The latest issue of Communication Director magazine featuring John Saunders discusses what it means to be authentic in business

When it comes to consumer perceptions of authenticity, companies must move beyond big brand promises and platitudes and be as they wish to be seen. Research from FleishmanHillard reveals how European companies engage authentically. Click on the title page, above, to read the full article.

Insights from the Authenticity Gap research

Successful companies align their brand with their reputation


The need for authenticity across all industries today is undeniable. To succeed in a world where organisations and management are under increasing scrutiny, companies must align what they say and how they behave (the brand) with the shared perceptions of others (the reputation). Understanding consumers’ expectations is fundamental.

FleishmanHillard’s Authenticity Gap methodology helps companies understand and proactively manage the gap between audiences’ expectations and actual experiences with a company or brand. The insights allow organisations to create true relationships with their audiences – authentic engagement that drives progress and opportunity.

The Authenticity Gap research is conducted annually among more than 570 companies and brands in more than 60 categories – including pharmaceuticals – in US, Canada, UK, Germany and Japan. It measures the gap using a framework of nine drivers that shape perceptions and beliefs about an organisation. The nine drivers fall into three interconnected groups: management behaviours, customer benefits and society outcomes, with each group made up of three individual drivers.

Shifting expectations and experiences
Topline results from the latest Authenticity Gap studies highlighted some interesting shifts compared to the previous study that can help to shape our communication and marketing strategies in 2016.

Expectations of management to behave ethically and communicate transparently are on the rise (up to 27% in 2015 compared with 25% in 2014), but consumers say their experience with such is less and less. This is the only driver where the gap is widening with upward movement on expectations and downward on experience.

When it comes to customer benefits, expectations for innovation in the previous study were off the charts, quite literally in some countries. But those expectations dropped in 2015 (55% versus 61% in 2014) and are being replaced with new expectations around value. But value isn’t just about cost – how transparent a company is in its pricing is even more important than being cheaper than competitors.

People increasingly look beyond governments to companies and organisations to help solve the world’s problems. Expectations for treatment of employees, community impact and care of the environment – the society outcomes drivers – are going up versus 2014 (up 18% from 16%). In fact, there are strong correlations between local advocacy and care of the environment for more companies than for any other driver.

Valued information sources
The research also provides some interesting insights about the sources of information consumers most value. Knowing who to listen to and who to trust is increasingly difficult. Given the onslaught of information we are all exposed to hourly, understanding which sources of information people most value can help with identifying the right channels to most effectively convey brand and corporate messages.

Consumers were asked for their views on the sources of information people listen to and most value when making decisions about specific brands. Topping the list is ‘knowledgeable friends, family and colleagues’ at 36% in all countries except Japan, where ‘companies and organisations’ is number one. One of the most surprising findings from the research is that today’s consumers find information directly from companies as valuable as information from mainstream media (both 30%). Only 20% said ‘people who work in the industry’, including employees, are a valuable source of information, with ‘blogs, forums and online communities’ scoring 19% and ‘personalities and celebrities’ trailing in at 9%.

The implications of these findings are interesting. Firstly, with many companies working hard to be part of the online conversation, executives would do well to also pay as much attention to the offline, face-to-face conversations going on about their companies. Secondly, many companies need to keep working on becoming better storytellers and using their ‘owned’ channels in ways that have a more authentic connection with their audiences. Thirdly, many managers forget employees as important stakeholders in telling their organisation’s story. Not communicating with this audience is a missed opportunity.

Credible communications
The Authenticity Gap research also shows that overall, expectations of credible and frequent communications are low but they are growing. These low expectations may be driven by the fact that consumers aren’t hearing enough communication on the issues they care about. The previous study showed that in almost all industries, consumers looked for companies to be more open about their processes and practices.

Companies need to strike the right balance between over-promising and under-delivering. In the heat of competitive battle it can be tempting to overemphasise a minor product difference with competitors. But it is the story behind the product that the consumer longs to hear, and that deepens credibility for the organisation overall.

Of course the insights and implications from the Authenticity Gap findings are based on consumers’ views across a multitude of different industries, but they provide much food for thought for communications and marketing within the context of the pharmaceutical industry. Whatever the industry, brand and reputation must be managed holistically. It is a conversation not just about communications and marketing, but also about leadership and operations. Companies must ‘be as we wish to be seen’ if they are to embark on authentic conversations about what matters most to their businesses.

Charlotte Shyllon is director and partner, interim co-head of healthcare at FleishmanHillard Fishburn

Avoiding an Authenticity Gap in healthcare communications

Successful companies align their brand with their reputation


As communications consultants we spend much of our lives helping clients to understand what authentic engagement means for them and their customers. The most successful companies are those who can align their brand (what they say and how they behave) with their reputation (what others say about them).

In this new era of stakeholder empowerment, with organisations and management under increasing scrutiny, understanding your customers’ expectations is fundamental. This holds especially true for healthcare, where patients are becoming more informed and involved in decisions about their medical treatment and much of the pharma industry rightly focuses on patient-centred strategies.

About the Authenticity Gap
The Authenticity Gap is a methodology to help companies understand and manage the gap between audiences’ expectations and actual experiences with a company or brand. The insights allow organisations to develop strategies that enable authentic engagement with their audiences.

The Authenticity Gap studies use a framework of nine drivers to measure perceptions and beliefs about an organisation. The nine drivers fall into three interconnected groups: management behaviours, customer benefits and society outcomes, with each group made up of three individual drivers.

Instead of a list of rankings like so many other research studies, FleishmanHillard’s study gives communications and marketing executives actionable data they can use to shape their brands and business initiatives in order to address gaps between customer expectation and experience.

This year’s research looks at over 500 companies in the UK, Germany, the US, Canada and Japan. The UK data spanned eight industries and 20 categories, and reveal that many companies fail to meet the expectations of even their most knowledgeable and engaged consumers, and thereby continue to have an Authenticity Gap in their business.

Authentic engagement
Within the UK healthcare industry, the research covers four categories, namely biotech, medical devices and diagnostics, Rx pharmaceuticals and OTC pharmaceuticals. In each of these categories the research looked at eight companies, comparing the category expectation to the category experience.

The research highlights insights for companies seeking to build authentic relationships with their stakeholders and manage their reputation more effectively. There are five general principles to consider:

Belief follows behaviour
Invest in the things you want to be known for. Make sure these attributes matter to your important audiences, and communicate them. Behave as the company, or person, you want your audiences to think you are.

Work holistically
In managing brand and reputation, create a culture and an organisational structure that view the two as inextricably linked. No organisation can afford to have brand and reputation remain in silos. All viewpoints – not just consumers’ – must be at least considered and understood through both brand and reputation lenses.

Think in terms of values, value and valuation
Have good values, and live up to them in decisions, actions and relationships. Find out whether your organisation’s decisions and priorities actually reflect the values. Find out whether the company’s values are the same as those of the people it deals with. Define the value that is created in each relationship. Make sure it is enough to support the valuation you want – whether that is how much you charge for your product, how much you pay your staff, the price of your stock or some other measure of ‘value.’

Make it everyone’s job
Make brand and reputation management a part of every discipline – everyone’s responsibility – not just a function of communications or marketing.

Align measurement against specific business outcomes for both brand and reputation 
Everything needs a clear connection to how it helps a business goal.

In short, try to be as you want to be seen and don’t disappear down departmental silos in your actions and reporting. Beyond that, make the link between your values, what value you bring and money. And finally, spread the work and responsibility and measure it to make sure it happens.

Charlotte Shyllon is director and partner, interim co-head of healthcare, David Berkovitch is director and partner, interim co-head of healthcare and Nick Andrews is senior vice-president and senior partner at FleishmanHillard London

Does the tech industry have an innovation problem?


By Sophie Scott


As Mark Twain famously once said, “there is no such thing as a new idea.” And this opinion was repeatedly cited during the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. When CES first launched 48 years ago it did a tremendous job at wowing people with the latest weird and wonderful tech gadgets. Now, the general view is that you rarely see entirely new things at CES.

Today, the vast majority of new business ideas, products and solutions are simply a clever innovation on an already existing concept. After all, Google wasn’t the first search engine and Facebook certainly wasn’t the first social media platform. They built on, and improved, what had gone before.

But yet, as an industry, we are obsessed with the idea of innovation. It is used regularly – in news announcements, on websites, in keynote presentations, in internal missives – when tech companies want to highlight a product’s originality and advanced capabilities. This seems fair enough. After all, which business wouldn’t want to be associated with those characteristics?

However, might we as an industry be relying too heavily on innovation as a means to define our brands?

Research conducted by FleishmanHillard and LePere Analytics, called the Authenticity Gap, looks at five different technology categories, from wearable tech to Internet security software, and examines what those businesses say about themselves. We then compare this to customers’ expectations and their own experiences of that company or brand. Nine drivers that shape someone’s perception of a company are explored including employee care and community impact; management behaviours such as consistent performance and credible communications and lastly customer benefits such as innovation, customer care and better value.

One finding stands out in particular: every single technology company is failing to meet customer expectations for innovation. This is particular concerning when you consider that customers consistently cite innovation as one of the most important factors during their purchasing decision.

So if innovation is that important to both brands and customers, then why is there such a huge disconnect between reality and expectation?

Mind the innovation gap

One potential explanation is that tech companies may have simply raised customer expectations too high when it comes to delivering ‘innovation’. It’s clear from reviewing the news at CES that brands have become accustomed to claiming that every new product and software update is innovative, when in fact it may be a gradual improvement on an older model. Yes an important, beneficial improvement, but not necessarily a completely new innovation.

Consequently, when a company truly does deliver something genuinely innovative we, as consumers, are now so sceptical about the true originality and creativity behind these new products or solutions that the innovation message might simply be getting lost in the noise. Could it be that the message no longer resonates?

So how can both large, established tech brands and buzzy new start-ups avoid the innovation ‘Authenticity Gap’ in the future?

Strategic communication

I’m not advocating leaving innovation behind. Rather, focusing too much on the ‘innovative’ nature of your product or service portfolio without talking about any other benefits they deliver risks fuelling the gap between expectations and experiences. Tech businesses may need to talk about themselves in a different way and articulate the company offering as a whole. Be differentiated in your communication and really drill down into exactly what makes your company unique. Next, turn these points into engaging stories and create compelling content to bring these benefits to life. This will help you to engage with your target audience on their level and tangibly explain why they need your company’s product or service in their life.

Recognise your advocates

Our study also highlighted some interesting findings about where the purchasers of technology get their information from.

For B2B purchases, such as enterprise services, customers are more likely to listen to vendor messaging when making decisions about which solution to buy, followed by analysts and customers. The same was true of security software.

However, for consumer devices, Internet services or wearable technology – people are more likely to rely upon recommendations from personal contacts, rather than celebrity endorsements, before committing to a purchase.

So think about who you’re targeting too, and what messages they might want and need to see and hear.

Tap into your USPs

Despite what some people may have said about CES – in my opinion there has never been a more exciting time to work in the tech industry. Who would have thought that driverless cars, drones and artificial intelligence would ever be a reality? However, all tech companies need to carefully consider how they communicate their story to both new and existing customers.

In order to cut through, it is critical to think carefully about the value your business brings and try to articulate that in a way that helps you stand out. Conduct a thorough (and honest) Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis to help pinpoint your unique selling propositions.

A strong CSR programme, for example, can help influence the perception a customer has about your brand. In fact, the results from our study reveal that consumers value those businesses that “do good” within their local communities above other companies.

Ultimately, innovation is only one factor in the purchasing decision. It’s an important one, yes, but not the only one. Both a B2B and B2C customer will consider a wide array of details before they commit to making a purchase, so make sure your communications and brand strategy reflects all of your strengths.

Sophie Scott, Managing Director Technology and Strategy, FleishmanHillard Fishburn


Nine Ways

The Authenticity Report – UK ​Headlines
Growing cynicism around employee volunteer days as a genuine attempt to care for the environment and the community.

Are company’s using employee volunteer days in lieu of a real contribution? In the UK and in all four countries, less than 15% of people think employee opportunities to engage in the company’s social or environmental programmes is a meaningful way of taking care of their workforce. Volunteerism, pro bono programmes, matching donations to charities, office recycling or energy initiatives are seen as the least important aspects of employee care in each country.


UK consumers are changing expectations of Customer benefits

Expectations of Customer benefits are down year on year in the UK. This also holds true for each country studied. Consumers are switching their previously very high expectations of innovation to better value and to a lesser extent customer care.


What do Technology and Healthcare have in common in the UK? Innovation is people’s No. 1 expectation.

While expectations of innovation are high, in all four Technology categories all companies fall short of innovation expectations, with the exception of one marquee brand. The same is true in Healthcare with the exception of most OTC medicines providers.


Patients expect cutting edge prescription medicines, but have no idea what it costs

Innovation is patients’ highest expectation of prescription medicines and better value is the lowest: perhaps a reflection of the NHS. Do UK consumers really know what their medicines cost?


The frenzied demand for innovation is calming in the UK

Consumers in half of the industries studied rank innovation as their No. 1 driver. This is down from last year when innovation was the No. 1 expectation in over three quarters of the industries. This fall is largely driven by the technology sector where the numbers have declined sharply. Driven by expectations of technology, innovation in many forms is now expected as the norm in all industries. Consumers expect companies to be innovative in all aspects of their business and in their relationships with all stakeholders.


Transparent pricing is key to better value in the UK

Consumer expectations of better value rank No. 1, 2 or 3 in 19 of 20 industries studied. Almost half of UK consumers don’t want to be surprised by hidden costs after purchasing a product or service. Surprisingly, how transparent a company is in its pricing is much more important than being cheaper than competitors.


High expectations of better value are leading to gaps in the consumer experience when shopping online in the UK

Better value is the No. 1 driver for Online Shopping in the UK, but all but one of the companies we surveyed fall short of consumer expectations.


Banking & Investing is falling short on doing what’s right and taking care of customers

While the Banking & Investing industry seems to be doing a good job of taking care of their employees, they are falling just short of consumer expectations when it comes to customer care and service. Companies also have a gap in doing the right thing – companies need to convince consumers that they’ll do right by them in handling their money. However, while the industry as a whole is just about meeting the UK’s No. 1 expectation of consistent financial and operational performance, three of the eight companies have gaps.


High consumer expectations of UK management

Expectations of Management Behaviour (doing right, consistent performance, credible communications) are on the rise accounting for 25% of what shapes perceptions about a company in the UK. In the past, investors and regulators held company management to account; today’s consumers have enough sway to do the same. Executive performance and conduct are critical to meeting rising consumers’ expectations of Management Behaviour.


To be seen to do right, companies have to be seen to be transparent

Almost half of UK consumers will only believe a company is committed to doing the right thing, if they believe it is transparent in its operations and business practices and it operates with the highest ethical standards.