Brands and businesses have largely accepted the consumer mandate to embrace Purpose initiatives like doing more to support sustainability, DEI, gender equality and other global concerns—but despite those commitments, most consumers feel like they’re not seeing any action. As a result, Purpose has been taken up a notch—people now want to see companies put their commitments into actions they can see and understand on a more personal level, reveals the latest Brands in Motion report from comms giant WE Communications.
The firm’s new global study, It’s Personal: The New Rules of Corporate Reputation, with research partner YouGov, finds that a company’s reputation is increasingly determined by its response to immediate, public concerns that have universal reach, such as cost of living and the climate crisis. This new shift in Purpose demands is coupled with an increase in consumer skepticism—fewer than half (44 percent) of brands are perceived to be delivering on their commitments, and half of survey respondents said brands that do take a stand on societal issues are just trying to sell more products and services.
“In a world where the need for stability has never felt more personal, companies must go further to demonstrate progress and impact in areas people are feeling most acutely in their daily lives, like climate change and economic instability,” said Hannah Peters, EVP, Corporate Reputation & Brand Purpose at WE Communications, in a news release. “Long-term commitments remain important, but brands must also meet growing expectations to see and feel near-term action.”
The findings also validated that, in today’s environment, employee reputation is directly correlated with corporate reputation. Social media and crowd-sourced rating sites are fueling greater openness in the workplace—about work conditions, benefits and pay. Beyond business performance, companies now must be transparent about employee experience to meet this mandate, with 92 percent of respondents believing that employer-employee relations are among the essential characteristics of a company to build and maintain a great reputation.
Notably, even as consumers are calling on companies to speak out more about issues such as cost of living (60 percent), employee pay and benefits (54 percent), the climate crisis (41 percent), and the responsible use of technology and artificial intelligence (38 percent), they expect brands to keep talking about and maintain a focus on other longstanding Purpose issues like social justice, DEI and gender equality.
“It’s a delicate balance. The old rules of media relations, crisis communications and employee engagement need to evolve to respond to today’s accelerating demands,” said Rebecca Wilson, Executive Vice President, International at WE, in the release. “Brands that successfully pivot to embrace and commit to change will see long-lasting positive effects on their reputation and business success.”
New world, new rules
Striking the right balance, conveying an authentic message and maintaining a strong corporate reputation require a new set of rules. In the report, WE identifies four new guiding principles for building a strong corporate reputation:
- Prioritize the personal: More than half of respondents (60 percent) said that brands are not talking enough about what they are doing to address inflation and cost of living. People are feeling the pressure, and they want companies to be part of the solution.
- Increase transparency: Being transparent with data (76 percent), such as disclosure of pay transparency or sustainability targets, was ranked as the most authentic way for companies to talk positively about themselves, followed by testimonials or reviews (61 percent).
- Employer reputation = corporate reputation: Consumers identified “respecting work-life balance” and “providing compensation that allows people to provide for themselves” among the top five corporate reputation factors.
- Get real on artificial intelligence: Sixty-four percent of survey respondents said that the responsible use of technology—including AI and customer data—will become a more crucial factor in reputation over the next two to three years.
“Companies must know how to reprioritize and focus if they want to remain relevant and trusted in an increasingly cynical world,” said Wilson. “The time has come for communications leaders to be guided by a new set of rules.”
The WE Brands in Motion report is a worldwide study of how perceptions shift over time. Now in its seventh year, the firm has surveyed 100,000+ consumers and B2B decision-makers about their attitudes regarding:
- Expectations for brand actions and investments
- Forces affecting the market on a macro level
- Expectations for purpose initiatives
For the latest installment, WE and YouGov sampled nearly 15,000 respondents in seven markets across the globe.