Consumers are Increasingly Expecting Business to move into a World Where the Stakes have Gone Up

Against the backdrop of immigration, trade wars and polarized governments, FleishmanHillard’s 2019 Authenticity Gap study explores what role consumers believe business should take in addressing societal, political and business challenges in different parts of the world.

Consumers expect companies to take a stand on those issues that companies either create, impact directly or control. 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% of consumers want to see protection practices that go beyond regulatory mandates.
  • 69% 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% 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%), products and services (72%) and employees (71%). Consumers know companies can’t fix everything, but they expect them to be active on those issues most under their control.

“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, FleishmanHillard. “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.”

The Authenticity Gap 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.

“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.

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% 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% saying they’re less likely to support companies that use data for their own benefit

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% are interested in a workplace that institutes practices that protect the environment
  • 71% 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% 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

FleishmanHillard has developed new strategies to help businesses navigate the current environment, ranging from communicating around new expectations of corporate purpose, addressing emerging trends in talent and transformation as well as dynamic approaches to issues management. To learn more, download the Authenticity Gap Global Report, Authenticity in Action.

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

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