • Rent the Runway, whose members share access to designer clothes
  • WeWork, where people share office space
  • And, increasingly, media subscriptions like Netflix, for which people share streaming passwords to limit costs

Certainly, these companies have thrived because they’ve tapped into previously untargeted niches. But the values of Millennials have also played a part. Millennials value efficiency, immediacy, transparency, practicality, connection, and control. Sharing economy companies fulfill these needs.

Affordable access to the latest styles, a set of wheels, and a dream vacation gives Millennials a chance to experience a world cut off to generations before them. And sampling from this deluge of choices lets Millennials steer their own path—the epitome of adulting in today’s world.

What’s more, Millennials are creative problem solvers and are more attuned to value propositions than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. They take a heuristic approach to products, beta-testing services as they come out to see if they add value to their lives. Owning a car was once a compulsory step on the path to adulthood. But some Millennials have opted out of car ownership. They’ve beta-tested Ford against Lyft and found that the latter offers the efficiency, practicality, and control they prefer.

Appealing to Millennials isn’t so much about figuring out where your product fits into the sharing economy as it is about developing and marketing a product that’s in tune with Millennials’ values. Where would following such values lead?

 

A good example of a company that has gone in this direction is Dollar Shave Club. The subscription service delivers razors to members’ homes via mail, eliminating the need for a monthly trip to the drug store.

Millennials are no more likely than anyone else to share their razor with strangers, but they do value the immediacy and efficiency of a reliable subscription service. The company’s irreverent and wildly popular marketing video—”Our Blades Are F***ing Great”—didn’t hurt either.

In the summer of 2016, Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion. Companies who tap into the values of the sharing economy succeed because they let their customers evolve and experiment.

Connection vs. Commitment

As much as Millennials value connection, they are also hesitant to commit. Some accrue social currency, for instance, by attaching their identity to a brand without actually buying it—taking a picture of a pair of designer shoes, for instance, and later posting it on Instagram.

Companies like Uber and Rent the Runway know that Millennials don’t like to commit and model their services with that in mind. The services don’t require monthly fees, for example, and have easy cancellation processes so as not to trap users, which would reflect badly on their brand.

The Media Landscape

With all that in mind, how will Millennial habits and the habits of other generations impact the media world specifically? Likely, all services will become more fluid and shareable. Streaming services, for example, know that users share passwords, but are savvy enough to realize that password-sharing is, in the long-run, good for their brand. These companies could put up barriers, but they don’t, which is a smart move. Barriers to content prevent people from watching it and becoming passionate about it—which should be the ultimate goal.

So What’s Next?

Companies need to ask whether their product or service delivers on Millennials’ values. That may lead to a sharing service or a subscription-based product—it depends on the approach—but understanding and tapping into Millennial values gives you a greater chance of success

 

What we’re calling “the sharing economy” is a reflection of the values of the largest generational cohort in the United States. If you want to understand those values better, and how they relate to your brand, reach out to one of our experts.

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