Much to marketers’ chagrin, marketing (and the process of selling as a whole) has a bit of a bad reputation.
To the particularly cynical, marketers may be seen as slimy manipulators – psychological-string-pullers who get people to spend money on stuff they really don’t need. Salespeople can be seen as unscrupulous foot-in-the-door, “always be closing” types who’d do anything to get a sale.
But just because other companies use underhanded, manipulative tactics doesn’t mean you have to.
Can Modern Marketing Be Ethical?
Yes, you can absolutely market your company in an effective way and totally keep your own personal scruples intact. It’s really how you approach it that matters.
Marketers don’t have to become master manipulators in order to be good at their job. They have to merely present their company’s offering in a positive, persuasive light, giving the prospect enough information to make an active, rational decision. The goal should be to influence and to be memorable throughout the prospect’s decision-making process, rather than using manipulative slashing-of-inflated-prices, fake FOMO, and corny, disingenuous appeals to build rapport.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out this very tongue-in-cheek (and possibly NSFW?) sales video from comedian, speaker, and emotional wellbeing coach JP Sears. He pokes fun at many of the cringe-worthy hard-sell tactics that you see online, turning them on their head to make a relatable and authentic sales video.
Sidenote: JP’s video is a great example of using humour in marketing too. Making people laugh is a great way to enhance your brand’s relatability and potential virality when done right.
How to Be an Ethical Marketer
Learn What You Like
The problem with ethics and morality is that they’re subjective. What I consider OK may be off-limits to you. Practices that have always worked well for Alice’s business might make John’s skin crawl.
This is why it’s important to get a good handle on what marketing you like and what makes you feel uncomfortable. Maintain an awareness of what promotional tactics you consider shady or underhanded, so you can make your own measured, moral choices about the campaigns your company puts out into the world.
Overall – what kinds of marketing make you smile? What makes you feel icky? Be inspired by the former and avoid the latter.
Respect Your Audience
Uncovering the kinds of marketing that suit you is only part of the equation. The slightly more important question to ask is “what kinds of marketing suits our audience, respects their preferences, and resounds with them positively?”
Getting to know your audience through market research is an essential part of any marketing activity, but it’s an absolutely crucial part of marketing ethically. The core of ethical marketing lies in acknowledging and respecting your audience. There is no better way of doing this than actively seeking meaningful data about how they like to be communicated with.
So carry out regular market research (even if it’s just the occasional social media poll) to help you get to grips with what matters most to your prospects. Also, monitor your existing marketing campaigns to check that you’re only advertising to appropriate audiences. There’s no point in marketing to (and collecting data from) people who will never be interested in what you do!
Above all, respect your relationship with your audience and be guided by the information their interactions provide.
Be Helpful and Visible Through Content Marketing
Content marketing can be a great addition to the ethical marketers’ toolbox. For those not in the know, content marketing is the practice of creating and sharing useful content (like blogs, videos, podcasts, infographics, etc.) in order to raise a company’s profile. By sharing valuable tips with your audience, you prove your expertise, build your credibility, and increase your visibility.
If this sounds right for you, get into the habit of creating regular content and sharing it wherever your target audience is active online. There’s a saying that “Content is King”, but he doesn’t rule alone. Distribution is Queen – and she calls the shots. Look at your website’s analytics to discover the most common ways that your audience is finding you online and make sure that your content is visible there.
The following questions should also help you hone in on the right distribution channels for your content:
- What social media platforms are your audience and competition most vocal on?
- How did previous paying clients generally find your website?
- Where do communities related to your offering hang out online?
- Where are people most likely to look online to answer questions about your industry?
Throughout all of your content, focus on providing genuine value. Be as helpful and generous as you can; there will naturally be a few cards you want to hold close to your chest, but try to give as many tangible insights into your industry and offering as possible.
All in all, content marketing relies on a refreshing balancing act between “what can I share that will help others?” and “how can I attract interested parties to my company?
Persuasion: It’s How You Use It
Persuasion is a tool that can be used positively or negatively. We both know that you’re doing your prospects a favour by encouraging them to work with you because you’re great! It’s how you get them on board that matters.
For the good of your business, you’re going to have to do some kind of persuading at some point. But you can absolutely make that persuasion truthful, honest, and respectful.
I think we can all agree that messaging that preys on people’s insecurities or generally makes them feel bad is unethical. We can probably also agree that messaging that uplifts, entertains, and empowers is more morally agreeable. As a business owner, you have complete control over your messaging and routes to market. If you feel that a certain marketing tactic is going to make you feel guilty or icky, you don’t have to do it.
Check out this video below; though it deals with the ethics of persuasion in public speaking, these pointers can absolutely be applied to the ethics of any kind of persuasion, including marketing.
Can #marketing be ethical? Absolutely! Check out these pointers on how to promote your company with your scruples intact. #ethicalmarketing Click To Tweet
So act with integrity, respect your audience’s position and respect their right to disagree. Sounds quite simple when you put it like that.
So, reader – what marketing do you consider to be unethical or slimy? What sort of marketing do you like to see? Do you have any further ideas about how to tackle marketing in an ethical way? Please share your thoughts down in the comments!