How the Sharing Economy can grow your brand for free

Fuelled heavily by a sense of austerity from our economic climate, sharing has seemed almost obvious and therefore ventures like ZipCar and LoveFilm, took off quickly. Whilst these are two of the most mainstream examples, in their wake has been a whole host of consumer sharing ventures which are defining this emerging trend. You can share your flat via Airbnb; couture dresses via Rent the Runway, even your own car via WhipCar. They are all driving down the cost of ownership through sharing, and encouraging widespread collaboration.

In the business world, the trend has emerged most strongly in response to the rise in entrepreneurism and start-up culture, where everything from space, tasks and money can be shared or exchanged. In the now cluttered crowdfunding space you can fund a creative venture via Kickstarter, fund a business venture through platforms like Crowdcube, and get business loans through sites like Funding Circle. Similarly we see hubs of start-ups developing in one geographical area like industry clusters to share resources, knowledge and space to fuel their progress more efficiently.

Interestingly, this trend for sharing happens behind-the-scenes with marketing, despite it being much needed with 80% of young businesses recognising ‘finding new customers’ as one of their biggest challenges. In pursuit of reaching new customers, we have found that business leaders become fixated on PR, publications or advertising, but in our modern day consumer era these are not the only controllers of reach. Think more broadly. There are brands out there that already have a huge number of the people you want to reach – not competing brands of course, but ones that you can collaborate with; and the likelihood is if you want to talk to their customers, they’ll probably want to speak to yours too. Marketing collaboration simply extends the sharing ethos out to your marketing strategy, helping you reach new customers whether you have a marketing budget or not.

This is already happening – there are lots of savvy young brands working together to promote each other, helping each other to grow – creating mutually valuable exchanges, without a sponsorship fee or advertising payment in sight. They feature each other in their e-newsletters, use each others’ products in event goodie bags, even do co-branded events and products. Businesses big and small are now turning to collaborating with other brands because it can be one of the most effective and cost efficient activities to grow a business.

Growth business A Suit That Fits, has been utilising marketing collaboration as a core marketing strategy since they launched six year ago – using it to both build loyalty with existing customers and reach new ones: As an example of rewarding existing customers, there is their ‘12 days of Christmas’ mailer – where customers get to enter competitions to win great prizes leading up to Christmas. All these prizes are donated by other brand ‘friends’ for free but in return they get exposure to the 40,000 people on the A Suit That Fits mailing list. No cash is exchanged – but all parties benefit.

When it comes to using marketing collaborations to reach new customers we can turn to chic, unique, wedding boutique ruby+diva – an early stage start-up that launched in March 2012 – as a great example. In their first wedding season they secured prominent feature with one of London’s best vintage wedding fairs by agreeing to promote the event on all their social media channels, on their blog and to their email database, in return for branding at the event. Once again, two brands reach the target audience that they want with no financial exchange, just a little bit of copy writing and the printing of some postcards.

Like all good marketing ideas you start with who you want to reach and why, then use this to pin point the places and brands that will help you reach them. Collaboration is a relationship based thing – but by thinking about who you want to reach, you can know where to spend your time building a relationship. The only limiting factor to Marketing Collaboration is meeting the like-minded brands with the customer group you want to reach. Up until recently, brands were largely limited to who they met at networking events or were introduced to. However, now we are seeing the Sharing Economy ethos emerging in the marketing arena – with sites like BrandGathering creating an online community where you can meet brands to collaborate with on your marketing.

Marketing collaboration isn’t about expensive agencies, this is about community: Brands working together for mutual benefit, in line with the true ethos of the Sharing Economy. BrandGathering is open for sign up with those involved now becoming founding members of the community. It’s the savvy brands that are leading the way, becoming the pioneers of the Marketing Collaboration revolution – find out more at

Later in the month we’ll we writing about how to set up a good marketing collaboration, and sharing case studies so that you can see all the different things you have of value to exchange with others.

Christina Richardson is a business marketing specialist and founder of The Nurture Network, the on-demand marketing department for ambitious SMEs, which works with GrowthAccelerator to support high growth SMEs.