Ethical Marketing: How you Market Matters

8 Min.
ethical marketing practices

Consumers are becoming more conscious about how their products are made, demanding companies to adapt. Ethical brands are showing larger corporations that the future is with clean supply chains, fair and diverse employment, and a purpose-driven ethos. How you run your business matters! How you market it does too! Learn in this article about four non-manipulative marketing strategies that will attract and nurture today’s customers.

Why ethical marketing matters

Traditional marketing is a catalyst for environmental destruction, animal cruelty and psychological and financial problems such as compulsive buying disorder and debt. This is what gives marketing a bad reputation. Rightly so.

In all fairness, it’s not marketing itself that’s evil, it’s just been abused because of human greed. The tides are (literally) changing while awareness is rising. The current crisis of a pandemic, climate change and social disruption is inspiring people to embrace permanent lifestyle changes, second guess their purchasing decisions and seek out and support ethical brands.

Climate action, for instance, inspires people to repurpose, upcycle, repair, make their own products or shop stop altogether. Still, we need new stuff from time to time and so, when a purchase is necessary, consumers do their research first to make sure the company and products align with their values.

This paradigm shift in shopping mentality gives you the opportunity to assess and optimize your own business processes so that you continue to grow and thrive in this changing world.

Your customers don’t want to be manipulated or lied to and you don’t want to have to manage a crisis management team.

As consumers become more aware about social issues and harmful production processes, they’re also becoming more sensitized to the manipulation in marketing. Some companies are being forced to pull disrespectful advertising campaigns because of woke-washing while others are being taken to court for greenwashing.

  • Woke-washing is when a company or individual taps into a social cause for its own personal gain. Usually in the form of advertising. It’s risky and criticized when the said cause is not embedded in their core values, making them blind to the implications.
  • Greenwashing is saying you’re environmentally-friendly when you’re not. This has now unfortunately become a standard marketing practice.
Ethical marketing: greenwashing
Don’t be fooled: Single-use plastic is not eco-friendly.

To be safe and clear of any troubles, implement a non-manipulative marketing strategy that is more in line with human nature.

What is ethical marketing?

To simplify, traditional marketing persuades consumers to buy something. No matter what.

Ethical marketing helps consumers make a conscious decision  by means of transparency, authenticity and mindfulness.As a business owner, you need to sell your products or services. Which marketing approach you choose  is a reflection on how you run your business.

Where there is gratitude, there is support and loyalty.

By taking an ethical, non-manipulative approach, your customers will be grateful because they’ll feel respected and understood.  

The non-manipulative marketing approach

Implement these four practices in your marketing strategy:

  1. Use rounded prices
  2. Be transparent
  3. Encourage abundance and patience
  4. Embrace a healthy competitive mindset

These suggestions are just that: ideas to take away and make your own.

I also encourage you to tune into your intuition when you work on your next marketing activity and watch out for signs in external marketing campaigns. If something doesn’t feel right, that usually means it’s not.

Do what feels right for you, your brand and your customers.

#1: Use rounded prices

Manipulation tactics: charm prices: 2.99, 347, 997.

Created over a century ago, charm prices allow us to see a smaller number on the left, making us feel like we’re getting a bargain. These prices are used everywhere and are ingrained in our brains to the point that we don’t even think about them.

I’m not inferring that if you use them in your pricing strategy, that you’re being manipulative. I’m suggesting you consider your intention for using them. Is it only because that’s what everyone else does?

If we use charm prices because of habit, this sets the tone that it’s not worth our time to change. Why bother changing a running system?

I could also ask myself: ‘Why bother making my own products to avoid plastic waste -- plastic will continue to be produced and bought?’ True. However, do I want to support more plastic in this world when I can easily avoid it? No.

After writing about charm prices in a large business group on Facebook, a few people commented: “It’s just a number. We’re not stupid, we know what we’re paying.” Also true, it is just a number. And that number works. Just like the other manipulation tactics.

Give your products the price they deserve.

And then there’s this perspective. When we see a price tag with .99 at the end, we automatically put that product in the cheap, low-quality category. We think it’s on sale. If your products are cheap and of low quality, charm prices may work better for you and your customers, but if not, think about what you’re doing to the reputation of your products and business.

In a 2015 study published by Oxford University Press, evidence suggested that feelings determine our perception of price. They concluded that rounded prices are more readable and understood as opposed to charm prices, making them more feeling-based. Purchasing decisions are often emotional and those who are emotionally attached to a product are more likely to trust a rounded price.

When a charm price tag is slapped on a high-quality product, that could raise suspicion. You may ask yourself if the product really is of high quality. When you use rounded numbers, you’re telling your customers that your products deserve the price they have.  

If you want to change your prices, start a conversation and share your views about marketing manipulation. This will not only let your customers know that you’re vested in keeping your marketing free of manipulation. It will also encourage engagement and heightened anticipation as to ‘what’s next?’ which you can integrate in your content strategy.
Please read my article specifically about price manipulation if you’re interested in reading more.

#2 Be transparent

Manipulation tactics: Dishonesty, Greenwashing

Transparency means something different to everyone, just like the word sustainability.

Transparency for me means being open and honest about how you:

  • run your business
  • produce your products
  • treat your employees, partners, customers, competitors, etc. 
  • plan for improvements
  • take responsibility for errors

Your customers may already know that you use green WordPress hosting ffor your website, but do they know about your supply chain from top to bottom, how you source your materials, who your partners are, who sews your clothes, where your coffee beans come from or if your employees and partners are paid and treated equally and fairly?

Answer these types of questions before they’re asked and your customers will feel confident in their decision-making process.

When you also show your customers that you’re working on specific areas, you’re telling them that they are important enough for you to make this investment. It will also show your vulnerability which makes your brand more relatable and trustworthy.  

It’s always better to answer questions before they’re asked.

For example, if you use plastic in your packaging but are currently looking for a biodegradable solution, your customers want to know your intentions. By showing them the first steps you’ve taken and stating a timeframe as to when you can offer the better solution, you will gain trust.  

If you only write: “We’re working on it.” and nothing else, this could be viewed as greenwashing. If you’re on the path to becoming more eco-friendly, congratulations! It’s work and it also takes time to present the information to your customers in the best possible way, but it's doable and well worth it in the long run. Take advantage of this incredible opportunity to gain the trust of your customers by opening the door to your backend.

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#3: Encourage patience and abundance

Manipulation tactics: urgency and scarcity

Urgency and scarcity tactics inspire fast action and cause anxiety and FOMO, the fear of missing out.

Messages and technology (i.e. countdown timers, limited offers) that are solely used to drive a sale are considered urgency or scarcity tactics. There is a grey zone here where I feel some things are OK while others are manipulative.

“Only 2 Spots Left – Enroll Now!” when you really have 10 spots left is dishonest. “2 more days to join” isn’t when you’re setting a deadline to your non-evergreen launch.

However, if someone asks you if you’re going to be launching the same program later in the year and you lie and say “no” just to get the sale now, then be careful because that will probably backfire on you later.

When you remain honest, you may not get that seat filled now, but you will gain the trust of your customer who will be more motivated to join later. They’ll also be more apt to actively participate, complete your program and give you positive feedback.

When you arouse the feeling of abundance and patience in your customers, you will be mutually respected and rewarded.

There’s always enough to go around and there are no emergencies in marketing.

Embrace a healthy competitive mindset

Manipulation tactics: shaming the competition

Collaboration is the new competition. Or is it? I’ve recently read the word co-opetition from this source to mean: “Collaboration between business competitors, in the hope of mutually beneficial results”. It was originally coined in 1913!

Even with over 100 years of collaborative experience, the human fear of competition is real. So much time and energy is spent worrying about trying to ‘beat the competition’.

For one, this unhealthy mindset enables fear and urgent action which often results in using manipulation tactics to try to get more sales. It also causes brand wars. Think Coke vs. Pepsi or Microsoft vs. Apple. These wars are still going on, even though no one enjoys their shenanigans.

This isn’t a race or a fight and remember from above, there’s enough abundance to go around. Think about how your customers will feel. They want to know that you’re spending time and energy on their needs, not on another brand.

Do what’s right for your customers and invest time and energy on them, not on beating your competition

When your competition is passionate about the same cause and you can help each other move forward, how exciting and effective would it be to collaborate?

There are plenty of easy and profitable ways, such as:

  • Organize an event together, i.e. a fashion show. No one is loyal to only one fashion brand, making this an easy way to gain new customers and create new designs by combining ideas. I’ve personally presented masterclasses at online summits together with my marketing colleagues to help our clients with various perspectives and experiences.
  • Pool your resources together to buy materials in bulk and create something together with your purchase.
  • Share office, production or distribution space instead of investing in everything yourself or if you have extra space, contract it out.
  • Set up a mastermind to bounce off ideas and experiences. This may not work for huge corporations, but for small businesses, this is very effective and valued. It’s what I set up with 4 of my marketing friends over 3 years ago and we’re still meeting 2x per month.

If you want to make sure your marketing is manipulation-free, read and take the pledge at the ethical move.

Your questions about ethical marketing

Have you tried any of these suggestions or do you have other ideas to avoid manipulation in your marketing? Comment below to help others get inspired. Are you interested in online marketing and WordPress ? Then follow RAIDBOXES on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or via our newsletter.

Jessica Lohmann is a marketing expert and has managed marketing teams in several industries in the USA and Germany. She founded Ethical Brand Marketing in 2018 to create and implement ethical marketing strategies for social entrepreneurs. Also a voice talent, eco-fantasy children’s author and member of 1% for the Planet, S.E.N.D. e.V. and Doctors Against Animal Experiments, Jessica’s main passion lies in protecting animals and our environment.

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