Brands no longer have the option to be silent on divisive social issues, according to the fourth iteration of FleishmanHillard’s Authenticity Gap report.
"It’s a constant theme in client conversations," said Marjorie Benzkofer, global MD of reputation management at Fleishman. "Companies have to be prepared to speak to today’s societal issues. They can do so in any number of ways authentic to them. It’s no longer an option to be silent on those topics."
Almost three-quarters (74%) of respondents said companies should "go beyond mandated regulations and actively work to solve societal issues," the study found. While isolationism is more common in public policy than it once was, 63% of respondents said they want companies to drive "the interchange of ideas, products, and culture on the world stage." That sentiment was expressed most often in the U.S. (68%) and least often in Germany (57%).
In short, the study found that authenticity – the ability of a brand to meet customer expectations – still matters. The problem is so few companies ever meet them.
The Authenticity Gap is an annual study conducted by the Omnicom agency’s global intelligence division in partnership with research firm Lepere Analytics. Ipsos conducted the polling from March 17 to April 21 surveying almost 5,500 consumers in five countries: the U.S., Germany, Canada, China, and the U.K. The survey covered almost 300 companies in more than 25 industries.
Here are other key takeaways:
Get smart on cyber
After a spree of hacks in 2016 and 2017, such as the WannaCry attacks and the Yahoo data breach, a majority of consumers (59.2%) don’t believe companies are doing enough to provide cybersecurity. In China, that number was 50%.
CEO perception matters
Corporate reputation rests on more than the products and services a company peddles. Respondents overwhelmingly associate a CEO’s integrity with the company he or she leads (See: Uber and SoFi).
Almost 84% of Americans hold this view, compared with Germany’s 73%, which scored the lowest in this category.
However, consumers are three times more likely to trust employees more than the CEO in disseminating information about the brand.
"The expectation for credible corporate communications on average ranks at the bottom of consumer expectations across all countries," the study found.
Break a few eggs
In the U.S., innovative companies get some slack when they make product or service mistakes. Seventy percent of American respondents said they expect them to have occasional miscues. For example, even while Samsung’s reputation took a nosedive after its Note 7 disaster, sales for the Note 8 outpaced its predecessor by a large margin.
Neither German nor Chinese respondents agreed (41% and 48%, respectively) that companies’ reputations are bulletproof because they are innovative.
Disappointment is widely held around the world
Consumers expressed disappointment in their experiences with at least 70% of the companies studied in Canada, China, the U.S., and the U.K. In other words, for most companies, reality did not meet consumer expectations. However, in Germany, only 42% had an expectation gap.
Customer care fails to meet expectations
While customer care is the "top driver" for financial services, managed care, and health insurance in the U.S., all of these industries failed to meet expectations. Airlines and hotels also missed the mark.