Six Practices for the Ethical Marketer

March 31, 2014 | By: Jessie Gould | 3 min read

ethics road sign

What does it mean to be an ethical marketer? Right now, the marketing community is hearing cries for un-photoshopped models and less intrusive ads. There are questions of propagating stereotypes, advertising to children, and creating an excessively competitive market. Obviously, ethics is a huge topic – and an important one. It is far more complex than could be addressed in a single blog post; however, every conversation needs to start somewhere.

The American Marketing Association outlines three ethical norms:

  1. Do no harm
  2. Foster trust in the marketing system
  3. Embrace ethical values (honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency, and citizenship)

These are the standards for AMA members, but I think that every marketer can benefit from keeping them in mind. When standards like these are ignored, we wind up with cheap schemes (think buying links) and poor execution (such as empty content). I encourage every marketing team to take these standards to heart and see how they can be implemented into daily decision-making. And so in this post, I’d like to present a crash course on some straight-forward ways to keep marketing efforts focused, effective, and appropriate.


1. Always give credit where credit is due

First, make sure to credit content and images. Citation of sources is not only necessary to lend authority to your words, but also to maintain an attitude of collaboration between content creators. The Internet has enough content from unidentified sources. We need to combat nameless content as much as possible and make sure that the original authors and artists receive the credit they deserve.

Second, think internally. Make sure that when one of your employees does good work, that they know the higher-ups recognize their contribution. One of the strongest motivators in the workplace is recognition, and employees who feel valued and fulfilled in their work are the ones who tend to stick around.


2. Pursue quality

Good marketing requires quality in links, in content, and in communication. First, quality links come from genuine connections. Get to know influencers as the individuals they are, and links will come naturally. Be kind, be personable, and be human. The big players in the online marketing world get plenty of emails asking for promotion; the best way to cut through the clutter is to first find out how you can benefit them, then build off of a relationship of mutual help and cooperation.

Second, pursue quality content. This will mean different things for different websites, but it can be summarized as content that is either useful, entertaining, or both. Readers can tell poor content from quality, and while you might draw a reader along your excellent copy to the bottom of the page, if they didn’t gain something from it, they will not feel that they can trust your business and may even feel scammed. Quality content is one of the first signs of a quality business.

Finally, maintain quality communication both internally and externally. This means proofreading emails, leaving clear voicemails, and all of the other mundane interpersonal responsibilities that tend to be overlooked. Quality communication leads to a more effective work environment and is an absolute must in maintaining goodwill between businesses and consumers alike.


3. Treat your audience like humans

Brands connect best with their audience when they communicate on the audience’s terms. Your customer base is not merely your customer base; it is a vast array of individuals making unique, in-the-moment decisions. Communicating with them in the way they prefer to be communicated with not only gives marketing a good name, but it is also far more effective. For example, did you know that 77% of Americans prefer to receive opt-in brand promotions by email as opposed to the 4% who prefer social media? Or further, that about half of respondents in a Mintel study said they expect television ads to be entertaining? Consumers don’t hate ads, but they will not respond well to unwanted ones.

An issue tied to this is stereotyping. We need advertisements that accurately represent various groups of people. For example, according to a recent Mintel study, nearly half of Hispanics believe advertising depicts an inaccurate portrayal of the Hispanic community and wish to see a more diverse representation of the Hispanic market. Stereotyping in marketing can be overcome with sufficient research and a genuine customer-oriented mindset.


4. Own up to mistakes

The public response can be difficult to gauge from the drawing board. Sometimes, companies make marketing blunders that go viral in hours. You can find evidence of it across the web (one of my favorite lists can be found here).

When the unthinkable happens, the worst thing a brand can do is remain silent. Own up to the mistake, and then make every effort to rectify it. A public apology goes a long way in patching up trust between brand and consumer.


5. Give back

One of the best practices a business can adopt is to give back regularly to the local community. The least-hassle way to give is through monetary support of a local charity. However, businesses are in a unique position to directly create real, positive change in their respective areas. In the words of brand-building expert Denise Lee Yohn, “A company’s reputation used to be based on product quality, value for money and financial performance. Today, we evaluate companies on their social impact: treatment of employees, community involvement and ethical and environmental issues.” Ask yourself (and your employees): How can this business be directly involved with improving the community? You’ll be surprised at the impact even small businesses can have.


6. Employ good people

Finally, none of the above will work out right without a good team. Seek to hire individuals who show evidence of strong personal ethics. That commitment to doing right will carry over into every interaction in the office and beyond. Find good people, define good values, and the rest will fall into place.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Marketing ethics is its own field of study. But as long as we have individuals who are willing to stop and consider, we will have a more fruitful marketplace and a better society.

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