What does it mean
to be authentic?

Since 2012, Cohn & Wolfe has studied authenticity as a guiding principle and business practice. Each year, our research reveals more insight on the strategic power of authenticity and its unique opportunity to build reputation.

Cohn & Wolfe has discovered a huge authenticity gap in the eyes of global consumers. With 75 percent of consumers surveyed in 14 markets believing that companies are not open and transparent, it’s clear that brands have a credibility problem.
 
Our 2016 findings reveal that cynicism towards brands is highest among Western European countries, while high growth / low per capita GDP countries recognize authenticity in brands the most.
 
Across global markets, approximately one in five consumers finds brands “Open and Honest.” At 23 percent, the US places just above the global average. In Western Europe, a mere 5 percent of consumers in Sweden consider companies “Open and Honest,” while the UK, France, Germany and Spain all match the same low level at 7 percent.  
 
Brazil, while generally higher than Western Europe, is still lower than the US at 19 percent.  
 
Even in China and Indonesia, where consumers are least pessimistic about brand authenticity, only about a third of the population (36 percent and 35 percent, respectively) consider companies “Open and Honest.”  
 
The opportunity for businesses to close this gap is staggering.

The Authentic Opportunity

This deficit is matched by a clear opportunity.  

If companies were to be more authentic, then consumers say the turnaround would earn their recommendation, loyalty, investment and even a desire to work for the company.  

In the US, 55 percent of consumers polled said a company that displayed authentic characteristics would earn their referral to friends and family. Twenty-five percent would consider investing in an authentic company if they had the opportunity, and 19 percent of Americans said they would consider working for an authentic company, potentially driving talent recruitment and retention.

While Western Europeans are the most cynical overall, even British consumers say they would reward an authentic company, with 38 percent saying they would remain loyal if a brand was perceived to be authentic.

No matter where in the 14 markets a business operates, there is a clear market opportunity if your consumers find you authentic.

GLOBAL INDEX

The Global Authentic 100

Building on our past insights from three annual reports, we have compiled - for the first time - the Authentic 100, a list of the highest ranking brands in the world based on consumer perception of authenticity. To do this, we surveyed over 12,000 consumers in 14 markets on more than 1,600 brands and asked them to rate these brands against the seven key attributes of authenticity.

Placement Brand Placement Brand
1
Disney
2
BMW
3
Microsoft
4
Amazon
5
Apple
6
Intel
7
Audi
8
Samsung
9
Adidas
10
Lego
11
Visa
12
Rolls-Royce
13
Ford
14
Sony
15
Google
16
Mercedes-Benz
17
Rolex
18
MasterCard
19
Coca-Cola
20
PayPal
21
Philips
22
Nestle
23
Canon
24
IBM
25
Nike
26
Johnson & Johnson
27
Dell
28
LG
29
Bose
30
Harley Davidson
31
Ikea
32
Federal Express
33
Honda
34
Bosch
35
Levi's
36
Panasonic
37
American Express
38
Lindt
39
Chanel
40
Pampers
41
HP
42
Kellogg's
43
Gillette
44
Nikon
45
Colgate
46
Michelin
47
3M
48
GE
49
Heinz
50
UPS
Placement Brand Placement Brand
51
Nescafè
52
Boeing
53
Hilton
54
Citi
55
Toyota
56
Bridgestone
57
Calvin Klein
58
Hersheys
59
Seimens
60
Gucci
61
Danone
62
Subway
63
Nissan
64
Pepsi
65
P&G
66
Lacoste
67
Marriott
68
BBC
69
Pizza Hut
70
Colgate Palmolive
71
Volkswagen
72
Budweiser
73
Cartier
74
Loreal
75
Hyatt
76
Hallmark
77
Ebay
78
Ben & Jerrys
79
DHL
80
Skype
81
Bausch & Lomb
82
Toshiba
83
Gm
84
Pixar
85
Black & Decker
86
Louis Vuitton
87
Ferrero
88
Yamaha
89
Fox
90
Ritz Carlton
91
Starbucks
92
Del Monte
93
Listerine
94
Bayer
95
Tiffany & Co
96
Bacardi
97
Converse
98
British Airways
99
Pirelli
100
HSBC
  1-50 51-100  

Defining Authenticity

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The public believes there is an authenticity gap, and they have signaled their intention to reward, in various ways, the brands that bridge it. The next important step is to be clear about how consumers view the concept of authenticity and what attributes underpin it.

To consumers globally, authenticity is represented by seven attributes.

These attributes can be clustered into three distinct ‘drivers’ of authenticity. In priority order, these drivers are Reliable, Respectful and Real: the three R's of authenticity.

The first driver, Reliable, demonstrates that authenticity is primarily about delivery to the consumer. Reliable comprises two separate attributes, and this was clearly consistent across our 14 markets. The first is “Delivers on Promises” and the second is “High Quality.”

The second driver, Respectful, is simply about managing human relationships carefully. There are two attributes in this cluster; the first is “Treats Customers Well,” and the second is “Protects Customer Privacy and Data.” Clearly, consumers now see privacy and data control as fundamental to their experience of a brand. They expect high standards from all brands that handle personal information, whichever industry sector they are in.

The third driver of authenticity, Real, is, to many observers, the most obvious interpretation of authenticity. So, it is perhaps surprising that, to consumers, it comes in third. Three of our seven individual attributes sit beneath Real: “Communicates Honestly,” “Genuine and Real, not Artificial” and “Acts with Integrity.”

So, the three R's are our primary definition of authenticity as interpreted by consumers. Importantly, our three primary R's were consistent across 14 markets and, therefore, we believe authenticity in the mind of the consumer is now defined and usable as a reputational measure.


 

Where do brands go wrong?

Our findings show that many brands around the world underperform on the third R, Real. While this is the most obvious definition of authtenticity, it is also the area where brands have the biggest opportunity to improve, particularly on ”Communicates Honestly” and “Acts with Integrity.”

 


 

Trend Spotlight: Privacy Matters

As seen in Apple's recent battle with the FBI around encryption technologies, it is worth noting that privacy concerns are now seen as a core component of what makes a brand authentic in the eyes of consumers. Clearly, technology companies have the most to lose or gain from this perception, but given how many companies own personal data about their customers, it is likely that increased positive communication on this attribute could be an important reputation driver for non-technology companies, too. It remains to be seen how Apple’s reputation fares in the long term from their current stance.

In our 2014 study, 71 percent of global respondents said they would be extremely angry if a company were to sell their personal information to other companies, making it the fourth highest issue in terms of making people angry (behind unsafe food, unsafe products and using low-quality ingredients in food). A large number (67 percent) also said they would be extremely angry if a company failed to protect their personal information. Based on this finding, we believe that data privacy has become a key component of a company’s reputation and is now driving its perception as authentic. 

 


 

Trend Spotlight: Local Brands

As we derived the country weighting for our Authentic 100, it is notable that consumers in many countries favored their own domestic brands, regardless of whether the brands were also global in nature.

When we looked at this trend further, we noticed it was exhibited primarily in countries with a higher GDP per capita. Sweden and UK favored domestic brands the most, though the trend was also clear throughout Western Europe and the US. China and Hong Kong were more mixed - favoring domestic and global brands equally - while India and Indonesia rated foreign brands more favorably.

The key takeaway from this data is that perceptions of overall authenticity are driven by local market views of international brands, with the location of headquarters either helping or hindering depending on the market.

United States China Indonesia India Brazil UAE Singapore Hong Kong Italy Spain UK France Germany Sweden

United States Top 100 in Authenticity

Coming soon

The Authentic 100 features a higher performance variance between individual companies than between their respective industry sectors. However, there is still a statistically relevant variation between the top two industries and the bottom two. The highest-performing industry sector is the automotive industry, closely followed by technology.

Automotive scores highly on the Reliable and Respectful clusters of authenticity, with a focus on the individual attributes of “High Quality” and “Treats Customers Well.”

The technology industry performs strongly in each of the three authenticity clusters and, in particular, on the individual attributes of “High Quality,” “Protects Customer Data” and “Communicates Honestly.”

These results are particularly interesting given these two industries are increasingly intertwined both in the day-to-day integration of technology services within existing automotive brands and in the longer term development of an automotive capability by parts of the technology industry. Consumers rate the authenticity of both industries highly.   

At the bottom of the pack is the telecommunications industry and, just above them, is the health industry. Both of these industries struggle in the Real cluster of authenticity, having low scores against “Communicates Honestly” and “Is Genuine and Real, not Artificial.”
 
Three other industries are worthy of note for their particular performance on individual attributes of authenticity.  Both the travel industry and the QSR (quick service restaurants) industry score highly against the Respectful cluster, particularly driven by the “Treats Customers Well” attribute. It is also notable that the wider Retail industry does not score anywhere close to these two industries on this attribute.

On the issue of “Protects Customer Privacy and Data,” the technology industry has performed strongly. It is also notable that parts of the financial industry, particularly those sectors driven by credit card brands, out-perform technology on this attribute. Clearly, the financial sector is doing a good job reminding consumers how they protect them and perhaps the immunity they give for fraudulent transactions plays a part in this perception.

Methodology

How We Did It

Methodology

 

Since 2012, Cohn & Wolfe has studied authenticity as a guiding principle and business practice. Each year, our research reveals more insight on the strategic power of authenticity and its unique opportunity to build reputation.

Building on the past insights from our three annual reports, we have compiled - for the first time - the Authentic 100, a list of the highest ranking brands in the world, based on consumer perception of authenticity. We surveyed 12,000 consumers in 14 markets on more than 1,600 brands. Research was conducted in Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States from September through October 2015.

We reveal and explore the seven key attributes of authenticity, identify the global and regional brands that are most effectively achieving and seizing authenticity opportunities, and, for the first time, seek to understand why some businesses and brands fail when it comes to being authentic.

Authentic communications is at the heart of how Cohn & Wolfe advises clients around the world on valuable engagements. Powering the Authentic 100 is a multi-dimensional diagnostic tool allowing our consultants to evaluate the performance of businesses across 18 reputational attributes, including the seven attributes of authenticity filtered by region, country, industry, gender and age. Cohn & Wolfe can now make data-led recommendations on a company’s future engagement strategies, including learning what drives success for competitors or even leaders in different industries.

Summary




Summary


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Want to learn more about how your brand stacks up?

Contact us at: authentic.brands@cohnwolfe.com