Do you know what really matters to the audiences you care about? Are you in tune with what they feel, experience and believe? FleishmanHillard’s 2021 global report, The Power of Authenticity, reveals that many brands and companies are facing an authenticity problem, whereby who they claim to be often jars with who they really are.
The research, which involved a 25-minute survey with 10,000 informed consumers in five markets, about more than 200 companies across 20 sectors, measures the gap between consumer expectations and their actual experiences of a company or brand. It uses the Nine Drivers of Authenticity that shape consumer perceptions and beliefs, as pictured below.
How to measure authenticity? FleishmanHillard’s Nine Drivers help frame consumer perceptions and beliefs.
Steph Bailey, senior partner and managing director, corporate strategy at FleishmanHillard UK, comments: “In 2021, the interesting thing within the nine drivers is that we’re seeing an increase in societal impact. A brand is not just about the product it sells or the services it offers. In order to get true reputational benefits, a brand has to look at the whole story and use this to drive authentic communications.”
Jennifer Jackson, senior content editor at PRWeek, shares her top 10 takeaways from this year’s report:
1. Having an approach to climate change and DE&I is no longer a differentiator, it is expected.
Consumer expectations for companies to step up on the core issues of the climate emergency and DE&I are higher than they have ever been. Simply having a policy in place, or a point of view, is no longer enough to keep you competitive, you have to go beyond that and think creatively about how you can address the broader societal issues.
2. There are actions you can take right now that will make a difference.
Those surveyed gave their thoughts on what brands can do to take the right steps towards DE&I:
- Have a clear strategy regarding the company’s aims and goals around diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Provide training and further education for all staff on unconscious biases and best practice DE&I techniques.
- Ensure minority voices are heard and acknowledged in the decision-making process.
3. Our priorities have shifted and society matters.
The pandemic has shaken us to the core and for many this has made us re-evaluate our priorities, particularly when it comes to how we view businesses and brands. 64% of consumers believe that for a company to be more credible than its competitors it must talk about its behaviours and impact on society and the environment, not just the customer benefits it offers.
4. CEOs must think beyond their pet projects to gain true impact.
Consumers demand authentic leadership and so vanity projects will be seen as just that - vanity. Instead, the trick is to comment on societal issues but make it relevant to your CEO as well as authentic to your brand. 65% say CEOs must speak up on issues that ‘may not have a significant impact on the business but have a significant impact on society.’ That means not just jumping on the bandwagon of any breaking story but ensuring that it is part of a well-considered business plan that is communicated both internally and externally.
5. A company’s story has to be more than just about the product it makes or the services it offers.
It is no longer seen as exceptional for companies and brands to talk beyond what they make and do, it is expected. The pandemic put this into sharp focus as pharma companies stepped up to pool their resources into vaccine development and tech companies used their data in the fight to track and trace the virus. Of course, it only rings true if it is genuinely for the greater good. No spin please.
6. Despite expectations, there are very few companies really stepping up.
Whether it is a nervousness about getting this wrong or whether it is an inability to know where to start, very few companies are actually nailing brand authenticity right now. Indeed, across all markets and industries, brands are falling short on expectations on four of the nine drivers, most significantly on delivering better value and caring for the environment.
7. Activism isn’t the preserve of the young.
In the 65+ age group this expectation for companies to take a stand on issues also exists. That’s important for brands to note as they can achieve greater brand loyalty beyond the obvious age groups. In fact, 50% of that age group surveyed felt that protecting the environment was important, compared to 45% of those 18-24-year olds.
8. People care deeply about what you do with their data.
With great power comes even greater responsibility, and for the third year running data security and privacy top the issues that those surveyed feel companies should have a point of view on. As we sit hour by hour in front of our computer screens, sharing our thoughts and data with the online world, is it any wonder that we want to ensure that we’re protected and secure?
9. A broad-brush approach to markets won’t work.
What issues matter and whether to stand up on these issues varies market by market. Of course it does. So having a homogenous plan won’t work. The authenticity research showed us that each of the markets was looking at things very differently despite all dealing with COVID last year. That said, there are some issues that are important, irrespective of the market, and unsurprisingly, these were public health, the environment and DE&I.
10. It is not easy to get communications right.
But just jumping onto an issue because it is the topic of the day or because your team cares about it is still something that can cause more problems than it solves. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respond to issues, to be an authentic business it needs to be based on more than simply gut feel if it is to avoid anything going spectacularly wrong.
The research allows companies to judge how authentic they are, where they fall short and how they compare with their sector peers. If you are interested in exploring the full report click here to download it for free.