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The Authenticity Gap

August 18, 2019

Think about the last decision you made about something you knew would impact your organization’s reputation. Was it based on years of experience and good instincts?

If so, you likely missed the mark.

For years, we have forged our craft and our careers with the lessons we learned through hard-won experience. But that collection of experiences is singular to us as individuals.

Today, the best in our industry don’t make decisions based on experience and gut instinct. They counsel with data and insights. None of us has the breadth of experiences to fully prepare an executive, or an entire company, for how to behave in these very polarized times.

It’s against that backdrop that we introduce this year’s Authenticity Gap Study, which explores consumers’ views on today’s most discussed topics and trends from six points around the globe (China, Germany, UK, Brazil, Canada and the U.S.). We also unpack consumers’ expectations and their experiences with more than 300 companies in nearly 30 industries.

With an established track record of doing this study, I thought I had pretty good instincts for what we’d find. Once again, there is no substitution for real data to better understand the world around us. Included here are just a few of the headlines we’ve found interesting.

There has been much written this past year about how and when companies are taking a stand on societal issues. Turns out, the issues consumers most care about (and it varies quite a bit by country) isn’t exactly the same list as the issues where consumers expect companies to speak out. Driven by a sense of realism, consumers know companies can’t fix everything, but they expect them to be most active on those issues most under their control.

Engaged consumers care about a company’s employees. How businesses treat their workers has skyrocketed up the list of consumers’ concerns. When it comes to employers being a great place to work, offering experiences to develop skills and pursue new career opportunities skyrockets upward as engaged consumers put it at the top of their list. In fact, employees may have turned the expectations of how companies treat their employees on their head, as having flexibility for greater work/life balance now comes in last.

Today, when companies expand into new industry segments, they are asking what it takes to win the hearts and minds of consumers in a space where they don’t have a track record. The answer from consumers: Demonstrate a greater positive impact on society than the incumbent companies when launching a new product or service. Consumers believe that for a company to be more credible than competitors, it must talk about how its leaders behave and how the company impacts society and the environment, not just the product benefits it offers.

We see a growing tide in companies engaging more in societal issues and more notoriety around the personality of CEOs. But consumers don’t want CEOs to mingle the two. They don’t care about the personal views of the CEO, but rather how he or she is activating the company to show what the company does and doesn’t value.

While most companies want to spend most of their time and resources talking about what they sell, consumers say less than half of their perceptions of a company are shaped by its products and services. The other half is shaped by information on how leadership behaves and how the company is having an impact on society. People, not products, are what consumers care about. They want to know how companies are:

  • Understanding customers’ unique needs
  • Reducing their impact on climate change/environment
  • Impacting consumers’ health and well-being
  • Taking care of their employees

It can be easy to think that conducting a little bit of research is a luxury only suited for large initiatives. But smart insights can save you money and avoid market-share-eroding crises down the road, by ensuring you understand the very different expectations of your very different audiences. So, the question becomes, are you willing to stake your company and your own reputation on your gut instinct?

Download FleishmanHillard’s Authenticity Gap Report from our dedicated report page here.