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Rethinking authenticity: actions may speak louder, but words can help them travel

There is a difference between what you think you are saying and what consumers actually see and experience

The uncertainty of recent years has changed the way we think, feel and talk about the brands we invest our hard-earned cash in. With consumers looking for more than just products that offer value for money, the pressure is on for brands to show true change and speak up about what they stand for. Importantly, there is a difference between what you think you are saying and what consumers actually see and experience – and if you don’t have the voice to amplify this, your brand may have an authenticity gap.

Our recent report into this topic examines the factors behind consumer expectations and their actual experiences of a company or brand. This is not a new phenomenon, but the shift in how consumers perceive brands is constantly evolving – two-thirds (64%) believe that for a company to be more credible than its competitors it must talk about its behavior and impact on society and the environment, not just customer benefits.

You can have the slickest branding, best price point and key retailers – but if you aren’t showing commitment to your core brand values, consumers will see through the smoke and mirrors. We’ve identified three trends that are shifting consumer purchasing behavior, and why authenticity is so vital to making meaningful connections.

People over product

While value for money will always be key, it’s no longer the only factor that makes people swipe up on Instagram to buy. In previous years, your brand was only as good as the products you sell – and while that’s still true, only half (47%) of consumers base their belief about a company on the services it provides, meaning there’s more to their decision. With social responsibility a leading driver of authenticity, this will continue to be front of mind for consumers, especially when it comes to amplifying minority voices and supporting marginalized communities. They will question one-off charity donations to drive campaigns, and demand to see investment that benefits the communities that matter to them.

Ageless youth

With a lifetime ahead of them, gen Z align themselves with brands that represent their values, such as taking a stand on racial violence and violence against women. In the past year, we have seen the rise of ‘gen C’, an ageless group that is categorized by culture over demographic, and it’s important that brands do not assume this mindset applies to one generation. The 2021 Authenticity Gap report showed the oldest group (over 65s) felt it was hugely important that brands speak out about human rights issues – so no matter the audience, brands should speak up about the societal issues they support (and if not, question this factor).

Climate culture

It’s no longer good enough to say you are a sustainable brand if you simply tick a box – brands need to focus on action over initiatives. From suppliers that can authentically champion their core values to audiences lending their voice to those that need it, consumers are thinking to the future, with 79% wanting brands to develop strategies that protect the environment.

There is no ‘one fits all’ approach to true authenticity – but there are clear paths that brands and business leaders can take to work toward this. We speak directly to the next generation of customers through our ‘Clique’ groups, where gen Z share their thoughts and feelings on the brands that matter to them – and it’s clear that they can see the absence of authenticity just as clearly as they can spot messaging that is off brand. Initiatives such as these that target the smartest yet most cynical consumers help to uncover authenticity gaps – showing that the need to amplify the right voices, at the right time, is just the start.

FleishmanHillard continues to survey, source and procure thoughts and feelings from audiences daily and globally. Do get in touch to bring your brand closer to what people are thinking and wanting at