Being Ethical – How does this affect the customer?

By Nicky Parker, Bang Consulting and Vice Chair, CIM South East Regional Committee

In a recent article the CIM shared their top trends for 2024. One of those is ethical marketing – But what does that mean for customers?

Whilst ethical marketing and sustainability are often lumped together, they are, of course, two different things, albeit there can be a meeting of minds between them.

Many businesses talk about being purpose led. They talk proudly of their values and commit to trading with honesty, integrity, responsibility and fairness.

But when you look behind the curtain it often doesn’t translate into reality…

  • Real value – do they only work with customers for whom they can deliver real value? Or do they work with anyone who will pay them?
  • Over promise and under deliver – are they good at talking the talk but not walking the walk? The veneer looks great but what’s underneath is distinctly underwhelming.

During a conversation with an agent about cancelling my membership I expressed disappointment that the hype had not lived up to expectation, and that nobody had bothered to respond to that feedback. He literally kept reading the same script to me over and over again. And then asked if I wanted to change my mind! Needless to say, I didn’t.

  • Sustainability over performance – to tick sustainability and environmentally friendly boxes changes are made to packaging. But that packaging breaks easily, is difficult to use and frustrating for the customer.
  • Form over function – product design is around what looks good and what needs to be included – not designed so customers can actually read the instructions – don’t get me started on white lettering on clear bottles!
  • Automated communication – often there are a series of messages set up either to respond to an initial enquiry or a certain part of the business. But are these written for the benefit of the business or the customer? Are they friendly, warm and inviting or curt and dismissive? Do they truly fit the stated values of the business?

A recent example of this for me was a company that makes mobile phone cases, headphone cases etc. They are based in Eastern Europe. Their initial automated email was fantastic – it felt human and that they were genuinely delighted to receive my order. And then it went silent – for days and days. When I followed up I received an automated message saying they were struggling with demand and were busy fulfilling orders. For me this was an epic fail – suddenly they had moved from customer centric to not appearing to care at all. Oh and during that time they were continuing to use PPC to advertise on social media – which just increased the pain.

  • Customer way or business way – is the process for doing something designed to suit the needs of the business or the customer? This is common in service-based businesses, particularly professional services. When was the process last reviewed? Is it still fit for purpose? And crucially, does it work in the way the customer wants to do business?
  • Complaints – it surprises me how often companies don’t have a proper process for handling complaints. A complaint handled beautifully can turn a disgruntled customer into a raving fan – an advocate who will refer others. But that process has to be thought through thoroughly – from the customers’ point of view. No starting with “Hope you’re having a great day” – they are clearly not if they need to complain!

These are just a few ways that a business can behave that shoots in the foot the concept they are purpose driven, ethical etc.

But a business can define its values to coincide with their customers. So people want to do business with likeminded individuals. Customers can feel confident they will be treated with respect, honesty and integrity every step of the way. Then that becomes a beautiful business.

And crucially, one that attracts enquiries, referrals and loyalty.

So, what three things could you take away and use in your own marketing:

  1. Survey your customers – do they perceive you’re adding value? What are the patterns between those who rate you highly and those who don’t? Do you have customers who are not a good fit for your business?
  2. Review your automated communication – is it true to how you want to be seen? Does it accurately reflect what happens in the business and what customers should expect? Is it human?
  3. Complaints – makes sure you have a robust process for handling problems. Don’t use automation for handling complaints – it takes away the human connection that is vital when this happens.

And finally, ask yourself: Are you truly showing up as a purpose led business in every interaction?