In his speech the Arthur Page Society last September, Richard Edelman coined the term Communications Marketing, saying that this simple act of reversing two commonly used words “reflects a new environment where classic, image-driven marketing is giving way to a new focus on long-term relationships.” Our Innovation and the Earned Brand study provides clear and compelling insights into just how important this new imperative has become.

Our survey of 10,000 consumers in 10 countries around the world found that, when it comes to brand communications, just 1 in 3 consumers say they want to be “inspired,” while more than 2 in 3 want us to “reassure” them. Reassure, before inspire. That means the comfort, understanding and relationships built by communications and story-telling, before classic image-driven marketing.

But it appears that we have a long way to go. The majority feel that, while brands are innovating around how they communicate, they are not moving in the right direction. Fifty-seven percent of consumers are bored and frustrated by being constantly told to upgrade, and 60 percent say that, because of photo manipulations, they don’t know what to believe.

Earned Brand graphic

Is it any wonder then, that at a time when the pace of change is faster than ever, when the concerns that people have around the risks that come with new innovation are enough to keep them from buying, and when brands are not doing enough to communicate and reassure their consumers — is it any wonder that consumers are relying more and more on the experience of their peers to help them make purchase decisions?

When asked about the impact of the online and offline conversations they have with their friends and peers, consumers were clear: this is where they go to overcome concerns, understand risks, and ultimately make decisions about purchasing and brand innovations. They trust their peers because they share stories and experiences, not marketing slogans or taglines.

Brands have to shift their thinking, or they will be left behind. They need to earn the right to have a voice and be part of the conversation. Above all, today, brands need to be just as disciplined and focused on the stories that they tell as they have historically been on the images and ads they create. Because at a time when your brand is earned before it can be sold, you need to communicate in order to earn the right to market.

Tonia Ries is the executive director of Edelman Square, the agency’s intellectual property center.