There’s a commune in the next town. It’s been there since the 1960s and it’s doing very well, thank you. Families live there in a kind of harmony that doesn’t suit everyone. Sometimes people leave and new ones are vetted: what will you bring to this community, how will you integrate, what are your skills that will benefit the group as a whole?
Down the road, in a larger city, a university welcomes thousands of new students each year. They live in a big building with a room each. Some share bathrooms and kitchens, and they all share a social area that you might call a lounge. If the people that sit in the lounge aren’t to everyone’s taste, there’s the option of another room close by. We call these pubs.
Over on the other side of town is the industrial area. Lots of people live around there. Shared houses suit week workers. Some stay for years while others come and go.
If you want a place to stay for a night or two, we’ve got hotels, motels, single rooms, AirBnB. In fact, we’ve got a similar set of accommodation to what you’d find anywhere. It varies in price, depending on whether the carpet is newer and the wall paint shinier, but, whatever your budget, you can find an option.
How accommodation providers choose who to target is their decision. Marketing types will call this positioning, and it accounts for a lot of the price variation across the product range. Of course, there are differences between a five-star hotel and a shared caravan, but the essential elements on offer are going to look similar on a checklist: bed, light, heat, water, kettle…
And now (drum roll, thunder flash, dry ice) there’s ‘co-living’. I’m not going to describe it to you – have a look at the websites offering to sell you a version.
Is it a 60s-style social experiment for Gen Zs who haven’t heard of communes?
Is it an answer to a desperate housing issue?
Is it a shrewd move on the part of real-estate owners to sweat their assets?
Probably all of the above. Co-living is a response to a long-standing unmet need, wrapped up in positioning that talks to a new consumer’s requirement. And here we get to it. Why is co-living innovation? Because the people discovering it are new to the market. They haven’t heard the commune idealism, and they’ve out-lived AirBnB – or can’t afford it. Co-living is a product description offering the same facility and utility as the accommodation market has always provided, described in a message aimed at them.
So is co-living innovation? Yes. Not because I say it is, but because the market believes it is.
Seeing it differently. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.