The Ethical Business Guide: Ethical Marketing

BY KIM STODDART FOUNDER OF BLUE ROCKET

TO SOME PEOPLE THE TERM ETHICAL MARKETING CAN SEEM LIKE A LAMENTABLE OXYMORON, BUT THAT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THE CASE.

Unfortunately we can all quote examples of well-known brands that have used marketing to target vulnerable or inappropriate sectors of society, or to draw attention away from the less attractive elements of their business. The same goes for the PR industry, which hasn’t had the most positive reputation over the years.
However, to tar all marketing and PR activity with the same brush is to discount one of the most vital and valuable business processes a small and medium sized enterprise (SME) has at its disposal.

So is ethical marketing really possible? The simple answer is yes!
In essence, ethical marketing is an honest and factual representation of a product or service that offers clear cultural or social values to the consumer.

Fairtrade is an example of production value that few would criticise but which would be far less successful as a concept – and thereby benefit fewer disadvantaged people – without effective marketing on what the term means and how it contrasts with traditional purchasing models.

This isn’t to say that your product or service has to be as revolutionary as Fairtrade to be worthy of an ethical marketing strategy. Here are a few tips for enhancing your credibility and giving you even more to shout about.

IS ETHICAL MARKETING REALLY POSSIBLE? THE SIMPLE ANSWER IS YES!
UNDERSTAND YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE

It may sound obvious but you’d be amazed how many companies think they know what their customers want without ever really taking time to check if this is true. The very first step in any ethical marketing programme is to ensure that your product or service is delivering a genuine benefit, after which you need to communicate this in the most appropriate way. Spend time talking to existing and potential clients to find out what they like, and perhaps more importantly what they don’t like about your proposition. Tastes and needs change so this detailed audit should be an annual activity.

Once you’re up to speed in this regard then you should assess whether your existing marketing communications plan can effectively transfer information to this audience. Small companies have a tendency to get stuck in a rut and do the same thing over and over again, with little insight into whether it’s actually working. For example, advertising can seem more attractive to the uninitiated because it has an immediate and tangible outcome. It may be that another form of communication is more suited to your business such as a targeted event or PR. The more you know about each element, the easier it is to make an effective and profitable decision.

LESS IS MORE

In a bid to stand out from competitors it can be tempting to make bold statements that sound great but may not live up to their promises. It’s important to ensure your credentials stand up to scrutiny, otherwise your brand may be damaged. This is never truer than in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR). So many organisations are involved in ‘greenwashing’ – i.e. making flimsy or inaccurate environmental claims – that nowadays consumers are less likely to view such statements in a positive light.

It is essential to consider the long term implications of any marketing activity and avoid the temptation of promoting any initiative, ecological or otherwise, that has little substance. Authenticity and a realistic sense of modesty are incredibly powerful, and people prefer an honest admission of imperfection to over-inflated or downright dishonest pronouncements.

In conclusion, ethical marketing is about understanding your brand, product or service and doing your best to develop and promote this in the most effective and least damaging way to the right people. If that sounds like a challenge then seek advice from an expert who will be able to give you unbiased, strategic advice.

Divine Chocolate has made its branding and marketing work hard to communicate both chocolate appeal, and its Fairtrade and farmer-owned credentials. Here is Adwoa Asianaa, a member of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative that co-owns Divine. (credit Kim Naylor)

VET YOUR SUPPLIERS

In addition to the things you say, ethical marketing is about assessing the materials and suppliers you use to bring a marketing strategy to life, and ensuring these are as environmentally and socially responsible as possible. This is particularly relevant in the area of design and print, where processes and equipment can vary dramatically (see page 8 for a separate article on this topic from ethical design company The Good Folk). It is becoming increasingly common for larger companies to request a full supplier audit before signing a contract, so it’s worth ensuring that yours is whiter than white (or greener than green) if you hope to win big contracts.

In conclusion, ethical marketing is about understanding your brand, product or service and doing your best to develop and promote this in the most effective and least damaging way to the right people. If that sounds like a challenge then seek advice from an expert who will be able to give you unbiased, strategic advice.

© BLUE ROCKET AND THE GOOD FOLK 2009