Mind the Authenticity Gap: The difference between what businesses claim to be and what they really are

The global pandemic has disrupted and challenged almost every aspect of our lives. And with it triggered a fundamental shift in how companies communicate and the types of issues they choose to champion.

So why is it then, more often than not, what we see and hear from brands, businesses, and people jars with what we might feel, experience and believe? Essentially, they have an authenticity problem, or a ‘crisis’ gap. And as we emerge from one of the most unprecedented times in our history, authenticity and trust are going to matter more than ever.

Authenticity gap

What we mean by authenticity is the fundamental alignment of who you claim to be and who you really are. If the two are at odds, no matter who you are, people will be let down or dissatisfied, and you won’t meet expectations. ​

At FleishmanHillard, we call this the ‘Authenticity Gap’ and we’ve been measuring it since 2012, using the Nine Drivers of Authenticity that shape consumer perceptions and beliefs.​ Our rich research allows companies to judge how authentic they are, where they fall short and how they compare to their sector peers. ​

On average, the relative importance of the nine drivers are

  • MANAGEMENT BEHAVIOURS 21%
  • CUSTOMER BENEFITS 47%
  • SOCIETY OUTCOMES 32%

This year we surveyed 10,000 informed consumers in five markets ((The US, Brazil, the UK, China and Germany), polling their experiences and expectations of 200+ companies across 20 sectors.

Key findings

Some of the standouts from this year’s Authenticity Gap study showed nearly two-thirds of consumers (64%) believe that for a company to be more credible than its competitors it must talk about its behaviour and impact on society and the environment, not just the customer benefits it offers. And sadly, globally brands across all industries are falling short of expectation on four of the nine drivers, and most significantly on delivering better value and caring for the environment.

On the flip and more positive side, more than half of industries are surpassing expectations for employee care - with medical devices and diagnostics brands the furthest ahead. If the pandemic has shown us anything it’s that our people are our most important asset - and looking after their health and wellbeing is categorically the most important thing. This is only likely to grow in importance and we need to constantly review and refine the support we give employees to make sure it’s the very best they deserve.

Globally, pharma and cloud services are also among the industry’s most exceeding expectations when it comes to the community impact they make. This is pleasing to see given how much employees from these types of companies have played a pivotal role helping us get out of the global pandemic mess.

How to survive and thrive

For companies looking to make what are often hard choices about where to focus their attention or how to shape brand campaigns, understanding authenticity is a vital tool in the communications armoury. We would argue this year more than ever.

Written by Sara Turner, director at PR agency FleishmanHillard.

Download the full report here