Bob Garfield, editor of Ad Age and host of NPR’s “On the Media,” took to the stage at the Brite Conference at the Columbia Business School to speak about the human element that is needed in digital marketing today.

For more than 300 years, we were in the product era and from 1965 to now, it is the era of the consumer. But how is social media changing the standard of what was the standard of trust?

The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that in 2008, consumers gave the highest amount of trust to companies that had the highest quality product and service. Now, 83% of them trust companies who are transparent and honest. Quality of product is now third, a strong indication that the appeal of your brand extends beyond the physical goods.

According to Garfield, every CMO standing at a lectern has uttered the phrase “the consumer is in control” over the past five years. This is not a surprising insight. Yes. Traditional advertising messages are falling on deaf ears, yet millions of people will announce their affection for a brand.

So does this mean customer service is the new media? Garfield stated emphatically “everything you do is the new media department. Every move you make and every move you don’t make is accounted for.”

Brand purpose is now more critical for success than ever. It’s less about paid media and more about in-market action. Garfield used Secret as example. In 2004, the brand began to deviate and by 2008 the market share flat lined. They had to move from a traditional advertising and promotions model to one that creates dialogue and furthers engagement. So what did they do?

During the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Secret started a movement with Let Her Jump. They wanted to get women’s ski jumping into the Olympics with this purpose in mind:

“We believe in the equality of the genders and that all people should be able to pursue their goals without fear.”

The Let Her Jump video was viewed more than 700,000 times. Among the women who viewed the video, 57 percent reported their impression of the brand had improved and 85 percent said the brand helped them feel more confident. They also saw an increase in purchase intent for women (11%) and teens (33%) that were fans of their Facebook page and an amazing 50% jump for those who had viewed the video. Sales increased by 8% despite cutting TV ad spend by 70%.

Their approach is now to encourage fans to share stories of how fearless their fans are, not to profess how good their product is. Secret represents something more than deodorant. It’s embracing the human element.

Though this example is two years old, it shows how a large brand can deviate to a model focused on their consumer. This is what will create a sustainable relationship between your consumer and your brand.

This is not to say that all brands should rush out and start a new cause but they do have to look to what their values are. Once you have looked inward and figured out what you want to represent then you can find a way to connect to the right customer base and become more than just a product.