The behavior of management and the ways in which an organization impacts society are now widely responsible for people’s perceptions of a company. And if the numbers are any indication, many of the world’s top companies aren’t considering the political and societal forces influencing their reputations as well as their brands’ ability to maintain relevance with today’s audiences, according to a study of global consumers released by FleishmanHillard.

The report, which sought to measure the divide between consumers’ expectations and their actual experiences with global companies, suggests that the private sector needs to play a greater role in the issues of the day and pay more attention to the myriad external factors influencing their storytelling, lest they risk becoming irrelevant in the eyes of consumers. Specifically, the study found that about half of those polled — 51 percent — said their perceptions of a company were influenced merely by their expectations of its products and services. However, almost the same number — 49 percent — said their perceptions of a company are now shaped by information regarding how its management behaves and the impact that the company is having on society as a whole.

Authenticity In An Uncertain World

When it comes to what drives a brand’s authenticity, 51 percent of consumers say customer benefits shape their perceptions of a company’s products or services. However, almost the same number now say their opinions of a company are driven either by management behaviors (24 percent) or society outcomes (25 percent).

Consumers across the world now widely recognize companies’ societal influence, and a growing number expect the private sector to play a more active role in solving social issues. Almost three-quarters —74 percent — said they wanted companies to go beyond mandated regulations, and 63 percent said they believe companies should lead the charge when it comes to driving the world’s interchange of ideas, products and cultures. A vast majority — 81 percent — also said they believe a company’s ethical treatment of its employees goes beyond pay and benefits and also includes notions of equality and inclusivity.

A large percentage of this responsibility, according to consumers, falls on the shoulders of management. More than three-quarters — 78 percent — said the behaviors and integrity of a CEO reflect the belief system of the company he/she leads. On the other hand, consumers were three times more trusting of a companies’ employees than its CEO when it comes to delivering the truth regarding how a company behaves.

Consumers will always place value at a premium, but the study also shows that our concept of value has changed, and is no longer limited to the mere price we pay for a product or service. Specifically, value is now an idea consumers map onto our feelings regarding the perceived ethical behavior of a company’s leadership. An overwhelming majority of consumers polled across the world — 82 percent — said they believe value now pertains to company transparency in regards to their products’ manufacturing process and source of materials. The role of customer care also plays a noted role in shaping our views on value, especially for consumers in the US, Canada and the UK, who ranked this concept as one of the top three authenticity-signifying agents for more than 75 percent of industries.

F-H’s Authenticity In An Uncertain World study, the fourth such annual report released by the Omnicom unit, analyzed companies’ perceived authenticity across nine different “drivers” pertaining to society outcomes, management behaviors and customer benefits. The study was conducted by FleishmanHillard Global Intelligence in conjunction with independent research firm Lepere Analytics. Research came as a result of a comprehensive study of about 300 companies conducted with nearly 5,500 consumers across five countries. Research was gathered between March and April.