What is sincere communication according to the French?

The questions concerning the sincerity of the communication of the companies are posed more and more within the public opinion. The institute Viavoice conducted for the We Are COM team an exclusive study on this topic with more than 1.000 French people *. Arnaud Zegierman, sociologist and associate director of Viavoice, and Eléonore Dumont, co-founder of Club We Are COM, show you the main results. I promise, they will amaze you ...

Why take an interest in the sincerity of communication?

Arnaud: Already, because when faced with a communication, the first question we all ask ourselves is whether what we are being told is true. If it's in tune with reality. On the other hand, companies are now increasingly speaking out on societal issues: environment, product production, employment, etc. This theme has greatly emerged with the Covid-19 crisis. Each time in our studies - it is almost systematic - we hear our interviewees questioning the motivations of companies to speak out on these societal issues. Are these companies sincere? Is it fake, greenwashing or socialwashing or just opportunism? And if it's opportunism, is it really that embarrassing?

In fact the question of sincerity in communication raises the issue of the link between business and society. We are very attached to it because we are convinced that it has become dangerous for companies to misunderstand societal trends. And on that, we see major changes in this post-containment study.

Why should communicators question the sincerity of their company's communication?

Eleanor: What we notice through our workshops with Club We Are COM members is thatmore and more communicators are seizing the purpose of their company to build their communication plan. It became the starting point of the communication strategy. This means that our member companies deploy a communication around their societal role without being limited to a mercantile activity. Each communication action at its level contributes to the expression of the general interest mission of the company in society. With the Pacte law, certain large groups - such as MAIF or Danone - have chosen to go even further by becoming companies with missions. This notion concretizes in an explicit and tangible way the societal commitments of the company. The legal person makes a commitment in front of the natural persons who are the citizens, and not only their consumers. Sincerity becomes the faithful expression of their intentions and then of their very real achievements.

We see through this exclusive study that the French are waiting for this involved communication and that the communicators still have work since only 26% of French people surveyed by Viavoice feel that corporate communication is moving towards more sincerity and 34% find it difficult to perceive this sincerity. We must therefore redouble our efforts to provide proof and to make room for a form of "transparency in the progress accomplished as to be accomplished". The idea would be to give anyone who wants the opportunity to enter without knocking to see for themselves the progress of the company. It's a paradigm shift and a form of conversation. The stake will certainly be its accessibility ...

So, what is sincere communication according to the French?

Arnaud: Our results are a good illustration of the times we are living. On the one hand, the end of COM 'shots. When we ask the French about what sincere business communication is, they place in first position consistency for 53% of respondents. This score confirms the fact that good communication is a strategy of aligned and long-term resources, not just short-term. Long-term communication with specific objectives is a guarantee of success.

Transparency comes second, but far behind with 38% of responses. In fact, transparency would most certainly have come out on top a few months ago. This means that the myth of transparency lives on. I say "myth" and that's a personal opinion. Transparency is obviously a necessity, but we tend to oppose transparency and clarity. Pierre Bourdieu said: " hide by showing ". Transparency can also be "say it all". But the subject can be so technical that it doesn't say anything to anyone. Finally, transparency can ignore pedagogy and therefore exclude a large number of individuals.

Remember that in terms of expertise, we are not experts in everything. We can have the humility to tell ourselves that we cannot understand everything. So there is a form of demagoguery in the myth of transparency.. In reality, we need pedagogy. Good communication is education!

Can sincerity in communication be a risk for companies?

Arnaud: We asked this question to find out what seems the most risky for the French in communication: to be sincere or not to be? Until recently, the majority would have replied that sincerity represents a risk for companies. Now today the majority of the French answer that not having sincere communication is a risk for companies. We have entered a period where the French no longer want to be infantilized, with companies that would present themselves only as perfect, wonderful, incredible… at their best. Individuals need to understand who this business is, before purchasing their products or before applying. They are not looking for an ideal image at all, but want to understand the overall philosophy of the company towards them and the company. The choices of the company, its actions and possibly its weaknesses. Being sincere means explaining who you are and what progress has been made; and no longer just what we sell.

And what to do in the event of a crisis?

Eleanor: No brand is safe from a media lynching. In crisis situation, sincerity is the key word. It is above all about presenting the facts and presenting the corrective measures being deployed to resolve the situation.

Through stakeholder pressure and general awareness, all large organizations are changing to improve. The role of communicators is to support this process of progress. Public opinion then evolves towards a less Manichean perception: everything is not all black or all white. The company shows that it is moving forward with confidence towards a greater positive impact in the City; and note that individuals as individuals have this same awareness and apply these same changes at their scale.

Hopefully, in the long term, if a brand intervenes positively in society, the day it will have to manage a crisis, it will be less condemned by public opinion. To schematize and be an educator, the company should be exemplary towards others in order to ultimately protect itself.

In summary, what promotes communication perceived as sincere by the French?

Eleanor: I withdraw 3 key elements : first of all coherence. Consistency in the facts because the mission of a company is rarely detached from its job at the risk of being judged as opportunistic. There may currently be inconsistencies in messages due to the multiplicity of internal transmitters and channels; Added to this is the decompartmentalization of targets: an employee may very well be an individual shareholder, a financial analyst may very well be a subscriber to the brand's lifestyle account on Instagram. Added to this is consistency over time. Then the second key element is transparency progress achieved and to be accomplished while being a teacher. Sincerity must be tangible and demonstrable by evidence. Finally the last element is transversality. The transversality between commercial communications and corporate communications of the company. Institutional communication is the guarantor of discourse and its integration into reality in all expressions of the company. It cannot and can no longer be isolated.

What lessons do you draw from this study?

Arnaud: The role of business in society is changing. We see in this survey for Viavoice for We Are COM that 53% of French people say they prefer the company to play a role in society, rather than remaining focused on its products and services. We have observed this change in opinion for several years. It is a double movement. On the one hand in the context of consumption, the choice of a product is also the choice of a universe and of the values ​​of the company. If you do not share the universe or the values ​​of the brand, you will prefer the competing product. So companies must know and feel the changes in society and value systems. The objective is not to follow them but to integrate them. On the other hand, the French are increasingly expecting companies to get involved in moving society. Until recently, the general interest was the preserve of the public sphere, the State and the institutions. Now, both because individuals are aware that the State can no longer do everything and also that companies have an impact on society, all companies must progress, contribute and play a determining role. This is a real profound development in France.


Want to leaf through our entire study?

To receive the full results of the study and discuss their analysis, contact the Viavoice team by email here or on +33 (0) 1 40 54 13 90. Are you a member of Club We Are COM? Do not hesitate to contact Eléonore directly.

* Survey conducted among 1.002 French people representative of the population by the Viavoice institute for the Club We Are COM, accelerator of communicators, over the period from June 15 to 17, 2020.

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