The First 25: Authenticity through empathy

Posted in White Papers, Reporting and Sustainability on 7 June 2021
By Keith Taylor, Head of Brand & Partner

Drawing on our latest research, The First 25: Navigating the sustainability odyssey, we explore how companies are increasingly using empathetic and honest communications to show authenticity and build trust in business.

Times of extreme challenge cause people to reflect on what matters to them. Values change, priorities shift and, in terms of the companies and brands we engage with, we look for an authenticity that underpins everything. To reconnect with this evolving sentiment requires empathy and a desire to understand what is really important to our audiences.

This chimes with one of the key trends in the latest edition of The First 25, Navigating the sustainability odyssey. The research identified that, in the context of a business environment moving at a faster pace than we’ve seen before, we are observing a more open and personal side to business, with new working practices and honesty in communications. All of this is bringing the subject of authenticity to boardrooms across the country (and internationally). Authenticity in terms of actions and communications. Authenticity that permeates both the company brand, operations and its culture.

Thinking about authenticity; very simply, you can’t fake it. With customers demanding more from brands, companies need to create meaningful engagement and business success to engender trust. Trust isn’t something that we own as companies or brands, it’s something given to us from consistent, positive experiences and rewarded by others. It requires honest communication and meaningful action.

Easy to say; difficult to achieve.

An ethical promise and noble words are no longer enough. But we know that companies who authentically support their promise throughout operations, employee engagement, supplier and partner strategies and across all operations are more likely to prosper. 

Our research into brand and culture, Take control. Why brand & culture need ownership, found nearly half (45%) of the respondents felt their existing brand proposition and positioning had not supported their business in the last six months of 2020. But crucially, 48% have recently changed their brand proposition, showing a readiness to address this issue. 

The pandemic is accelerating digital initiatives on an unprecedented scale, with huge amounts of innovation in an incredibly short space of time. This adversity is creating opportunities to review and adapt to better ways of working.

This is translating into different kinds of channels and communications being used by companies. 28% have now aligned internal and external communications, presenting the same face to colleagues and customers alike, while, as part of their corporate reporting, the First 25 finds 40% now include supporting video on the website, usually featuring the CEO or CFO, as they look to bring a personal element to disclosure, with greater understanding and empathy as they address the extreme challenges of the past 18 months. 

Whether or not a direct result of this shift towards a more human (and fallible) tone, there has been a shift in the trust levels experienced by companies. Business has now – according to the Edelman Trust Barometer – interestingly become the only trusted institution ahead of government, NGOs and media. This is something to be defended.

But there are further challenges to follow though; one of which is the pace of change within which we now all operate and the other is the creative challenge of how to respond to this environment. How do companies keep their brands authentic and agile – and how can our creative approach to communications help us in this challenge?

With that goal in mind, there are two main themes I would like you to consider: simplicity and humanisation.

Clear, direct, simple messaging that remains distinct, relevant to your audiences and authentic to your brand will cut through. And – in an increasingly digital world – by remembering the human element, communications can make an emotional connection, not just in a consumer environment, but in B2B and with employees.

Finally; a simple framework to help you communicate authentically:

  1. Your DNA is your authentic self. Find it and own it 

  2. Think about the opportunities and risks

  3. Live it. In your operations as well as your messaging

  4. Own it. Become famous for your authentic self…

  5. And set targets – be ambitious and communicate what success looks like

  6. Through measurement – demonstrating where you are on the journey

  7. Inclusively; making sure it’s for everyone

  8. And if it’s not working… be honest… and communicate with integrity

For more information on this trend, and much more, you can download the complete First 25 research Navigating the sustainability odyssey. And for a deeper dive into authenticity, leadership, purpose, culture, the role of digital, and effective budgeting and planning to extract value from your brand and culture – you can download our report Take control. Why brand & culture need ownership.


We would love to hear your thoughts on the role of authenticity in corporate communications. Please get in touch with Keith Taylor at [email protected] and join the conversation.

Read more in our series of First 25 articles: 



White Papers, Reporting, Sustainability

Navigating the sustainability odyssey

The defining trends and insights from the first set of December year-end corporate reporting suites.

White Papers, Employee, Brand

Take control. Why brand & culture need ownership

Our latest white paper draws on our extensive research to set out six key themes for brand, culture and the employee experience in 2021 and beyond.