NEW YORK: Companies in the US, China, and Germany in 20 industries are finding the gap between customer expectations and experiences tough to bridge, according to research released Thursday by Fleishman-Hillard and Lepere Analytics.
The “Authenticity Gap” report, which studied more than 150 brands last October, revealed that every company had a discrepancy between consumer experiences and expectations. Lepere identified more than 3,000 “expert consumers” for the online survey, meaning the participants all had knowledge and interest in the specific industry categories.
“We really wanted to try to bring some actionable, full data to C-suite executives, marketers, and communicators,” explained Marjorie Benzkofer, global head of Fleishman's reputation management practice. “When we looked across the landscape at different brands and reputation research, we saw that, many times, companies were exploring what was happening to the customer in terms of their experience. But nobody was asking what the expectations were of customers.”
She added that the gap shows brands they have many opportunities to better engage their audiences in authentic ways. Fleishman identified nine authenticity drivers, or things consumers said most shaped their perceptions of companies. They include management behaviors to do right, consistent performance, credible communications, the customer benefits of better values, customer care, and innovation. Respondents also cited society outcomes of employee care, community impact, and care of the environment.
Benzkofer said one of the most notable findings is that 55% of consumers' perceptions are shaped by how a company affects society and how management behaves. The other 45% is related to customer benefits.
Another key finding is that “there is no such thing as a global market,” added Benzkofer.
Results differed by country. For example, in the US, the automobile category is falling short of expectations in “care of the environment,” while in China, the sector is meeting consumers' expectations in terms of the environment.
One of the biggest takeaways from the study, Benzkofer said, is that it “speaks to the need to close the authenticity gap with how companies are managing their brands and reputations.”
She added that many companies manage their brands and reputations in silos, where marketing is responsible for the brand and corporate responsibility oversees reputation, and the separation between the two is creating barriers.
“In some cases, it can even be a destructive force,” added Benzkofer. “So managing brand and reputation holistically is something every organization needs to look at going forward.”
In addition to the study, Fleishman is launching the online Center on Reputation & Relationships. The site, which will include research results and commentary, is focused on creating dialogue and serving as a place of learning for the whole industry, said Benzkofer.
Fleishman hopes to include some online training sessions for the center in the future.