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In recent years, Edelman’s research has shown that as the role of brands in our lives and society has expanded, people’s expectations for brands have evolved.

As always, brands must provide a reliable product and a rewarding customer experience. But now consumers have many more reasons to question how much they trust a brand. Will a brand protect their data and privacy? Will they use automation responsibly? Will they tell the truth in this era of disinformation? In short: can consumers trust a brand to do the right thing?

In a bid to answer these questions, the company launched the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: In Brands We Trust? The study reveals that:

  • 81% now say “I must be able to trust the brand to do what is right” is a major consideration when purchasing a brand.
  • More than 70% link purchase to considerations that historically were tied to trust in corporations. This includes supply chain, reputation, values, environmental impact and customer before profit.
  • 53% agree that every brand has a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that does not directly impact its business.

“Trust has always played an important role in brand purchase,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “But consumers now have much larger expectations of brands, and their trust is predicated on how well a brand can pass through the three gates of trust – product, customer experience and impact on society.”

More than half of respondents (56%) said that too many brands are using societal issues as a marketing ploy. And consumers have lost faith in brands and their ability to ignite social change: 41%, down five points from last year, believe brands have better ideas for solving a country’s problems than government; 49%, down four points from last year, say brands can do more to solve social ills than government; and 48%, down six points from last year, feel it’s easier for people to get brands to address social problems than to get government to take action.

“Consumers are wary that brands are ‘trustwashing’ and being less than truthful about their commitment to society,” said Amanda Glasgow, global chair of Brand at Edelman. “Talking about an issue in an ad isn’t enough. Brands need to go further to impact real change. This could be anything from advocacy to financial support to internal reforms.”

Brands can build trust by communicating with consumers through various platforms and voices, not with advertising alone. While nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents say they find ways to avoid advertising, our supplemental online influencer study found that a majority of consumers age 18-34 (63%) are more trusting of influencers than a brand’s advertising.

Repetition and specific sequencing of the brand message are also key. 87% of respondents have strong trust in a brand message after seeing it across six different channels, compared to 13% who have strong trust in a message after just one viewing. The most effective channel sequence for building trust in a message among people who are not customers of the brand begins with peer conversation, amplified by owned (74%).

“It’s time for brands to take the next giant step,” said Edelman. “They must accept the responsibility consumers have given them to effect change and welcome greater accountability and measurement of their impact.”