Just how honest can your brand be? Ethical Marketing as a business goal

In recent decades we’ve all heard phrases like “brand values” and “corporate responsibility”, often trotted out as box ticking exercises for organisations big and small. “Our values” sections on websites proudly gave generalised statements about looking after our people and customers or professing honesty. But just how honest can your brand be and have we moved on from catch-all statements about vision and bravery, to a more specific conversation around ethics? Cynics would contend that all marketing has, by nature, a casual relationship with the truth, but maybe that type of relationship is less likely to succeed in a world where consumers have ready access to information about brands and what they represent behind the scenes.

Ethical marketing seeks to put honesty and authenticity front and centre; no mean feat in a competitive world, but it appears that is just what consumers want.

Truth as a Market Tool

Brands are often accused, often rightly, of pushing unrealistic goals or needs. They create “ideals” for how people should look, live and consume and these ideals do not necessarily fit reality. Is it possible to keep the escapism, aspiration and glamour of an advertising or marketing campaign and still come across as authentic? The answer seems to be yes, but only if it’s accompanied by sound business ethics. You can keep the glamour, but you need to back it up with a bit of honesty.

Consumers are increasingly interested in how your products are made, who makes them and how they and the planet are treated along the way. Customers want the truth, or as close to it as possible. Advertising standards have always grappled with outlandish claims, but these days it’s the online consumer who will haul you up on them. Truth is proving to be a clear marketing tool. Being authentic in ethical marketing terms has to include transparency and a willingness to hold your hands up when you get it wrong. Ethical marketing has an emphasis on the human side of your product, service, website or shop. Your customer cares about how true not only claims about your itself product are, but also about how that product came to be. Ethical marketing can also have real positive impact in terms of customer growth.

What Ethical Marketing Looks Like

If you are honest about what your product is and how it came to be and if you’re thinking about how that product impacts others, you’re already on your way to an ethical marketing policy. Part of the ethos is about transparency. Your company may be small and you may not have the budget of big brands when it comes to how you resource your products and the sources you use along the way. Being honest about that in itself is an ethical choice; if you are making small steps, that’s OK too.

If you’re striving to have less of a carbon footprint in your business or to source materials from sustainable and fair workplaces, you are making a step in the right direction. If the service you provide operates in the online sphere, how you engage with your audience forms a huge part of how you are perceived. Don’t make big claims if you can’t back them up. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. Let people know that it’s a process. Be honest about what you are doing.

Care is Currency

The human touch is never far from ethical marketing. Taking time to respond honestly and clearly with clients and customers wins friends and sales. In world debating AI and where it fits in to everything from medicine to education and customer services, there is a role for businesses to invest in how they talk to their clients. Whatever the answer is, there is a universal desire in consumers to feel like they are being well treated. They also want to see that this extends beyond them.

Taking care to be honest, transparent and responsible isn’t a box-ticking exercise. Speaking with an authentic voice can help you get users of your product to return in the future. In short, care is currency. If your company isn’t thinking about ethical marketing yet, now is a good time to start.

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