We just released our Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust in 2020, uncovering a new era for brands – one with trust at the helm and expectations of brands to do more, be more, say more and solve more than ever before. Amid the seismic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic and the societal outcry over systemic racism in the wake of the senseless murder of George Floyd, the need for trusted brands is at an all-time high. In fact, 85 percent of people around the world are looking to brands to solve for their individual needs, be it protection, innovation, information or connection. Moreover, 80 percent are seeking societal solutions from brands as a visionary, problem solver and a force in shaping culture.

I had the great privilege of hosting a panel discussion with a distinguished selection of voices and perspectives reflecting the psychology of human relationships, brand activism at its best, industry-wide change-making and the power of creative excellence. All together, they offered an inspiring blueprint for brand trust-building today.

Business and Humanity

Matthew McCarthy, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, when asked what is most needed from brands and business today, summed it up: “crisis is piercing the false veil between business and humanity.” He talked about compassion being a business priority and how brands have always been in the trust business. At the same time, Matthew spoke about the need to do more and how he is leading “a root cause analysis of what we need to do to make Ben & Jerry’s truly a place of equity. The process we are following is results-based accountability, not just soul-searching. As a business, as a team, what are the results we can set for ourselves leveraging the power of business to make change.”

From Transaction to Trust

According to Esther Perel, psychotherapist, New York Times bestselling author and human relationships expert, trust is vital right now and brands are filling a void: “Trust becomes a force to enable us to cope with all that uncertainty and vulnerability.” She went on to say that we don’t form relationships simply from buying something. “Never have we put more expectations on our relationships,” she says. “We want a brand to solve the problems of society and to have meaningful actions.” She continued to share how the realms of personal and business relationships are blurring, “The world of business has brought the language of emotion like it never has before; we are talking about psychological safety in the same breath that we’re talking about performance indicators.” 

This shift from transaction to trust is especially true in younger people, with 77 percent in the 18-34 age group saying that trusting a brand is more important today than in the past (compared to 70 percent of all respondents). According to Mathew, “badge values in brands is a very outmoded idea and young people are constructing their identity in ways that are different than those that are older...I am not going to be in a transactional mode with a whole bunch of brands that I don’t even know what they stand for.”

Action Over Optics

Sarah Greenidge, founder of WellSpoken, spoke of the convergence of two inequalities: the white centricity of wellness, where “white and thin has become the epitome for what wellness looks like” and inequality in health literacy. Together, these are creating a dramatic impact on access to and understanding of information that enables people to be empowered wellness consumers. “Wellness is a great example [of trust] because brands can have direct links to health outcomes if we do it right.”

When we spoke of solutions, Sarah warned against “optical ally-ship – showing solidarity but not action from brands, virtue-signaling or savior complex,” behaviors that some brands tend to fall back on. “This is not an issue where a brand can be a lone wolf. We all need to be working to the same goals.” Which is why Sarah and her organization are leading this change with a diversity charter for the wellness industry, which addresses five key issues: education, accessibility, representation, corporate diversity and fair wages. A brilliant reflection of what we know consumers need and expect today.

Creativity, More Than an Output

In the spirit of Cannes Lions Live, we could not overlook the power and responsibility of creativity to build trust and drive change. Judy John, Edelman’s Global Chief Creative Officer, summed it up by saying “Creativity is not just an output. Think of creativity as how we solve business problems; it’s storytelling, it’s emotion and connection; it’s how we make people care and share.”

Mathew added that creativity is an opportunity. “Business has to be part of the solution. Business must be in the game.”

Megan Van Someren is Global Chair of Brand and Food & Beverage.