Edelman to innovative brands: Focus on peer-to-peer comms

The agency's first Earned Brand study found that mass marketing is sometimes more the problem than the solution.

Richard Edelman
Richard Edelman

NEW YORK: Innovative brands must focus on proactively reassuring consumers via peer-to-peer communications instead of just broadly marketing their products, according to Edelman’s first Earned Brand study, released on Monday.

Between April and May, Edelman surveyed 10,000 consumers from the UK, US, Mexico, Brazil, France, Germany, China, Japan, India, and Australia. The study found that while consumers are embracing innovation at a faster pace than ever before – citing the success of companies such as Uber and Rent the Runway -- 87% of participants said concerns about innovation will stop them from purchasing new products.

People are not buying based on worries about privacy (66% globally), environmental impact (58%), and security issues (54%) associated with a brand.

"There is a problem, and marketing is making the problem worse," said Edelman global CEO Richard Edelman, about the study’s findings. "Consumers don’t feel the marketing [of innovative products] is genuine and real – meaning spokespeople aren’t true to life; they are just there because they are bought."

The study revealed that a vast majority (92%) of consumers view innovation as an essential component of society’s progress. Meanwhile, 79% believe it’s the responsibility of business, and not academics, universities, or individuals, to drive innovation.

However, 66% said business-led innovations are motivated primarily by the desire to make money.

In addition, two-thirds (66%) of consumers surveyed said they would rather be reassured than inspired by a brand. Yet two out of three respondents believe brands are not moving in the right direction in the ways they listen and communicate with the public.

The solution, the study found, is peer-to-peer communications. Peer conversations inform 75% of respondents’ purchase decisions, help 37% overcome concerns, and warn 45% of risks.

Consumers are expecting brands to provide the platforms that enable these peer-to-peer conversations. Consumers trust a brand more if it is easy to review products and services, said 67% of participants. And 64% said they are more trusting of brands that encourage peer-to-peer conversations about their products.

Specifically, when Millennials want to learn about a brand, their go-to channels are Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, and SMS, found the study.

"Innovative products such as health bands are hugely good things that make life a lot better, but people need to be reassured their data is not being misused or hacked and that there is no causing overconsumption," said Edelman. "This is a tremendous opportunity for PR pros, because we are the ones who are the credible reassurers; we find the third parties, influencers, and we create the runway for the advertising plane to take off."

Before a brand can earn the right to innovate and inspire, the study advised that it must inform transparently to educate its audience and enable it to make personal choices. Brands must also operate with purpose and show how they are active participants in society.

The study also said brands must "live with character that is true to themselves and have a personality that their audience can buy into." They can also make their mark by doing something unique or differentiating that is worthy of attention, according to the report.

"Marketers usually only reassure when they have to, but now the marketing game plan has to change as the traditional play book isn’t going work," said Edelman. "You can’t buy your way to innovation; you have to earn your way by having peer-to-peer communication."

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