No matter how on message anyone is, there still may be a difference between what a company or brand says about itself and its reputation, and what consumers say about them. FleishmanHillard calls this the “authenticity gap.”
Every year, the company uses research and data to see which companies are on the right track, and whether they are focused on the things that matter most to the audiences that are most important to them. Last month, a group gathered in Toronto to discuss the authenticity gap and how it applies to them. Below is a broad overview from Nick Drew, FleishmanHillard’s Canadian head of research, of the data turned up in 2015.
Watch the video below to see some of the Q&As from the panel discussion.
Three pillars of reputation
This idea that a brand’s messaging must be aligned with and must reflect its reputation really isn’t new, but it’s one that’s become increasingly important as consumers and the wider population become more discerning and more vocal in their views. And of course this leads us to a couple of kind of obvious questions. The first is, “What is reputation?” And the second being, “What drives it?” When it comes to what it is, it’s kind of easy.
We keep it simple. Reputation is what people say about you based on their perceptions. But when it comes to understanding what shapes it and how to measure it, it’s much more challenging as an idea. As a researcher, my natural bias is to want to pretty much measure everything. We’ve done extensive research over the last five years or so, to really understand the nature of reputation and how the dynamics are affected by messaging.
The results have consistently showed that reputation basically boils down to being constructed of nine drivers across three pillars. We have management behaviors, customer benefits and society outcomes. For example, consumer brands that perhaps focused primarily on customer benefits are neglecting the areas of management behavior and society outcomes, and so they’re missing key pieces of their reputation. More importantly – and what makes this framework much more useful – is that we found consistently that it remains constant across categories. So, regardless of industry, reputation is made up of these same nine ingredients.
Innovation and value
This year, we ran the research it in five markets—the U.K., U.S., Canada, Germany and Japan—with more than 5,000 respondents and 500 companies. We included banks within the research this year and we asked people about their expectations of the banking industry across these nine drivers of reputation. What we found was that people want their banks to evolve with them. They want to see innovation in platforms, like mobile apps and Internet banking. We also saw that at the bottom in terms of importance, we have credible communications; and employee care really isn’t that big a consideration for customers when it comes to their banks. Community impact, on the other hand, is expected to at least some extent – this idea of giving at least some of those profits back to benefit the wider society.
Where this gets really interesting, is when we look at how banks are perceived and we can overlay that against these expectations, and we can actually compare perceptions of different individual banks. What we can see is that on average, banks in Canada are not seen as matching up to expectations of consistent performance. There’s a gap perhaps in how people feel their money is performing when they entrust it to their bank. We also see though that banks are falling short on perceptions on value. They’re not seen as delivering to that expectation of value, and I can say as someone who was recently told that a new checkbook would cost him $90, that I can kind of see where consumers are coming from there. On the other hand, the real area of strength that we see of banks in Canada is of perceptions of customer care. People really feel that Canadian banks are delivering them a good experience when it comes to customer service.
These data are potentially a very powerful tool for understanding a company’s reputation and for ensuring that its communications really are in line with what customers experience and what they expect of the brand.
Sports: Meeting expectations?
So, how does this apply to sports? We asked people about their expectations of sports leagues as a category, and then we specifically included the NFL, CFL, NHL, Major League Baseball, NBA, PGA, ATP and USC—a real acronym soup there.
We started by asking people what they expect of pro sports, and again, what we saw was that the largest driver of perception – the most important element of reputation – was about consistent performance. Now this expectation isn’t as high as we saw for banks or for airlines or for pensions; but it is still higher than any other sector that we looked at in the research this year. Essentially people want to know when they tune in, that the league still exists, that the game is still exactly as they remember it, and that it’s going to provide the same level of entertainment that they expected and that they experienced in previous seasons.
We then see that value is the next largest focus for consumers, followed by, interestingly, employee and player care. In terms of things that people really don’t expect of their sports leagues, care of the environment is something that is just not associated with pro sports. Intriguingly as well though, when we asked people, community impact was not something that they said they associated with pro sports organizations. Again, where it gets quite interesting is when we overlay how people perceive sports organization at delivering. Essentially, when we start to look at reputation, and compare the reputations of the different leagues. People feel that the NHL delivers on things like consistent performance, on value, on innovation and so on, compared to the NFL, to baseball and such like.
What we saw was that while there are some big differences overall, the eight sports organizations that we looked at, on average, are seen as delivering consistent performance. They’re matching expectations in terms of that experience and the entertainment. But we did see significant differences from league to league.
Value equals lower cost
We see that on the whole, pro sports are meeting expectations of player and employee care. As you might expect, one of the biggest dividing lines was between contact and non-contact sports. When we look at areas of shortfall, it was perhaps surprising to see that professional sports leagues are not really (seen as) delivering credible communications.
Fans also don’t feel that leagues are really delivering the value they expect when it comes to watching sports. We really wanted to understand that concept of better value for fans. Mainly we found that “value” (equals) a lower total cost, and that’s not just ticket price but the total cost of being a fan. So, if you imagine taking a family of four with two baseball-crazy kids along to the game, you’re talking about tickets, parking, food at the game, merchandise and so on.
These costs all add up, and it’s all part of the experience of being a fan. On a similar note, fans said that better value is about better bundling, whether that’s bundling of matches on TV, ticket packs, ticket and merchandise bundling and so on.
Caring about employee safety
The final point that we saw people saying was a key element of value to them was about more convenient access to the product, which I thought was a really interesting insight, because it reflects the reality of being a fan today. It’s not just about attending matches any more, it’s about being able to watch on TV, catch commentaries or analyses on the go through mobile devices, interacting and engaging with the sport, with your teams, with players across platforms and throughout the week – not just on game day.
It’s also about being seen to operate ethically at every step, and about transparency in operations and business practices.
The second point that we really wanted to dive deeper into is one about player and employee care, and we know over the last couple of years, that it’s become a real lightning rod for reputation and discussions about sports. When asked, respondents said that player care is primarily about making player safety the number one concern in the sport. It’s about balancing the needs of players and employees against the needs of the organizations more broadly.
Across the 20 industries that we surveyed in the research this year in Canada, we saw that discount retail have the lowest expectations of employee care. It’s really not a focus for customers shopping at discount retail stores. What we did see though is that it’s more of a consideration in fast fashion – where there’s obviously more focus on factory workers’ safety. But the focus on employee or player care is greater in sport leagues than in any of the other categories that we looked at.
We see both from the data and the research just how important a factor it is in the reputation of sports organizations. We also see significant variation in how people perceive different sports leagues on this particular measure.
Reputation requires “doing right”
The final thing we wanted to understand in more detail was about “doing right.” Of the nine drivers, it’s perhaps the least tangible. It’s about an organization being run in the right way. According to fans, it’s something that sports really could do better at. Again, we wanted to understand what this looks like for sports. The biggest answer is about holding players and sports leaders responsible for their actions. It’s about recognizing the reality of players, owners and leaders being role models, and really reflecting that reality in how the sport responds to their behavior.
It’s also about being seen to operate ethically at every step, and about transparency in operations and business practices. We didn’t include FIFA in the research because it’s less relevant to Canada, but I mean, you can tell by the response. We all know just how important this idea of transparency and ethical operation in sport has become over the last year or so; and it’s only going to continue to be a focus for consumers.