20 ethical marketing rules to follow in 2020

Mitchel White
November 26, 2019

It’s a question we ask ourselves a lot as marketers, how can I be a good marketing person?

The answer is pretty straight forward. Use ethical marketing practice to behave in a way you’re proud of and serve your audience by adding value.

Is marketing fundamentally unethical?

Currently? Yes.

Technology should have made marketing more ethical. With access to tools and tactics that make reaching our target audience easier than ever, the opportunity to use it for good is huge.

While lots of people are using technology for good, marketers have taken it upon themselves to use it to interrupt people more often. Marketing is being used to take away our attention, to interrupt us as we try to focus on other more important things in our lives.

Social media is a prime example. What should be about connecting people has been turned into an advertising platform full of brand posts promoting products and services.

Ethical marketing – is there such a thing?

The good news? Marketing doesn’t need to be unethical. Ethical marketing is a thing and forward thinking marketers are using it to add real value to their customers.

The best marketers are adopting ethical marketing principles to win the trust and attention of their audience, build strong relationships with them, turning them into raving fans of brands who become die hard customers.

You can use ethical marketing too and it’s pretty simple. Follow these 20 ethical marketing rules in 2020 to start building a better way of marketing.

1. Treat your audience with respect

The first rule is to always have your audience in mind whenever you embark on a new marketing campaign or start planning new products or services. When you’re thinking about the effects of your decisions on your audience you’re being respectful. Always be honest and open with them and treat them with the respect you expect from the brands you buy from.

2. Be honest

Being honest is the easiest way to win the trust of your audience. Sometimes things go wrong or you might not be quite where you want to be in terms of sustainability.

The best brands are honest and tell their customers the truth. If they messed up an order, they own up to it and rectify the issue. If they can’t find a suitable sustainable packaging option at the moment, they will tell you they’re working on it. Be honest.

3. Be transparent

Transparency is similar to honesty. Share what’s going on behind the scenes in your brand. Open up your process to your audience and be transparent with progress you’re making to deliver a better customer experience.

Use storytelling in your marketing campaigns to build a deeper more transparent connection with your audience.

4. Don’t oversell and underdeliver

The first rule of marketing? Don’t oversell and underdeliver. Believe it or not some brands still do this, they promise the customer the earth and deliver an experience below the customer’s expectations. Disappointing customers is unethical and should have no place in a modern marketing driven brand.

Use your marketing to sell the benefits of your product, don’t over promise in your marketing copy. Be honest and focus on facts. There’s enough fake news around we don’t need unethical marketing messages adding to it.

5. Don’t sell sh*t stuff

Similar to the last point, don’t sell rubbish products or services. There are enough subpar products in the world already, your customers don’t need more of them. To be an ethical marketer you need to produce great products and services that meet and exceed the expectations of your customers.

6. Own up when you make mistakes

Things go wrong in business. We’ve all received a late delivery or a broken product in the post. Own the mistake (even if it’s your courier’s fault) and rectify the issue for your customer. If you have a customer service team, give them the authority to help the customer and give them the tools they need to deliver a great customer experience.

7. Value time and attention

As a marketer you have the unique power to take away someone’s time. The ads, the website copy and the emails you send take away your audience’s time and attention. Value that time by adding real value to their day. Make sure your ads are truthful and reach the right people. Make sure your ad landing pages match up to your ads so you’ve not wasted someone’s time when they click through to find you aren’t going to deliver the value you offered in your advertisement copy.

8. Be authentic

Don’t be something you’re not as a brand. Brands need to reinvent themselves to stay alive in fast paced industries but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be authentic to yourself. If you’ve been using a specific tone of voice for the last few years, don’t suddenly change it to become hip and trendy. Be true to yourself whilst innovating to deliver a better customer experience

9. Go beyond profit

Marketing is about delivering change. A change in a buyer’s state. A change in someone’s wealth, opportunities or needs. When you focus on delivering change marketing takes on a whole new meaning.

Go beyond marketing objectives and focus on how you can add real value with your marketing. The best ethical marketers don’t focus solely on profit, they focus on how they can go beyond profit to deliver real change.

10. Care about the impact you have on others

Marketing affects everyone. From the people seeing your ads on social platforms to the customers who buy your products to the environmental impact of your marketing decisions. Ethical marketing is about considering and caring about the impact you have on others and the environment. Plan and execute your marketing in a way that takes into consideration those that you might affect.

11. Be nice

To succeed in marketing you need to win the buy in from other functions within your business. You need to inspire others to commit to the same ethical practice you live by. Being nice is an easy way to build relationships with others who have an impact on the way you market and deliver an ethical customer experience.

12. Stick to your values

Value driven marketing is the easiest way to market ethically. By focusing on your own values and those of your organisation you can use these values as a guiding light for any marketing decisions you make. If an action doesn’t align with the values you’ve set, don’t do it.

13. Educate others

As a great marketer, you have a duty to educate others. If you’ve learnt something valuable, share it with others so they can get value from it too. Content marketing is a great way to educate others, use your brand’s website to share the unique knowledge you have in your industry. Pass on the best tips and advice to really add value to your audience.

14. Inspire action

By using ethical marketing and storytelling you’re able to inspire others to take action on the things that matter to you as a marketer. You can inspire people to do more for the planet, to be more compassionate or to tell their friends about your product or service.

15. Be proud of your place in the world

Using ethical marketing means you’re behaving in a way you can be proud of. You’re rising above the underhand tactics used by others and you’re delivering value to your audience by marketing ethically. Be proud of the work you’re doing and do more of it.

16. Don’t use underhand tactics

Don’t resort to using underhand tactics used by unethical marketers.

Don’t rely on constant sales promotions to win new customers.

Don’t use false advertising to sell benefits your product or service doesn’t deliver.

Don’t use false scarcity on your product pages, if you have 12727 products left, don’t say only 5 left. If you haven’t got any reviews yet, don’t make them up.

Use your common sense when it comes to choosing which marketing practices are ethical and which aren’t.

17. Stay with your goals

It’s tempting to flit to the latest trends and new marketing tool but to win the attention of your target audience and convert them to customers you need to do your time. You need to invest your energy into building trust and strong relationships. Don’t flit to the latest shiny object like other marketers, focus on your goals and work relentlessly to achieve them by serving your audience.

18. Don’t be influenced by bad marketers

It’s easy to see other marketers in your industry doing well in your industry and cut corners on your ethics. Focus on your values and the reasons why you don’t want to market unethically. Bad marketers might make short term wins but great businesses thrive on building long lasting relationships with their customers, something you’re doing by using ethical marketing.

19. Use data ethically

GDPR should have put an end to unethical use of data but it hasn’t. Companies are still misusing data and contacting customers who haven’t opted in to receive marketing communication. Use data ethically and treat it with care. Use a CRM system to keep customer data safe and only contact customers who have given you prior permission to communicate with them.

20. Serve your audience

Finally, to win at marketing today. You need to focus on how you can serve your audience. Great marketers serve their audience instead of looking internally. To reach marketing objectives you need to first look at the objectives of your target audience, what do they need to thrive? What do they want and desire? Your job as an ethical marketer is to serve your audience and deliver on their needs and wants over a long period of time to win attention, trust and loyalty.

Good luck with your marketing in 2020 and remember by using ethical marketing, you’re helping build a better industry for marketers and your customers.

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