High Expectations, High Rewards, and a (Missed?) Opportunity to Solidify Brand Trust

In today’s tumultuous times, there is one truth that few in the marketing and communications world would doubt: consumers’ expectations of brands are evolving at a high speed, unlike anything we have ever seen before.

Gone are the days when brands could merely entice and entertain, or even just make good products. Consumers today expect—or rather, they demand—that brands step up and address both personal and societal issues.

In 2020, this extends far beyond helping to solve issues driven by the global pandemic. It now means stepping in, and stepping up, to support the fight against systemic racism, particularly in the U.S.

At Edelman, we’ve spent the past 20 years studying the dynamics of trust. As we prepare to launch a new methodology for measuring trust as it relates to brand, we surveyed 1,270 US consumers in the last two weeks of August 2020, asking simple questions about 50 mass market brands across 10 industries. We measured these brands’ trust, but we also inquired how well each are doing in today’s climate: for instance, how are they faring when it comes to addressing racial inequities?

Our insights reveal that there are strong opportunities for brands to do more:

1. Consumers are largely unaware of brands’ commitments and actions to fight systemic racism and racial injustice

  • On average across all 50 brands, half of consumers (49 percent) don’t know if brands are trying to help address the issue. Among Black consumers, this number jumps to 56 percent.
  • This lack of awareness is massive in comparison to other societal issues: consumers are two times more likely to know about brands’ commitment to protecting the environment or to contribute to the economic recovery of the U.S.
  • These results show that brands are either failing to demonstrate action, or to communicate on what these actions are in a way that resonates with consumers.

2. When consumers do know about a brand’s actions in supporting the fight against racial inequality, their judgement is generally positive

  • 34 percent of consumers feel that brands are doing well in addressing the issue of systemic racism and racial inequalities. In comparison, only 18 percent believe they are doing poorly.
  • Among Black consumers specifically: 27 percent believe brands are doing well in addressing the issues, vs. only 17 percent that report they are doing it poorly.
  • These results demonstrate that while stepping up against racial inequality can be tricky, silence is likely to be more damaging.

3. There are significant variances across industries, with Entertainment being seen as the most progressive in addressing racism, and Financial Services viewed as doing the least

  • Entertainment is leading the way, according to 41 percent of consumers overall. This is the one sector where we see the smallest differences in perceptions across racial and ethnic communities.
  • Brands within the Financial Services sector are among the least appreciated when it comes to their commitment to address racism. This is also one of the sectors where the perception gap between racial and ethnic communities is large and notable.
  • OTC Healthcare brands, retails brands, and lifestyle and luxury brands also show perception gaps over 10 points between Black and white consumers, with Black consumers having more negative perceptions.
  • These results echo the progress made in the Entertainment industry, driven by earlier activism and efforts to improve, and perhaps also by individual celebrities who are leveraging their platforms. In many other industries, brands have been more negligent to demonstrate positive contributions towards addressing racial inequalities in the U.S.


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4. Consumers are three times more likely to trust brands that are doing well at addressing systemic racism and racial inequalities

  • The Edelman Brand Trust Score is a single KPI to evaluate the trust capital of brands. It looks at the proportion of consumers that trust a brand against the proportion of consumers that do not, to create a score that ranges from -100 to 100 points. Overall, our panel of 50 brands have an average Edelman Brand Trust Score of 41.
  • However, when we look at the Edelman Brand Trust Score measured for consumers that say they think positively about a brand’s commitment to addressing systemic racism, that score becomes 73. So, for brands succeeding in the fight, there is a 32-point trust premium.
  • The Edelman Brand Trust Score among consumers who either don’t know about a brand’s commitment to addressing systemic racism or who have a poor perception of a brand on these issues is 15 points lower than the average, measuring at 26.
  • Overall, brands that are addressing racial issues competently enjoy trust levels that are three times higher than the brands that don’t. This pattern of correlation between deeper commitment and higher trust is observed across all racial and ethnic communities surveyed. This trust capital enables those brands to build stronger and longer-lasting relationships with consumers.

The results are clear: there is an opportunity for leading brands to demonstrate their commitment to fighting systemic racism and racial injustice, and a meaningful reward from consumers if they do. This requires more than blanket statements and black boxes on Instagram, though; it means standing up, stepping up, acting and communicating those actions in a way that consumers can understand—but even more importantly, in a way that actually makes a difference in their lives.

Antoine Harary is Global Managing Director and COO, Edelman Data & Intelligence

For more information on this study, please click here.

For more information on the Edelman Brand Trust Score, please click here.

For confidentiality reasons, we are unable to release the specific lists of brands included in our panel at this time. We can confirm that all brands included are global brands with strong awareness levels spanning 10 key industries.