Ethical marketing (part IV): honest and empathic campaigning 


Any conversation about ethical marketing is incomplete without the topic of stakeholder engagement. Having talked about core elements like
values, collective promise and transparency, let’s now dive into the subject of stakeholder interactions and four questions that can help us design more ethical campaigns.

How can you help?

The topic of customer-centricity is on everyone’s lips, with some even talking about customer obsession. We know that for an organisation to survive in today’s hyper-connected world in which customers’ expectations are higher than ever before, a great customer experience is key.

A recent Qualtrics XM Institute report shows that customers who rate a company’s customer experience as good (compared to poor) are:
• 33% more likely to trust that the company will take care of their needs
• 34% more likely to purchase more
• 
38% more likely to recommend the company to a friend or relative. 

Another Qualtrics report highlighted the strong connection between experience management (XM) performance and business results: “Of the respondents who rate their company’s XM as ‘significantly above average’, 89% report better revenue growth than competitors in the previous year.”

Yes, customer focus is paramount. And at the same time, I’d like to argue that the customer-centricity paradigm is limited. It implies a narrow focus most often on profit only while overlooking the other equally important stakeholders operating in an organisation’s ecosystem and beyond.

In a world facing a climate crisis, increasing poverty and growing inequality, organisations need to move from customer to stakeholder-centricity and develop stronger forms of cooperation models that are more compatible with the complex issues that need to be addressed.

In this context, what if at the core of every organisation lay the question: how can we help? How can we help our customers, partners, distributors, suppliers, employees how can we help our stakeholders and the planet thrive? 

Or to quote Thomas Kolster: “‘Who can you help me become?’ is the one essential question you need to be asking and acting on to chart a new course for your organisation, changing behaviours at scale and unlocking sustainable growth that benefits all.” (The Hero Trap)

Being a bridge between the internal world of our organisations and the external world of the people we’re serving, marketing can play a crucial role in ensuring a genuine stakeholder focus and in building partnerships that drive meaningful change.

With the question ‘How can we help?’ at the heart of the business, a wide range of marketing practices can start being questioned, challenged and transformed:
• Strengthening stakeholder cooperation: investing resources in truly understanding the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders and ensuring an empathic and collaborative way of doing business.
• Remembering that leads are people looking to solve a problem: lead generation numbers are important but not without being underpinned by a human-centered approach that’s focused on helping audiences address a challenge and meet a goal.
• 
Providing value at every interaction: each touch point in the stakeholder journey is an opportunity to help customers, partners, suppliers etc solve a problem and cultivate meaningful relationships that last.
• 
Developing content, products and services with the users’ needs in mind: think about the content you publish and the functionalities you develop as an answer to the needs previously expressed by your users.
• 
Ensuring transparent messaging in all offerings: we’ve all seen bait and switch tactics like ‘freebies’ that turn out to be product brochures, webinars that turn out to be sales pitches, headlines that lead to vaguely related articles or newsletters that only try to sell. Being honest and clear about what’s in an offering or content piece is crucial for ethical brands that are here to stay.
• 
Asking for permission to communicate: respecting data privacy and informing your audience about what they can expect to receive from you is not only about regulations but also about building a community of people who trust you and want to hear from you.  

You mean it’s really free?

Lead magnets like whitepapers, ebooks, trial subscriptions, product demos and free consultations are essential for building email lists of qualified leads that can be nurtured into customers and partners. In exchange for the so-called ‘freebies’, many companies make the sign-up to their lists mandatory instead of offering a separate opt-in for other communications. But we need to remember that these ‘freebies’ are not actually free considering that data is one of the biggest currencies of our society. 

Plus, gathering contacts who aren’t actually interested in anything else than the offer at hand and who’ll most likely unsubscribe from the list quickly after is great for short-term vanity metrics, not for building a valuable database that drives long-term meaningful results. 

My suggestion is: create content that solves your audience’s problems, give the resources without mandatory sign-up, provide consistent value, and trust that people will come back and want to hear more from you because of the amazing content you offer. 

Why the rush?

Scarcity and urgency campaigns are widely used marketing tactics. The scarcity principle refers to consumers placing a higher value on products or services that are scarce than on the ones that are abundant. Perceived limited supply and urgent deadlines tend to increase appeal and consequently sales. 

‘Buy now or cry later’ 🤨, ‘3 seats left’, ‘1 item left in stock’, ‘5 people looking at it right now’, ‘50% only for today’ are statements we’ve all seen. The problem is that the language is unnecessarily pressing, with statements often not being entirely true, only taking advantage of consumers’ FOMO and loss aversion. 

It’s true that we all tend to sign up for events right before the deadline or postpone the decision of an acquisition until we desperately need it. However, using this knowledge to create campaigns that push consumers into making rushed, uncalculated decisions based on fake information or ‘now or never’ language is not only unethical but also damaging for the brand. If the next day, the event registration that was supposed to be closed by midnight is still open, the trust will break and the word will spread. 

So if you do make any urgency or scarcity statements, make sure they’re based on real data, placed in context and unchanging. Check out the Ethical Move for some great ways to ‘flip’ such tactics into fully transparent ones. 

Is it for real?

The environmental degradation, social inequities and political instability around the world make consumers think more and more about their choices, which in turn raises expectations from organisations across the board. As a result, companies experience increasing pressure to prove their commitment to a purpose that goes beyond profit. For example, Deloitte’s 2022 Global Marketing Trends report mentions purpose as a beacon for growth and states that “globally, 57% [of consumers] indicated that, in general, they are more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities.”

And while many companies take the meaning of purpose seriously and make it an integral part of everything they do, many only take advantage of the ‘purpose trend’ to increase their profits while continuing business as usual.

Hence the question: Is it for real?
• Is the proclaimed ethical purpose manifested in every action and every interaction?
• Is sustainability just a buzzword or is it truly embedded in the organisation’s DNA?
• Are promises grounded in reality and being kept along the way?
• Is there an accountability framework in place to keep track of the real progress?
• Are mistakes openly shared, owned up to and used to learn from them?
• Is impact shared as it is: no exaggerated benefits and inflated results; no data and stories taken out of context, no overly doctored testimonials?
• Are all products and services delivering on the promise?
• Is any offer presented like one of a kind when in reality it’s only packaged that way?

At the core of all these questions lies a commitment to transparency, accountability and authenticity; a genuine dedication to not only talking the talk but also walking the walk, to having a set of values rooted in a higher goal and to manifesting those values at every single step of the way.

For more on the topic of transparency and values, check out these two blog posts: ‘Ethical marketing (part III): the transparency trifecta’ and ‘Ethical marketing (part I): driven by values, rooted in a higher goal’.

What else do you do to ensure ethical campaigning? Leave your comments below.

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Published on 29 June 2022 by Laura Tufis.