Brand trust can be a deal breaker or deciding factor in most consumers’ purchasing decisions. For its Trust Barometer Special Report, In Brands We Trust?, prepared for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Edelman surveyed 16,000 people in eight countries and found that brand trust was a deciding factor in considering a purchase for 81 percent of them, trailing only quality (85 percent), convenience (84 percent), value (84 percent) and ingredients (82 percent). Only 34 percent of consumers say they trust most of the brands they buy or use.

Trust is a strong purchase consideration for the vast majority of respondents across geographies, age groups, gender and income levels. Edelman reports that it is becoming more important to consumers because of their growing concerns about product experience (62 percent), including the fast pace of innovation and their increasing reliance on brands for automation; customer experience (55 percent), including brands’ collecting consumers’ personal data and tracking and targeting them; and brands’ impact on society (69 percent), including consumers’ expectation that brands will help express their values.

“Trust has always played an important role in brand purchase,” says Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “But consumers now have much larger expectations of brands, and their trust is predicated on how well a brand can pass through the three gates of trust—product, customer experience and impact on society.”

The survey also found that when brands build trust, consumers reward them. Consumers who trust a brand are more than twice as likely to be the first to buy the brand’s new products (53 percent versus 25 percent). They are more than twice as likely to stay loyal to a brand they trust, even in the face of disruption, such as a trendy or innovative competitor (62 percent versus 29 percent). They are more than twice as likely to advocate for a brand they trust (51 percent versus 24 percent), and almost twice as likely to defend it when things go wrong (43 percent versus 22 percent). And when a brand is trusted on product, customer service and societal impact, the percentage of consumers who will buy first, stay loyal to, advocate for and defend it (68 percent) is 21 points higher than consumers who buy on product trust only (47 percent).

Edelman’s report also outlines how despite its importance, brands are currently failing the trust test. A majority of respondents in the survey believe every brand has a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that does not directly impact its business (53 percent), yet only 21 percent claim to know from personal experience that the brands they use keep the best interests of society in mind.

More than half of respondents (56 percent) said that too many brands are using societal issues as a marketing ploy. And consumers have lost faith in brands and their ability to ignite social change: 41 percent, down five points from last year, believe brands have better ideas for solving a country’s problems than government; 49 percent, down four points from last year, say brands can do more to solve social ills than government; and 48 percent, down six points from last year, feel it’s easier for people to get brands to address social problems than to get government to take action.

“Consumers are wary that brands are ‘trustwashing’ and being less than truthful about their commitment to society,” says Amanda Glasgow, global chair of brand at Edelman. “Talking about an issue in an ad isn’t enough. Brands need to go further to impact real change. This could be anything from advocacy to financial support to internal reforms.”

Highlighted in the report is how brands can build trust by communicating with consumers through various platforms and voices, not with advertising alone. While nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents say they find ways to avoid advertising, Edelman’s supplemental online influencer study found that a majority of consumers age 18-34 (63 percent) are more trusting of influencers than a brand’s advertising. Repetition and specific sequencing of the brand message is also key, research shows. Eighty-seven percent of respondents have strong trust in a brand message after seeing it across six different channels, compared to 13 percent who have strong trust in a message after just one viewing. The most effective channel sequence for building trust in a message among people who are not customers of the brand begins with peer conversation, amplified by owned media (74 percent).

“It’s time for brands to take the next giant step,” says Edelman. “They must accept the responsibility consumers have given them to effect change and welcome greater accountability and measurement of their impact.”