Consumers are demanding companies be honest and transparent. In a 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Report, consumers ranked trust in product, brand, and company attributes as an essential buying consideration. At the same time, studies show brands that are perceived as purposeful, or as having a positive impact, have grown at more than 2x the rate of other brands.
Honest marketing isn’t an oxymoron. Nor is it a financial disadvantage or abstract construct. Companies that prioritize marrying the best of marketing fundamentals with thoughtful ethical frameworks are seeing increases in loyalty, profit, and growth.
Businesses today have a new weight to bear. In a recent Edelman Trust Barometer Report, business ranked as the most trusted institution when compared to NGOs, government, and the media. The report, which surveyed 27 countries, states businesses have gained trust by being “a guardian of information quality,” and are now the only institution considered to be both competent and ethical.
“Emotions are what drive customer behavior,” said customer agency, C Space. The companies that effectively address their customers’ emotional needs outperform competitors in profitable growth, customer loyalty, recommendations, and advocacy.
But tugging on consumers’ heartstrings isn't enough to win them over. Customers want to know your brand is honest, transparent, and trustworthy. According to an Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, 67% of people say, “A good reputation may get me to try a product, but unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it.”
As consumers encourage businesses to do the right thing, they’re backing up their demand for ethics with actions. 78% say that it's a dealbreaker in their buying decision if a brand doesn't put customer interests ahead of its own profits. Meanwhile, 94% of consumers are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency.
Brands recognized for high commitment to purpose have grown at more than twice the rate of others. In Kantar’s Purpose-Led Growth report, purpose is defined as “The reason why the brand exists. The impact you seek to have on people’s lives and the world they live in.”
Brand purpose falls flat if it's not authentic. In this report, Senior Marketing Manager at HubSpot Diego Santos says “Brands will need to develop their own personality and set of values in order to be able to have meaningful one-on-one interactions. That’s how they will stand out in a world of noise and limited attention.”
Joshua Maddox, former Associate Director at Acumen Academy, offers up an example: “If you’re working on clean energy, then you should understand the carbon footprint of your marketing efforts. For example, where do your servers live? Are you using vendors that support green initiatives? Are you really assessing how your product’s value exists in the world, and are you marketing that accordingly?”
As part of their transparent marketing strategy, Desi Hangover adopts an open door policy. “If tomorrow a customer walks in without notice, we’re able to show what’s happening. We invite the consumer to see the person who made the shoe and talk to them directly about the product,” said Hitesh.
It’s easy to claim your efforts are honest. But it takes discipline, rigor, and at times internal conflict to be sure you’re not just sharing information to elicit excitement or false hope for the benefit of short-term gains.
An honest marketing strategy is easy to execute when things are going right. But what does it take to be an ethical marketer when things don’t go to plan?
As a marketer, playing a passive role when things go wrong is both unvirtuous and detrimental to your business. Mindsets like ‘The damage has been done,’ or ‘We’ll let the storm pass,’ are incongruous with what consumers expect from your brand today. In fact, being honest and admitting your mistakes can boost consumer trust in your business by 23%, which can mean a whole lot for your financial bottom line when 81% of consumers say “I must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.”
Ethical marketing requires a firm grasp on your belief system and the courage to act on those beliefs. Companies that do so are likely to reap financial benefits as 26% of young consumers often/always decide to purchase solely because they support the brand’s values.
A business built on strong values has the power to redefine success in its industry, influence consumer behavior, and shape our world for the better.
Your ethical marketing strategy has to be effective to be heard. And as we’ve discussed in this guide, it pays to take a stand. But if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one. Brands that know their audience and aren’t afraid to communicate at eye level outperform their peers.
Hitesh and his team at Desi Hangover have a guiding principle when marketing their impact stories: “Do not to exploit consumers' emotions.”
For Desi Hangover, the sharing of impact stories comes after a customer makes a purchase. Policies like these draw a clean line in the sand, which can prevent your marketing from crossing over to the less ethical side of impact storytelling.
The ethics behind your marketing are only as good as your community says they are. For this reason, collaboration is important. It’s a give-and-take between what you’re asking from your audience and what you’re giving them in return.
As a social enterprise, you can’t drive towards ethical marketing without first defining your marketing success and how you measure it.