Does your brand have an authenticity problem?

Stephanie Bailey, Senior Partner, Managing Director, Corporate and Head of FleishmanHillard COP26 Unit

Does your brand have an authenticity problem? If what a brand does is different from what a brand says, then yes. You have what we call an authenticity gap.

If, say, you are the CEO of a disruptive craft beer brand then what you say versus what you do really matters, particularly if your narrative is a core part of what distinguishes you.

So you build your brand on being the one that shakes up the market. You stand up for the little person. You call out hypocrisies, look out for societal injustice and create huge brand loyalty for going beyond simply pushing beer sales.

Until stories start to leak about your working environment. The word toxic is used and soon it becomes obvious that despite all the brilliant championing externally, internally the way the company has been run is completely at odds with the outside image.

What the brand said was different to what the brand actually did. You have an authenticity problem.

Navigating consumer expectations at the moment is tough. We are in a world in which to be competitive a brand has to go beyond the customer benefits and talk about the issues that actually matter and the issues that will have the best impact.

Our latest Authenticity Gap research was developed to help us better guide our clients and help them decide what issues are really important to their audiences and what are the specific drivers of reputation for them in their sector.

This matters. To create true cut through brands have to invest in more than just their product lines but not every issue is a platform to fight on.

About half (49%) of UK consumer perceptions and beliefs about a company are shaped by attributes related to a company’s ‘customer benefits’ i.e. the products it offers and services it provides.

The other half of consumer perceptions are shaped by a company’s impact on society (32%) and information regarding how a company’s management behaves (19%).

So this year, in the UK we are seeing a desire for more activism from both the young (as you would expect) AND the old.

Whether it’s the fate of their grandchildren, or feeling guilty for past consumption, consumers aged 65+ consistently felt that brands should speak out about human rights issues.​

This was directly comparable to the youngest generation, who placed huge importance on the environment, racial justice, violence against women and wider forms of discrimination as huge importance.

50% of over 65s expect brands to take a stand on disability discrimination, accessibility and equal opportunities.

39% of the older generation expect brands to work against ethnic discrimination, and one in three (33%) want businesses to show acceptance of diversity, including ethnic customs, traditions and religious beliefs.

Gender equality is a key priority for UK consumers regardless of their age, with 41% of 18-24s and 42% of over 65s expecting brands to take action.


And the way we feel CEOs should speak up has also changed.

Whilst before we looked for activist CEOs, willing to take on and championing a personal cause. Now we are looking for more collaborative leaders, who will bring others in to solve the bigger issues.

Over half (58%) of informed UK consumers say CEOs should speak up on issues that ‘may not have a significant impact on the business but have a significant impact on society’ – with particular focus on diversity and diverse representation within a workforce and its leadership.

So maybe it is time for egos to be left at the door and for our leaders to come together. And maybe that is a good lesson for a disruptor brand that needs to regain its position in the affections of its consumers.

If you think you might have an authenticity problem, explore our research data in more detail and get in touch at [email protected] if you’re interested in looking at your company, sector or market in full.

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