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In today’s high-stakes world, consumers expect brands to step up—how to be more authentic

by | Aug 26, 2019 | Public Relations

Brands and businesses have been challenged to take stands on cultural and societal issues, and as our societal fabric continues to fray, that challenge has escalated. We’re living in an increasingly volatile time of immigration backlash, trade wars and polarized governments, and new research from comms giant FleishmanHillard confirms that consumers expect companies to take a stand on these hot-button issues—viewpoints that companies either create, impact directly or control.

The agency’s newly released 2019 Authenticity Gapstudy explores what role consumers believe business should take in addressing societal, political and business challenges in different parts of the world. In particular:

  • Improved data security and privacy topped more than 20 issues consumers ranked as being important to see companies more actively address. There’s an expectation for companies to do the right thing and self-police—73 percent of consumers want to see protection practices that go beyond regulatory mandates.
  • Sixty-nine percent of consumers globally say, to be more credible than competitors, a company must talk about its behavior and impact on society and the environment—not just the customer product benefits it offers.
  • Perhaps in response to a growing tide of automation and AI, 77 percent of consumers globally said it was most important that their employer help further develop their skills and career opportunities.
  • Consumers don’t care about CEOs’ personal beliefs, rather they want them to stick with issues that have an impact on the business’ customers (74 percent), products and services (72 percent) and employees (71 percent). Consumers know companies can’t fix everything, but they expect them to be active on those issues most under their control.

In today’s high-stakes world, consumers expect brands to step up—how to be more authentic

“By identifying what their consumers care about most and where they’re expected to take a stand, businesses can plan ahead, developing an authentic position,” said Marjorie Benzkofer, chief strategy officer and global managing director of the Reputation Management practice at FleishmanHillard, inn a news release. “Our research found that more than half of what shapes consumers’ perceptions and beliefs about a company comes from how its management behaves and how the organization impacts society. Companies that are willing to stand up for their values on issues important to their stakeholders can unlock opportunities and position themselves for success.”

In today’s high-stakes world, consumers expect brands to step up—how to be more authentic

The study analyzes insights from engaged consumers in six countries, examining their expectations and experiences with more than 300 companies in nearly 30 industries. The study provides organizations across industries actionable data they can use to shape their brands and business initiatives—uncovering where they’re meeting or falling short of audience expectations in the areas of society, management behavior and customer benefits.

In today’s high-stakes world, consumers expect brands to step up—how to be more authentic

“Our expectations of what companies and organizations should be undertaking is more expansive than ever before. We want companies to be stepping up and speaking up in new ways. In this new environment, it’s too easy for an organization’s brand promise to fall flat, or worse, badly misstep. Smart insights can save companies money and avoid market-share-eroding crises down the road, ensuring they understand the very different, and sometimes conflicting, expectations within each unique audience group,” Benzkofer said.

In today’s high-stakes world, consumers expect brands to step up—how to be more authentic

While this year’s study shows remarkable differences by country, global insights across industries include:

Protecting data and privacy is vital

  • Consumers are hesitant to share their data even when it benefits them—only 41 percent of consumers reported being willing to have their data collected for greater convenience
  • Consumers are becoming increasingly wary of companies’ use of their personal data, with 63 percent saying they’re less likely to support companies that use data for their own benefit

In today’s high-stakes world, consumers expect brands to step up—how to be more authentic

What makes a great place to work is evolving

  • Three-fourths of respondents noted the importance of both having a work environment that is inclusive and equal, and a robust benefits program that meets healthcare needs
  • 73 percent are interested in a workplace that institutes practices that protect the environment
  • 71 percent want their employer to provide opportunities to use new technologies and innovations
  • Coming toward the bottom of the list of importance was a place with work practices that accommodate a flexible lifestyle, though 65 percent still say it’s important

Just because it’s important to a consumer, doesn’t mean they expect a business to act

  • Consumers care about affordable, quality healthcare, violence against women and access to affordable quality education, but do not have high expectations for companies to take a stand on those issues
  • Consumers most often expect companies to take a stand on issues like protecting the environment, income and wage gaps, and the minimum wage

Download the complete report here.

In today’s high-stakes world, consumers expect brands to step up—how to be more authentic

The Authenticity Gap study was conducted by FleishmanHillard’s TRUE Global Intelligence practice. The survey included a total of 7,364 engaged consumers in Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, UK and the US, 18 years of age and older. Engaged consumers represent on average 29 percent of the population of adults. The survey was fielded online between April 19 and May 22, 2019.

In today’s high-stakes world, consumers expect brands to step up—how to be more authentic

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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