There has been more discussion about authenticity this year than perhaps any other time. Yet daily news headlines and our own experiences tell us that being authentic still seems pretty hard for most organizations. FleishmanHillard’s latest Authenticity Gap study examines where there are gaps between consumers’ rapidly changing expectations and their actual experiences, providing executives a roadmap to building deeper, more meaningful relationships that speed the pace of progress.
TRUE: What did you learn this year about how consumer expectations and experiences are changing?
Benzkofer: We saw some really interesting shifts this year that will reshape communication and marketing strategies in 2016 – particularly as it relates to the C-Suite.
- Expectations of management to behave ethically and communicate transparently are on the rise, but consumers say their experience with such is less and less. This is the only driver where the gap is widening with upward movement on expectations and downward on experience.
- In our previous study, expectations for innovation were off the charts, quite literally in some countries. But those expectations have dropped this year and are being replaced with new expectations around value. But value isn’t just about cost – how transparent a company is in its pricing is even more important than being cheaper than competitors.
- People increasingly look beyond governments to companies and organizations to help solve the world’s problems. Expectations for treatment of employees, community impact and care of the environment are going up versus last year. In fact, there are strong correlations between local advocacy and care of the environment for more companies than for any other driver.
- Finally, one of the most surprising findings from the year is that today’s consumers find information directly from companies as valuable as information from mainstream media.
TRUE: In an era where companies are spending millions of dollars talking about themselves, what does it mean to “tell your whole story?” What isn’t being said?
Benzkofer: When we work with CMOs and CCOs, we find they often spend nearly 80 percent of their time and dollars on storytelling about their products and services. But that percentage is way out of skew with today’s expectations by consumers. We know from the research that only about half of our perceptions and beliefs about a company are shaped by information related to what product they make or service they offer. In fact, half of our perceptions and beliefs about a company are shaped by how management behaves and how a company interacts with society.
Communication and marketing executives must re-balance their resources to tell the whole story of their businesses. It’s not enough to talk about how products are bigger, better and faster. Now industry leaders must put as much emphasis on how management makes decisions about what is right for the business, its processes and practices, how they truly treat their workforce – in essence how they are sharing the same values as society that go well beyond a product.
TRUE: How are our expectations different from country to country?
Benzkofer: There are in fact hundreds of differences country to country. That’s why we believe there really is no such thing as a ‘global brand.’ You may have an overarching identity and brand promise, but how you execute locally must be in keeping with local expectations and experiences if you want those authentic relationships.
- In Canada, how companies take care of their employees is viewed as their most important contribution to society.
- Expectations of communications have risen more in Britain than in any other country studied. But British companies need to work harder – only 43% are (barely) meeting these expectations like their counterparts in other countries.
- German consumers value employee care, impact on the community and care of environment all more highly than U.S., Canadian, Japanese or British consumers.
- Expectations of customer care are high in Japan – it is the No. 2 driver. Yet the number of companies with gaps on customer care exceeds 90 percent, by far the highest of all countries.
- In the U.S., expectations of better value have more than doubled year on year, more than any other country. But U.S. companies have work to do; more than 60 percent are not meeting expectations.
TRUE: Is there anything you found that’s universal?
Benzkofer: There is an ongoing turf battle between the functions of corporate communications and marketing, and it is proving to be a truly destructive force in many companies. Brand (how a company behaves) and reputation (the shared perceptions of others) must be managed holistically. It is a conversation not just about communications and marketing, but also about leadership and operations.
As a global society we expect more. The era of big promises and platitudes is over. We must ‘be as we wish to be seen’ if we are to embark on an authentic conversation about what matters most to our businesses.