The authenticity gap: the difference between what companies do and what consumers expect

In an age of greater transparency and oversight, and with consumer expectations higher than ever, organisations around the globe continue to face mounting communication challenges, on multiple fronts.

Campaigns such as Extinction Rebellion and activists like Greta Thunberg have driven climate change even higher up the global agenda, whilst issues around data security and privacy continue to concern us all. At the same time, perceptions are increasingly influenced by a greater emphasis on societal purpose and intense scrutiny from the media.

Top issues important to UK consumers


Authenticity gap

And to top it off, not only do audiences today have a point of view on the relevant topics that matter most, they are more acutely aware than ever of any gap that exists when their experience of an organisation is at odds with the messages it conveys.

FleishmanHillard Fishburn’s Authenticity Gap study examines the issues people care about most, what they expect companies to do about them and where organisations are exceeding, meeting or falling short of these expectations. The greater the gap, the bigger the problem.

The agency’s report “Leading with Impact” – which studied 20 industries, 160 companies and 1,140 engaged UK consumers – found data security, data privacy and climate change are the top three business critical issues engaged consumers in the UK expect companies to take a stand on.

Action is needed

Tellingly, whilst data security and data privacy remain the top two issues consumers expect companies to act on, it is people’s demand for corporate action on environmental concerns that has seen the biggest surge in demand. Today, three in five people (59%) expect companies to take a stand on climate and environmental issues, up from 39% in 2018, catapulting it from 17th to 3rd in the rankings of issues companies are expected to take a stand on.

Perhaps more strikingly, this year’s report found that 84% of the 160 companies studied fall short of consumer expectations in terms of action on environmental issues and climate change. This was a universal finding across 17 of the 20 industries studied – with the greatest expectation among companies and brands in the personal care sector.

Ludo Baynham-Herd, associate director at FleishmanHillard Fishburn, says, Audiences are demanding more commitment than ever from companies as they see first-hand the effect of environmental decline, and they expect genuine action. Climate change is the new business imperative – organisations that fail to communicate effectively on these topics not only risk alienating their customer base – but risk losing out to competitors that do.

“Our study shows consumers don’t necessarily expect companies to fix everything, but they will intensely scrutinise them to make a positive difference on the issues under their control and where they can make a tangible impact. It’s not enough to talk a good game. Brands must be able to back it up with behaviour and effectively communicate progress.”

From the top

When it comes to action, the research also revealed the issues consumers expect business leaders to respond to and have a voice on, with executives expected to first and foremost communicate on issues that impact customers (76%) and employees (71%).

However, the majority (55%) also believe they should act on issues with a large societal impact, even if they don’t significantly affect their company. Interestingly, less importance was placed on having a stand on controversial issues that influenced government policy changes (48%) or those that reflected a CEOs own personal views and beliefs (43%).

Key insights

• Three in five people (59%) now expect companies to stand up on climate and environmental issues, up from 39% in 2018

• 84% of the 160 companies studied fall short of consumer expectations in terms of action on environmental issues and response to the so called ‘climate emergency

• 62% of consumers believe companies are taking too long to disclose and provide solutions to data breaches or cyber attacks

• Two thirds (66%) want companies to show greater purpose and societal impact

• 76% expect CEOs to take a stand on issues that have an impact on the company’s customers

When discussing how brands and communications professionals can use its authenticity research, Baynham-Herd concludes: “The role of intelligence and research in communication strategies has never been more critical. Today’s audiences are getting get ever more engaged with the companies behind the brands, so it’s vital that companies understand what matters to them, how their attitudes are shaped and the channels that must be used to engage with them. Our research has helped inform and shape corporate affairs, communications and marketing strategies for a range of brands and organisations, across a variety of industries, around the globe”.

Methodology

To inform this research, FleishmanHillard and TRUE Global Intelligence conducted a survey among a total of 1,140 Engaged Consumers in the U.K. aged 18 to 65 years of old between 18t April 2019 and 2 May 2019, along with 160 companies across 20 industries.

You can download the report for free here.