When we put the ethical marketing lens on things, we can see how some of the most common marketing tactics are gross and dehumanizing. For example, a lot of social media “growth hacking” strategies are really just spammy and unethical ways to get people to follow you or sign up for your email list without their full consent.
Or consider sales funnels, which I value a lot for my business (as a user and someone who builds them) – but often these are created in a way that’s designed to trick people into buying something they don’t need or want.
How to Make Your Marketing Authentic and Ethical:
1) Make sure your marketing materials are truthful and accurate
This one seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many businesses get caught in false advertising claims or don’t get caught and are dishonest to get the sale.
They oversell results, make misleading statements, or flat-out lie about what their offer can do. How many times have you bought a product that was at best mediocre and left you truly underwhelmed? Or you buy something you needed to realize you are just not a good fit?
I bet all of it too many times.
As the result, these businesses not only lose the customer’s trust, but also damage their reputation and credibility—two things that are very difficult (and expensive) to repair.
So how can you avoid this?
First, take a close look at your marketing materials (website copy, ads, brochures, emails, social media, testimonials etc.) and make sure they’re accurate and truthful. If you’re not sure if something is misleading or overstated, ask a friend or colleague for their opinion.
And if you’re ever in doubt, err on the side of caution and don’t make the claim.
Trust and honesty are the most important buying decisions, especially in a business that is built on relationships.
2) Always put people first, before profits
As service providers, coaches, or consultants we are in business to be helpful to people and I bet it seems like no-brainer advice, but we are also business owners and we want to make money. In a culture that is full of tactics that dehumanize buyers to numbers and email addresses, we can get caught up in learning the trade and lose out of sight of what we are here for – serving humans first and getting paid for the value we bring to their lives.
How can we serve our clients better?
Here are a few suggestions:
– Get clear on who your ideal customer is and what their specific needs and wants are.
– Develop a deep understanding of the problems they’re facing and how you can help them overcome those challenges.
– Be generous with your time, knowledge, and resources. Go above and beyond for your clients and customers, even if it doesn’t directly result in a sale (while respecting your own boundaries)
– Build relationships of trust and respect with the people you work with—this includes employees, contractors, suppliers, clients, and customers.
3) Don’t mislead customers or use unethical tactics to get them to buy from you
This might work in the short term, but it’s not a sustainable or ethical way to do business. Not only will it damage your reputation, but it will also make it very difficult to build long-term relationships with your customers.
Some examples of these tactics include:
Making false or misleading claims about your products or services
Using scare tactics to get people to buy from you
Promising results that you can’t deliver
Manipulating customer emotions
Pressuring people into buying something they don’t need or want
Say no to bro marketing!
Don’t use misleading advertising or other ethical tricks to get clients and customers to buy from you. This includes fake reviews, shady referral programs, and false scarcity tactics. You want your customers to know that they can trust you – and if they feel like they’ve been tricked into buying something they don’t need or want, it will have the opposite effect.
4) Put yourself in your customer’s shoes
A great way to make sure you’re always ethical and authentic in your marketing is to put yourself in your client’s or customer’s shoes. What is their perspective? What do they want and need (a great way to find out is by doing market research)? How can you provide that for them with ethical marketing practices?
Before you launch a new marketing campaign, ask yourself:
– How would I feel if I saw this ad?
– Would I be comfortable giving my personal information to this website?
– Am I making any false or misleading claims?
– Is this the kind of company I want to do business with?
If you answer no to any of these questions, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, you’ll be able to see things from their perspective and make sure that your marketing materials are ethical and authentic.
5) Stand behind your products and services
So don’t promote a product or service just because you think it will make you money for the money’s sake.
Furthermore, stand behind your products and services with a satisfaction guarantee. If something isn’t right or goes wrong, take responsibility for it and fix the problem! It may cost a little more money upfront, but it is worth investing in an ethical marketing strategy.
6) Always check back in with your brand values
Many call it brand values, I call it your moral compass because it guides you in the world you want to create for yourself and your clients. It’s your north star and the guidance you need to make decisions, even when they are uncomfortable or come with a price tag.
Your moral compass is built on your beliefs, values, and principles and will attract the people who believe the same as you do, which builds belonging and trust.
If you’re ever unsure about whether or not something is ethical or authentic, go back and check in with your brand values. They should be able to guide you in the right direction.
7) Test your Content with the TARES Test
Let’s have a look at persuasion
Often in a business we want to move someone else to change their point of view, agree to a commitment, purchase a product or service, or take a course of action. This is call persuasion and is a common practice in Marketing and Sales.
Persuasion is powerful and works well… and it does so by taking advantage of mental processes in our brain that favor how we think about and react to choice situations, usually without our knowledge. Plainly said it’s manipulative.
And that brings up the question, is that ethical? And the answer is, it depends.
Shlomo Sher, a professor of Humanities and Ethics at the University of Southern California, published a a paper titled “A framework for assessing immorally manipulative marketing tactics” were she came to the conclusion:
“It seems to me that we can use manipulation benignly to motivate others to pursue the goals they already have.”
— SHLOMO SHER
That means on the other hand persuasion is unethical if it’s used to bring people into doing something they don’t want to do or buying things they don’t want to buy and majorly used to control the other person.
However, sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish what it’s acceptable and what isn’t. Many influencer’s using strategies that are already in an area we may find unacceptable, but considered normal and ok because they are such lovely people, and we trust them.
So it’s important to use your own standards, and apply tools, like the TARES Test that help guide us.