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Are Companies Overlooking “Forgotten Issues”?

September 4, 2019

Consumers today are making purchasing decisions on more than just the customer or product benefits, also weighing aspects like what a company is doing for society and its environmental impact. Brands are increasingly aware of the expectation and supporting causes that they may not have touched 30 years ago. But taking a stand isn’t easy, and brands tend to gravitate toward issues that their peers are involved with, often sticking to the surface of those issues.

Consumers are taking notice that certain causes are trending and questioning if brands are making a difference. Terms like “pink-washing,” “pride-painting” and “woke washing” are entering our lexicon. As Alex Abad-Santos writes in Vox, LGBTQ Pride Month has become “a branded holiday,” with so many rainbows in store windows that it begs the question of what exactly brands are supporting.

With many companies focusing on these more popular issues, they may be missing out on an opportunity to differentiate themselves by addressing other topics that people also care about.

Consumers already expect companies to be out front on issues they create, impact directly or control. Data security (59%), data privacy (58%), climate change (53%), income and wage gaps (44%) and minimum wage (44%) are among the top issues that consumers expect brands to address according to FleishmanHillard’s 2019 Authenticity Gap survey.

Yet there are also topics that matter deeply to those same consumers with little expectation that brands would have an impact.

Take education. Our research shows that 79% of consumers say access to affordable, quality education is extremely important, placing it in the top five issues consumers care about. Surprisingly, only 32% of those consumers expect companies to take a stand here. As issues go, education has an intrinsic relationship to the bottom line. Companies rely on an educated workforce for their business to thrive. And brands don’t have to go too far to make a difference – education can happen in the form of on-the-job training. In fact, the ability to learn new skills tops the list of what people say makes a company a great place to work.

Engaged consumers say more than a quarter (28%) of their perception of a company is based on a company’s impact on society. That includes taking better care of employees, the community and the environment.

In a world where brands are expected to step up, there’s a greenfield for those willing to go off the beaten fund run or parade path, provided they do so in a way that rings true to their business and their values.

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