Technology-driven innovation is accelerating like a force of nature. A confluence of technological and societal currents – the mobile internet and inexpensive cloud storage, the revolution in product and experience design, decreasing consumer trust in traditional institutions, the disposable income of a growing global middle class – are conspiring to drive unprecedented change in the very ways we live our lives.
Far beyond the technology industry, companies have passionately embraced the theme of innovation in nearly every product and service sector in the world, treating it as an unequivocal good. For the most part, this has been a no brainer for marketers, scoring countless successes with customers in industries from cars and food to travel and entertainment.
However, as Edelman’s new Earned Brand study of 10,000 consumers in 10 key markets reveals, the increasing pace of innovation has begun to create new challenges. By a two-to-one margin, respondents feel that that the change of pace is “too quick.” For good reasons, revealed almost daily in the media with the steady stream of hacks, leaks and data breaches, 66 percent of consumers are nervous about the privacy and security risks associated with what are frequently tech-driven innovations.
They’re also anxious about the impact on the environment (60 percent) and concerned about the motives and agendas of companies and brands. In a culture of increasing skepticism towards marketing, 75 percent of consumers now turn to peers, largely on social media and e-commerce sites, to push them towards or away from a purchase.
It’s time for marketers to pause and re-orient around this new reality. In an environment of concern, anxiety and skepticism, the path to reassurance is in creating transparency and building trust. This comes with encouraging genuine experiences and supporting conversation among trusted peers. It also means acknowledging faults and addressing concerns quickly, openly and credibly.
Delivering messages to an audience – even in the coolest and most entertaining ways – is not enough. Humans love to be entertained, but we also want credibility and reassurance from the brands we embrace and identify with in our lives.
The Earned Brand study concludes that smart brands exhibit four important characteristics. They:
- Inform and educate customers and those whose opinions they trust
- Have a purpose aligned with social meaning
- Make a mark by standing out and solving problems in an unexpected and refreshing way
- Encourage customers to participate and engage meaningfully with them
New insights inspire new questions. This is a great time for executives and marketers to consider: what are the potential risks that use of your company’s products or services present to your customers? How can you address, alleviate and open conversation about those, as well as the benefits? What ways can you better build community and peer-to-peer connections to help your customers learn about, explore and experience your brand for themselves?
Finally, one of the toughest but most meaningful brand questions to ask from the start and on a recurring basis: what does your brand stand for, and how can you best exemplify that?
Maria Amundson is the global chair of Edelman's Technology sector.