More than half of a brand’s relationship with its consumers is determined by corporate reputation—management behaviors and societal issues—rather than traditional brand values such as value, customer care and innovation, according to new research by Fleishman-Hillard.

The firm’s new Authenticity Gap study explores the gap between what consumers experience from companies and what they expect of them, identifies the behaviors consumers most associate with authentic companies, and suggests areas in which organizations can make changes to improve their reputation in the minds of consumers.

The research found that for every brand studied there is an “authenticity gap” between what consumers expect and what they actually experience.

“When brand and reputation are not aligned, it creates a gap that damages an organization’s credibility and authenticity,” says Dave Senay, president and CEO of Fleishman-Hillard.

The Authenticity Gap research studied 20 industry categories in the United States, Germany and China.

When asked about the behaviors of authentic companies, consumers identified nine drivers that can be grouped in three areas: management behavior (doing the right thing, consistent financial performance, credible communications); societal outcomes (employee care, community impact, and care of environment); and customer benefits (offering products or services that deliver better value, customer care, innovation).

In the three markets surveyed—China, Germany and the US—actual customer benefits accounted for just 45 percent of consumers’ overall feelings about a brand, with management behavior and societal outcomes accounting for 55 percent.

However, the survey also found that there is no such thing as a global market: consumer expectations in virtually every one of the 20 categories studied differ from country to country.

The categories that appear to have the greatest momentum in meeting consumer expectations are: online shopping, major appliances, tablets and e-readers, and pharmaceuticals. Those with the weakest momentum are vacation and travel, Internet service providers, and wireless carriers. These seven categories appear consistently in the top/bottom 10 across all three countries.

The research uses a patent-pending methodology developed by London-based research company Lepere Associates for polling “expert consumers.” The firm identified expert consumers who have a high level of interest, knowledge, engagement and influence in the specific industries they were questioned about in the survey. It believes this approach provides “much richer insights than simple man-on-the-street polling done in other surveys.”

FH is launching the research in conjunction with its new Center on Reputation & Relationships, which will host insights and workshops from luminaries across the industry on topics related to brand and reputation. The site includes commentary on the research from Janet Robinson, former president and CEO of The New York Times Co.; James O’Rourke, professor at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame; and Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur Page Society.