When we think about the good relationships in our lives, trust always sits at the heart. When we trust we can be vulnerable, we forgive, we openly share. Relationships without trust fail, while when we trust, they deepen and grow. This basic human behaviour is reflected in our newest Trust data on brands.

There has always been a symmetry between how we feel about brands and how we feel about our relationships. This has actually been used by marketers for years – brand love and brand desire has been the arrowhead to marketing. However now there is a shift. Desire and love can only flourish if first there is trust. And this trust has to show up in many more ways than tokenistic marketing.

Trust is the bedrock to unlocking deeper, more meaningful connections. But in today’s cultural landscape, fueled by the uncertainty of the pandemic, mistruths that have spread through the media (into our homes and hearts, seeding doubt), and the acknowledgment that we are more connected than ever has only intensified the need for trust.

While the marketing industry has traditionally leaned on love as an important measure of a healthy brand-human connection, our latest research from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust, The New Brand Equity found that, actually, it’s trust that people are seeking. When choosing brands, people believe trust in a brand (88%) is more important than love (81%) – perhaps because love, like relevance, is fleeting. Trust, however, is more elemental. It’s rational and emotional, it’s permission to take risk, and it’s a promise that we’ll be who and what you need us to be (now and in the future).

Trust is a dance. When brands get it right, they recognize they aren’t leading but are sharing the floor with their consumers, a belief shared by the people too. As Emma Grede, CEO and co-founder of the pioneering fashion brand Good American, recently said on our panel, “trust gets built when you change culture, when you matter in people’s lives.” And our research affirms this: nearly 2 in 3 consumers believe they have the power to force brands to change nearly anything about itself. And they want brands, with their reach and scale, to be a vehicle for cultural change on their behalf, as almost 9 in 10 (86%) of people expect brands to take action beyond their product and business.

We expect more from brands than ever before. It’s no longer enough to just understand or reflect culture, brands must work to change it. Short-lived desire might spark from pop influence, but real long-term trust and reward comes from leaning “into the zeitgeist of the time with purpose and society at its heart,” according to Emma. And when brands change culture, there is a measurable reward – a 38 point lift in trust, compared to brands that are seen as functional only, as well as growth in their business. Ultimately, operating with purpose, taking a stand, and making meaningful impact is now mandatory.

In the view of consumers who are more acutely aware of how brands work, there is also an impenetrable link that exists between the brands we buy and the companies who make them. In fact, almost half (40%) of consumers will give up brands they love if they don’t trust the company, serving as further evidence that without trust, love and desire can’t exist. Antonio Lucio, former CMO of some of the world’s most iconic brands (Facebook, HP, Visa), captured this when he said, “every company needs a more active corporate brand to be known by the people, while product brands must extend beyond category relevance and strive for societal impact while acknowledging who owns them.”

In our best relationships, when there is trust, there is growth and mutual benefit. When brands act on people’s behalf to change culture and take stands on the issues they care about, those people will reward them. The emotional impact of trust to the consumer leads them to reward trusted brands with advocacy (61%), purchase (57%), loyalty (43%), and engagement (31%).

And, in the end, trust opens the door to a wonderful long-term relationship with all the love and desire one could wish for.