Ethical marketing involves the responsible and transparent promotion of products or services, taking into account the potential impact on consumers, society, and the environment. This can include things like being truthful in advertising, respecting privacy, and being socially and environmentally responsible.
But why is ethical marketing practice distinct from marketing as usual? This article will untangle some of the issues and give you an introduction to what it might mean to bring ethical practice into your marketing department.
Is ethical marketing anti-business?
Not at all! Ethical marketing isn’t anti-business. All good businesses deserve to thrive, and there is enough diversity in the world for businesses of every shape, nature, and size. Ethical marketing is pro-SME, especially in the face of the homogenisation of everything that seems to be a product of the corporate monopolies currently running the world.
Isn’t marketing “ethical” by default?
While it’s true that most companies strive to conduct their marketing ethically, there are cases where marketing practices can be considered unethical or less ethical than an alternative. It’s also a largely unregulated sector, where practitioners and business owners simply get on with things however they feel best. It’s for that reason that we feel it’s essential to start looking at marketing activities from an ethics perspective. Some examples of unethical marketing practices might include:
- Misleading or false advertising.
- Manipulative marketing tactics, such as targeting vulnerable populations.
- Exploiting consumer data or violating consumer privacy.
- Failing to disclose the potentially negative effects of a product or service.
- Failing to consider the social and environmental impact of marketing activities.
These examples are not exhaustive, there are many ways that marketing practices can be considered unethical, and it can also vary from country to country because of differences in culture, law, and regulation.
Societal expectations and values around business and marketing practices are changing and companies are under increasing pressure to be transparent, socially responsible, and environmentally conscious. There’s a growing awareness and sensitivity to unscrupulous business practices – consumers are more informed and informed consumers tend to avoid products and services associated with unethical companies and practices.
Many companies recognise that a commitment to ethical marketing can actually improve their bottom line by helping to build trust, improve customer loyalty, and differentiate from the competition.
Armed with the tools and knowledge to mitigate risks and capitalise on the benefits of ethical marketing, your business could have the edge in your market!
Ethical marketing isn’t just the “latest tactic” but a shift in thinking
Ethical marketing isn’t a passing trend, it’s a way for companies to build trust and long-term relationships with customers and other stakeholders. Adopting ethical marketing practices can also help companies to avoid reputational damage, legal action, and negative publicity that can result from unethical behaviour. Additionally, ethical marketing practices can increase customer retention, attract a more diverse customer base, and even improve employee morale and productivity, which can ultimately lead to an improved bottom line.
What companies are already using this kind of approach?
Companies across the world have already discovered that customers really respond to an ethical approach. Some examples include Patagonia, which focuses on environmental sustainability, Warby Parker, which has a “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” programme to provide eyeglasses to people in need, and Tom’s, which operates on a “One for One” model which sees them donate a product to someone in need for every product sold.
In the UK, the co-operative bank has a unique and extensive Ethical Policy which is guided by the concerns and priorities of hundreds of thousands of customers. Grouped around the three pillars of planet, people, community, it gives specifics on what the bank will and will not do (for example, they will not provide services to activities that contribute to the degradation of endangered animal species’ habitats.)
Other examples include Ben & Jerry’s, The Body Shop, and Dr. Bronner’s, which are all certified B Corps and known for their commitment to ethical and sustainable business practices. There are many other examples in different industries, as well as different levels of maturity in implementing ethical and sustainable practices.
These companies and more have discovered the power of sharing your convictions with the world, of drawing a line in the sand and saying, “No more!” Customers respond to these brands with genuine loyalty.
Can you get started if you don’t already have ethical business standards in place?
Having a set of ethical business standards in place can be a good starting point for developing an ethical marketing strategy. These standards can serve as a framework for making ethical decisions throughout the marketing process. But don’t let the fact you don’t have those yet stop you, because these ethical questions can simply form the first stage of developing your own ethical marketing strategy.
It starts with developing a code of ethics or set of guiding principles for your company, taking into account industry-specific regulations and best practice. You should implement internal processes and systems to ensure that your marketing practices align with these standards and help to promote accountability. Don’t forget that the development of ethical standards and the implementation of ethical practices is an ongoing process and will require commitment from the whole company.
How do you go about developing a code of ethics or set of guiding principles?
There are several steps involved in developing a code of ethics or set of guiding principles:
- Identifying moral values
Identify the values that are important to your company and that you want to be reflected in your marketing practices. Although you may sum these values up with words such as honesty, transparency, social and environmental responsibility, this process needs to go much deeper than a word choosing exercise.
- Establishing ethical principles
Establish specific principles that align with these values and will guide decision-making in the marketing process. There are ethical dilemmas everywhere you look, and these will need to be discussed thoroughly as everyone interprets these concepts differently and has their own priorities and lines they won’t cross.
- Sharing with the team
Communicate these principles to all employees and stakeholders, and make sure they understand their significance as well as how they should be applied in practice.
- Making ethical principles second nature
Change is hard, and changing how people work will take planning, commitment, and leadership. Incorporate your ethical principles into internal policies and procedures, as well as job training and assessments.
- Monitoring and revising
Regularly review and update these principles as necessary to ensure they continue to reflect your company’s values and remain relevant.
A project like this could involve working with stakeholders and experts to gather input and ensure the principles are practical and effective. You will ideally create a system of monitoring and reporting compliance with the code of ethics, as well as procedures for handling violations and non-compliance issues.
Getting support to implement ethical practice
You can tackle this yourself, or you can work with a consultant to develop and implement a comprehensive ethical marketing strategy that will have a tangible impact on your business. The role of a consultant isn’t to produce a pile of reports and documents that nobody reads, but to work closely with you to identify specific areas where your company can shift to ethical marketing, and to develop a plan of action to achieve these goals.
Such a plan must be tailored to your specific philosophy and needs, taking into account the resources and capabilities of your organisation. The plan will include realistic goals and timelines and provide guidance on how to allocate resources effectively. The focus is on delivering actionable solutions that are designed to have a positive impact on your business.
Is there a return on investment for moving to ethical marketing?
Obviously, our instinct here is to tell you that focussing on ethics IS the reward. However, a more financial return on investment (ROI) for ethical marketing can be quantified depending on the kind of data you already hold and are able to collect in the future. ROI can take many forms, including increased customer loyalty, improved employee morale and productivity, and reduced reputational risk. It is possible to measure and track the impact of ethical marketing on your bottom line; some ways include:
- Tracking customer satisfaction, retention, and acquisition rates
- Measuring the impact of ethical marketing on employee engagement and productivity
- Analysing changes in brand perception and reputation
- Comparing financial performance against industry benchmarks
- Calculating the cost savings associated with reducing reputational risk
Measuring ROI in ethical marketing is not an easy task and it’s not always possible to find a direct link between cause and effect. However, by implementing a reporting system, you can monitor progress and adjust as necessary to optimise your impact. You can track key performance indicators (KPIs) that are specific to your business, and use your existing tools and procedures to help measure the ROI of your ethical marketing efforts.
It’s important to have a clear understanding of your target market, and the type of customers you want to attract and retain. This will allow you to understand the changes in behaviour and preferences that you could expect from the target market and how to optimize your strategy accordingly.
It’s time to take an ethical stance
In today’s business environment, it’s more important than ever to consider the ethical implications of marketing practices. With global challenges like climate change, social inequality, and environmental destruction, it’s clear that businesses have a role to play in creating a more sustainable and equitable world. Competition is fierce and businesses must find ways to stand out and attract customers.
Societal expectations and values around business and marketing practices are changing; adopting ethical marketing practices will bring a fresh perspective to your marketing strategy and help resolve any moral disconnect between the business, its customers, and its employees.
If this sounds like something you’d like to get your teeth into, you can work with us to develop a strategy that aligns with your company’s values and goals and that will bring positive returns for your business in the long term.