Brands have entered a brave new era, where trust rules. In a world upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters produced or exacerbated by climate change and a global outcry over systemic racism, brands face heightened demands to do and say more. There is an urgent need for brands to solve for both personal and societal problems, and trust, within that context, has become the make or break. Our Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust in 2020, uncovered that trust in a brand is second only to price when consumers decide to purchase or pass on a new brand.

Yet human trust is complex and nuanced. It is the foundation upon which human relationships are started, grown, and sustained. Once broken, it can be lost completely, but surprisingly, when earned, trust can act as a halo and a shield for brands to take more risks and protect against headwinds. In today’s turbulent and, often, frightening world, people are craving human connection and meaningful engagement more than ever—and they bring these expectations to brands. Brands, in turn, need a more sophisticated understanding of consumer trust that goes beyond tabulating the same transactional data points that everyone has: they must be able to build, manage, and grow trusting relationships through a deep understanding of humans.

Introducing Edelman Trust Management: Brand

This puts trust at the helm and demands that brands apply a new way of thinking, measuring, and activating trust—shifting to creating data, instead of just consuming it. To meet this, we’ve engineered a new, proprietary framework called Edelman Trust Management (ETM): Brand. Built on our twenty years of research and experience in defining and measuring trust, and validated in partnership with renowned academics and business leaders during Covid-19, ETM Brand is designed and ready for the landscape today.

ETM Brand is a proprietary suite of integrated advisory tools and services that interpret and measure the power—and implications—of trust. It marries our longstanding leadership in brand marketing and communications with our new, advanced capabilities in research, data, and machine learning. ETM Brand enables us to create a strategic roadmap that leads to actionable communications so brands can build relationships with people in which trust is the core.

The result is the ability for brands to connect with people, as people. We begin by taking this people-centric approach—one that captures the complex components, dynamic nature, and individual variations around how trust manifests, how it is built, and how it can be maintained for a specific brand—at the level of a specific person.

Our framework is based on five trust-driving dimensions that diagnose strengths and weaknesses to build a comprehensive and actionable view for brands: Ability, Dependability, Integrity, Purpose and Self.

In addition to these fixed dimensions, we also create custom metrics based on a brand’s specific business, challenges, objectives, and opportunities. These metrics provide sharp and precise diagnostics based on a brand’s unique operating environment.

Harnessing the Power of Trust to Create Real Impact

Most distinctly, ETM Brand activates trust at the individual level to create trust profiles so we can analyze how the same trust dimensions can be uniquely driven by different individual needs, hopes, desires, and fears. Through this process, ETM Brand identifies the most effective trust levers to maximize ROI on a brand’s media spend and market activities. These levers range from which language and imagery to use, to which influencers and spokespeople best tell the brand’s story. It is also built to quantify the impact of trust as it moves, being able to measure in real-time and creating value equity by improving overall brand trust across consumer segments at scale.

Brands today can’t just talk—they must act on the issues that matter to their consumers. Knowing how someone trusts, however, points the way for how brands can communicate about their actions in ways that earn trust. Earning trust through meaningful and unique content, experiences, and communications around brand actions, in turn, gives brands permission to learn even more about consumers and what they care about, and to then act and communicate in ways that build even more trust. It’s a virtuous circle: where trust yields data and data drives trust. This is how brands can articulate their purpose to consumers define purpose, create differentiation, and build connections today.

New York Times bestselling author and human relationships expert Esther Perel says: “Trust is the active engagement with the unknown. Trust is risky. It’s vulnerable. It’s a leap of faith.” That is the superpower successful brands need to survive, compete, and grow today. And that’s what ETM Brand hopes to build with current and prospective clients: trusted, lasting relationships among the people they want to reach.

Megan Van Someren is Global Brand and Food & Beverage Chair and Yannis Kotziagkiaouridis is Global Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Edelman Data & Intelligence (DxI).