There’s no shortage of stories about big businesses not moving fast enough to respond to changes in the marketplace. Just this year, we saw Kodak declare bankruptcy when its business failed to respond to the growing trend in digital photography. Blockbuster is another example.

This week Avis Budget Group made moves to acquire Zipcar, a car sharing service that allows people to lease their own cars to others when their vehicles aren’t in use, for nearly $500 million. The deal has yet to be approved, and it hasn’t proven itself to be a mistake or a smart move. However, it does show how large businesses can watch small, nimble start-ups, identify trends and take action.

All Consumers are Hackers

It’s not a new idea that social media and technology has leveled the playing field for people and businesses. Consumers have more power than ever to research, find alternatives and challenge businesses to deliver better service and prices. Essentially, if businesses don’t meet expectations, consumers aren’t obligated to use them. There are multiple options to find ways around. Businesses aren’t only in competition with other businesses. They’re in competition with a technologically-connected consumer base.

Those consumers are and have always been hackers. They’ve always looked for the best price from the best store. Technology and always-on access to other consumers and experts allow them to hack the system more than ever.

The hackers are pushing out the middle man. Smaller, more niche products and services like Warby Parker for eyeglasses and Dollar Shave Club for shaving supplies are using technology to provide consumers convenient access to quality products without using brick-and-mortar stores.

As AOL co-founder Steve Case says of the Zipcar acquisition, “This merger signals that the sharing economy has come of age.” Consumers are connected to each other, which means they can pool their resources and go outside the realm of traditional businesses. Avis saw consumers circumventing them and has taken action to leverage the trend, not fight it (at least that’s what I hope they do).

Consumers are coming together to create new ways to do business at the grassroots level.

We Can Use This

Consumers have gained more power than ever before using technology and social media, but marketers have also. We can use social to live and work in two worlds. Social media’s been called an always-on focus group, allowing marketers to monitor, learn from and adapt to counter-cultures (like the sharing economy), while running our business based on what we know works today.

Listen to your community and those who are the driving force behind category change. Engage them and open a dialogue to learn from them and optimize when and where needed. Nothing stays the same, and as marketers, we can work with those driving change.

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