A great reset for marketing?

The Drum 19 Feb 2021 04:00
By Jake Third-19 February 2021 16:00pm

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To stand out in today’s marketplace, brands must stand for something. The global events of the last 12 months have resulted in a profound re-evaluation of our shared value systems.

It is true that people have always cared about their economic security, the health and safety of their families and tried to figure out how to navigate social systems that prioritise the few at the top. But it’s easy to get caught up in other concerns when everything is running along as normal – where to go on holiday, whether this purchase or that will bring us fulfilment, how to get ahead in our jobs.

In times of uncertainty and fear, it’s natural for humans to take stock about the things that are truly important to them, like:

There are questions we ask in a crisis to clarify our values and understand whether the lives we’re living align with them.

Evidence for changing consumer behaviour

And so the attention has turned to businesses, NGOs and grassroots movements to deliver change.

  • 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that align to their values

  • 83% of millennials look for value alignment

  • 62% of buyers buy from companies that support their political and social beliefs

  • 75% of millennials say that the pandemic has highlighted new issues and made them more sympathetic towards the needs of the local community

The good news for businesses is that you can still be successful while doing good.

And businesses operating from a place of purpose benefit from competitive advantage, employee satisfaction, customer loyalty and investor confidence.

But in today’s ‘cancel culture’, when all our lives are played out in full view and nothing stays hidden, brands need to ensure they have their house in order before the marketing department starts talking about their positive impact on the world.

So to understand what ethical or purpose-driven marketing is, it might help to first look at what it is not.

Ethical or purpose-driven marketing is about telling the story of the good that your business is already doing in the world. It’s not about buzz words or jumping on trending hashtags. It’s about the long-term concrete actions that you take every day to improve the lives of your employees, your supply chain, the community you’re a part of and your customers.

The term ‘greenwashing’ was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in the 1980s and it’s used to describe marketing that is intended to make a company appear more ethical or sustainable than it actually is. It’s trying to change something from the outside in rather than have the outside be a natural reflection of what’s inside.

“Not bad is a commitment to minimise negative impacts. With no skeletons in your closet. No child labour, no excessive carbon emissions, no carcinogenic ingredients. But it goes beyond harm reduction into innovation. Embracing new technologies, market segments. Hybrid cars were a typical Not Bad innovation.”

A framework for ethical marketing

There are a number of organisations that can help brands ensure their business practices are all above board. We love B Corp for this.

There are quick wins businesses can put in place, like switching to renewable energy or making leadership teams more diverse, as well as longer-term activities, like ensuring supply chains are fair and transparent.

What does your audience truly value and how does that intersect with your brand? What are your competitors doing and how can you stand out from the crowd? What is it in your brand’s heritage or founders’ stories that will resonate in the marketplace? How do you treat your customers data and respect their privacy?

Brands need a structured approach to marketing that flows from the core purpose of the company for the message to have staying power.

Putting the effort in up front means that when you’re ready to go to market, you’ll have a toolkit filled with what you need to connect authentically with your customers.

  • Your vision statement or key policies

  • Tone of voice and visual guidelines

  • A content strategy to highlight stories for the common good

  • Creative ideas for online and offline formats

  • Partnership opportunities

  • A distribution plan

  • A measurement framework

There is an urgency in the air. People want things to change. And brands have a key role to play in building a society that works for everyone. But it’s a delicate dance and it’s essential to get your house in order before you start talking about how ethical you are.

Jake Third and Julie Reid, Hallam.

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MeTooBusiness and Sustainable Development CommissionJay WesterveldGreener MarketingUnited Nations
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