Even amid a lockdown, the world in June 2020 feels empowered.

We see it in the employees who pressure their leaders to take a stand on social issues, in the callouts of corporations on social media, and importantly, we see it in consumers, who are more empowered than ever before to vote up or down on corporations with their buying power

Faced with the demands of a pandemic, increased awareness of systemic racism and a blurring of the lines between work and home, we all – as consumers and employees – have become more aware of our power to make decisions through the filter of social issues.

Our latest Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust in 2020 showcases the societal shift we’ve undergone in just under half a year:

  • 46 percent of respondents say that they trust most of the brands they buy or use — up 12 points from last year. (That means they’ve stopped buying brands they don’t trust).
  • 81 percent say personal vulnerability around health, financial stability, and privacy is a reason why brand trust has become more important. (We’re vulnerable – and looking to surround ourselves with products and services that align to our moral compasses).
  • 60 percent of Americans will buy or boycott based on a brand’s response to current protests. (We now recognize that societal change begins with business).
  • In the U.S., brands are 4x more likely to gain trust than lose it when they take action in response to racial injustice. (For perhaps the first time, silence will be punished).

The shift for consumers represents a sea change for business – and for consultants (like Edelman) that serve them.

To simplify, yesterday’s corporate leader operated to keep three groups in his or her good graces: investors, reporters and regulators. That top-down calculus has shifted. As our data shows, it’s now consumers and employees – more empowered than ever to express and act on their personal views with their dollars and talents – that will drive a corporation’s success or failure.

As stewards of the direct consumer relationship, this dynamic puts brands front and center.

As we look at the data and reflect on the bottom-up revolution it shows for corporate leaders, one thing is clear: The idea of purpose beyond profit is no longer marketing gloss. It is foundational, fundamental and must be ingrained in the fabric of our companies – starting from the inside out.

Brand purpose is no longer a niche, but a requirement. Social action is no longer a risk, but a necessity.

Lisa Ross is COO of Edelman’s U.S. operations.