He was speaking to Campaign in Cannes, ahead of the publication of his eponymous PR agency Edelman’s latest research, which has found that consumers are extremely worried about the effect of innovation on privacy, security and the environment.
Edelman, already known for its respected annual Trust Barometer research project, spoke to 10,000 people about their views on innovation for its first Earned Brand study.
The most striking finding was that nearly nine in ten consumers (87 per cent) said concerns about the impact of innovation on privacy, the environment and their security will stop them from buying new products.
Edelman said: "I think there’s a general bill of rights that people should have relative to corporations. Businesses are actually are moving faster than government can keep up with and people are nervous about that.
"People have to feel there is a value exchange that they are explicitly permitting as opposed to the duplicity of having a small tiny box somewhere you have to find and check or uncheck.
"It has to be a big box and has to say 'this is what you’re going to get and here’s what you’re putting at risk'. You have to have a choice about whether you opt in or opt out."
Businesses that will win a consumer’s trust, he believes, are those that reassure them about their ethics as a business before trying to sell to them.
Edelman’s research showed that consumers were twice as likely to want to be reassured (66 per cent) than inspired (33 per cent) by a brand.
He said: "I think you have to earn the right to innovate. Consumers need to be calm. They need to go through the door of reassurance. A brand needs to have proven in some way that it will protect a consumer’s privacy and security."
But, he argued, this requires a fundamental shift in the way brands speak to consumers.
Edelman continued: "Marketers are making it worse. Our traditional playbook is to inspire, to get people turned on to the next thing; but people are rebelling against that. They don’t want to be told constantly they need to upgrade their products."
Instead, marketers should be focused on "discussing with" rather than "talking to" consumers.
The research showed the power of peer-to-peer communication: 75 per cent said conversations with their peers informed their purchase decisions, by helping them overcome concerns (37 per cent), make decisions (44 per cent) and warning them of risks (45 per cent).
Edelman said one line from a focus group stuck with him – "my evidence is your experience."
He mentioned one piece of work Edelman produced for Adobe's Photoshop as a good example of a more community, peer-to-peer led approach.
Edelman helped Adobe put beta products into a Photoshop’s community of Facebook friends who critiqued the products. The company then acted on their suggestions and improvements.
Edelman said this showed the consumers that Adobe was willing to talk and listen to them.
It also allowed the community to speak directly to Adobe engineers rather than "marketing Big Brother," he said.
Key research findings
Two in three respondents said they were bored or frustrated with being constantly to upgrade their products.
Consumers were twice as likely to want to be reassured (66 per cent) than inspired (33 per cent) by a brand.
Although respondents said they thought innovation should come from companies rather than academics or government, two-thirds said that business-led innovation is motivated primarily by their desire to make money.
Two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said they trust a brand more if it is easy to review products and services, while 64 per cent are more trusting of brands that encourage peer-to-peer conversations about their brands.