Authenticity, and why companies should care

By Jennifer Dowdeswell

These days, there’s an increasing expectation for organisations to contribute meaningfully to the community around them and ‘do good’ beyond their immediate sphere.

It’s no longer simply acceptable for a company to provide a product or service and be done with it, they need to consider their wider corporate responsibilities in a meaningful, authentic way.

Whether it’s improving accessibility, increasing the diversity of employees, introducing sustainable packaging or donating significant sums of money to charity – customers and communities today demand more from the companies they support than ever before.

Of course, it’s good for everyone when organisations prioritise the needs of the greater good, but it also makes business sense. Authenticity helps a company increase engagement, attract and retain the best talent, and build loyal brand advocates.

Yet it can be easier said than done. If executed poorly, or in a shallow way, it can have the opposite effect to what’s intended. To get authenticity right, there are three key elements organisations need to keep in mind: genuine intentions, listening first, and remaining consistent.

Genuine intentions

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer report revealed widespread mistrust of institutions and leaders around the world. Employees, customers, and members of the community are more sceptical than ever, so companies can’t treat this as a tick-box exercise, or the public will see right through them.

The old model of corporate social responsibility relied heavily on sponsoring community events, yet community organisations are now more discerning about which brands they choose to align with. Take the recent decision of Perth’s Fringe World Festival to drop Woodside’s name from its Pleasure Garden venue, for example.

It’s essential to behave with genuine intentions, which is made easier when a set of strong core values and a clear vision or purpose are guiding the actions and decisions of every person throughout the company. For larger organisations, it can be difficult to align everyone to one set of values, and even if they exist, that doesn’t automatically mean they drive the behaviour of everyone working there.

Yet no matter the size of the company, it’s clear that a sense of purpose is important, because people want to support companies that are making an authentic contribution. Here in Australia, we’ve seen the Thankyou Group achieve great success selling hand wash and other products with a strong purpose underpinning their brand – to help end extreme poverty. Or consider the brand loyalty that Qantas CEO Alan Joyce built when he donated $1m of his own money to the ‘Yes’ campaign in support of same-sex marriage.

Listening first

To be authentic, organisations need to take time to listen to their audiences and understand what they want before jumping into action. They need to proactively ask questions to gain an understanding of the opinions and needs of their community and customer base.

It was only around a decade ago that many developers in WA didn’t even consider consulting with the Traditional Owners of the land they were proposing changes to. Nowadays this is an essential step and indeed many organisations work hard to go above and beyond the minimum expectations to ensure they are respectfully considering the history, unique characteristics, and cultural significance of the location.

It’s through listening to a broad range of views from across the community that we start to see development proposals with benefits that go beyond the immediate footprint of the site – such as repairs being made to a heritage building or footpaths that are located on nearby land that the developer doesn’t own.

Remaining consistent

It’s essential that the words and actions of organisations match up. If a company says it supports gender diversity and yet none of its senior executives are women, then the message falls flat. Similarly, external consumer-facing messaging needs to align to the internal culture of an organisation otherwise the mismatch leads to inauthentic communication.

At the same time, corporate jargon is a real barrier to authenticity so there’s something to be said for presenting a human side with simple, clear language– especially on social media. This also helps when things go wrong because the way a company responds in a crisis says a lot about them. A poor customer experience can be turned around by communicating in an authentic, real way and staying true to your brand, no matter what’s going on.

In a changing global landscape, with customers and communities showing less trust in organisations than ever before, it’s crucial for companies to be authentic because not only does it help the world, it also makes business sense. Those who don’t take the time to consider this and reflect on their own actions and communications, will surely be left behind.


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