Over the last year we’ve moved into a new era of relationship between consumers and brands. In 2020 at points it seemed as if people cared more about what brands and companies were doing and saying than they did about what they were selling. Ignited by the pandemic, social injustice in the USA and an increased action on climate, people urgently wanted to know how companies were having a positive impact in the world. This has paved a new path for brands and businesses that requires careful and considered navigation.

The call for greater contribution has been growing for some time. What started a handful of years ago as a push for transparency driven by consumer activist groups online, finding kindred spirits in the investor world, has become an expectation of openness and contribution beyond products and services. It’s become one of the foundations of building trust between brands, businesses and their audiences.

Brands and businesses are now in a brave new era where trust rules. Edelman’s Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust, found that trust in a brand is second only to price when consumers decide to purchase or pass on a new brand. However, this new era demands a more nuanced understanding of trust that goes beyond the same transactional data points. Brands should build, manage, and grow trusting relationships through a deep understanding of their audience.

Part of building trust is acting on the issues that matter to your audience and we have seen a shift towards brands and businesses which actively want to talk more openly and want to be seen to be doing good. Many of these businesses have seen the consumer, employee and investor risk doing nothing.

From an industry perspective, these factors are driving the faster convergence of corporate and brand communications. There is no longer a story for the city, a story for the government, a story for the shopper, one for the millennial and one for the man on the till. When it comes to telling your story, nuances that existed before are a thing of the past. It is all the same story now – told through different platforms, channels and voices, leveraging different audiences to influence each other.

Brands and businesses which have grown with a purpose at the heart have always understood communication through this combined lens. But for many – one consistent story is not easy to articulate or to make compelling and relevant across both what you do in the world and what you sell in the world.

What I see now is brands and businesses creating briefs to find the answer in multiple shapes and sizes; brand or company purpose, ethical or sustainability ambitions, employee experience or change. The need is the same ‘help the world feel and see value in my brand or business beyond what we sell. And help that value help me to sell more’.

However, in order for value to be seen, and for that value to drive commercial success, your audience needs to trust you. But building trust is complex and nuanced. You need to know where and how it’s appropriate, relevant and authentic to step in.

Data is critical to establish a single source of fact – what people think and what permission space you have.  Thinking about ‘why would people care’ and what role can the brand play in driving changes, as well as considering where your brand sits within the five trust-driving dimensions can protect against competition, overcome consumer indifference, drive investor optimism and reveal the path to future growth.

Once this understanding is unlocked and applied, earning trust through meaningful and unique content, experiences, and communications around actions, in turn, gives brands permission to learn even more about their customers and what they care about. It allows them to act and communicate in ways that builds even more trust. It’s a virtuous circle.

For brands and businesses that understand the rules, the path to greatness can be shorter than ever. However, the process of getting there is a journey you are making with your audiences, based on understanding, and finding a role in their lives which adds value, and represents the world they want to live in. It’s so much richer and more compelling than traditional corporate positioning, or shallow purpose statements which don’t live in the real world.