Today, ethics matters. Consumers are interested in knowing how you are right with the world and what you are doing on behalf of the public good. And they are willing to spend more for brands and products that align with their values.
Whether your brand is sold across America or around the world, your customers, prospects, employees, and business partners are attuned to your commitment to authenticity, social responsibility, and support of their personal values. And commitment is not enough. They are also relying on you to follow through on those commitments by demonstrative actions that make a positive impact within a community or throughout society.
Research clearly bears this out.
54% of consumers
are more likely to be loyal to a brand or store that shares its efforts to be environmentally responsible or has sustainable and ethical business practices; 72% of millennials and millennial parent respondents agree.
45% of consumers and 63% percent of millennials
are willing to pay more for sustainable products.
[Mintel Global Consumer Trends 2022]
Putting Profits Behind the Public Good
Putting the public good ahead of profits seems like a difficult choice in a retail world fraught with post-pandemic challenges, but it doesn’t have to be a choice at all. Inculcating values and ethical actions into a sales and marketing strategy makes good economic sense.
Robert Bird, professor of business law and ethics at the University of Connecticut, has said, “Embedding genuine ethical values in a company does not guarantee success, but it is an additional benefit that can help the organization in the long run.”
Most Valued Sustainable Brand Practices
In its 2021 sustainability and consumer behavior study, Deloitte identified five sustainable brand practices that consumers value most:
• Decreasing waste
• Reducing carbon footprint
• Providing sustainable packaging
• Committing to ethical work practices
• Respecting human rights
Other popular issues that resonate with consumers include:
• Fair-trade and locally made products
• Sustainable farming, manufacturing, and distribution
• Diversity and inclusion
“Consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand or store that shares its efforts to be environmentally responsible.”
An important caveat is this: Brand social responsibility must be sincere. Retailers and brands shouldn’t make an ethical commitment unless it truly embodies their corporate vision and mission. Forrester data shows that more than half of consumers prefer to buy from brands that stay true to their own values rather than reflect the latest trend.
Authenticity is the key to successful socially responsible branding. In fact, retailers and brands, in taking a stance on issues of concern, can actually serve as agents of change in the markets they serve.
An Social Responsibility Checkup
Give your brand a social responsibility checkup by honestly evaluating how well you are performing in the following areas:
Reinforcing your moral principles and core values in your individual interactions. Each time a customer walks through your door, taps into your website or app, or contacts your brand through a social post, it represents an opportunity to establish trust between that customer and your company or brand by expressing your values. Brand loyalty is enhanced when your ethical commitment resonates with consumers’ values.
It’s one thing to provide broad support of an important public issue at a corporate level, yet each customer judges you on how well they are treated during a personal engagement with your brand.
Communicating your ethical stance clearly and consistently. The pervasiveness of digital communications makes it convenient to get your socially responsible branding messaging across in a consistent manner and on a regular basis on all channels. Your online messaging should be consistent with what’s on your product packaging, in-store signage, and other materials.
Express your values uniformly in marketing, and in both internal and external communications. Be concrete so customers and prospects can easily understand what you stand for and be specific about what you are doing to support that stance. Keep customers up to date on your social responsible-related activities.
Dedicating your brand to a socially responsible strategy for the long term. Socially responsible branding is not a one-and-done action. The customer loyalty, trust, and positive relationships it engenders can take time, so a long-term commitment to social responsibility is essential. This parallels with the imperative to continually aim toward extended relationships between customers and brands. You are not seeking instant reward for your ethical efforts, but the chance to reap ongoing pride among your customers for choosing your brand.
Practicing what you preach. Saying one thing and doing another is reprehensible. Consumers, employees, and business partners alike are on the lookout for proof that brands are living up to their stated beliefs. They are quick to spot fraudulent claims and half-truths, and when a company is dishonest or does something unethical or morally unacceptable, it can suffer a great loss of customer trust that can lead to dire financial consequences.
A company’s leadership is duty-bound to solidify its moral principles internally and externally. Should you make a decision that adversely affects the trust you have earned, be accountable. Confess and correct the mistake and work to redress the situation. Consumers respect truth.
Applying metrics to gauge the impact of your socially responsible branding. Analyzing metrics tied to your social responsibility strategy allows you to measure how well your ethical actions are doing in relation to sales, revenues, and retention. Metrics can also serve to hold your brand accountable for participation in ethical actions and help you strengthen your marketing strategy to better meet customer expectations.
Embedding your social responsibility ideals in your marketing and sales strategy. It’s essential that your company’s leadership is 100% on board with your approach. It’s also important that your sales channel partners and other business partners have an understanding and appreciation of your social responsibility goals; at the least, they should not be in direct conflict with them.
Your sales team should espouse your beliefs and basic social responsibility principles and be ready and willing to share them with prospects and customers.
The Choice is Yours
Putting the public good ahead of profits seems like a difficult choice in a retail world fraught with post-pandemic challenges, but it doesn’t have to be a choice at all. Inculcating values and ethical actions into a sales and marketing strategy is integral to your overall reputation, and it makes good economic sense.
But don’t aim for 100%. There is no brand, product, or service that lives up to its reputation perfectly. Expect occasional roadblocks and stumbles. As long as you stay true to your values and are making strides toward achieving your ideals, your brand should rank high on the ethics scale and continue to attract consumers.
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Author: Karen Salamone
Karen is Head of Marketing for MarketSource. She is a transformational B2B and B2B2C leader with a history of building marketing organizations, content teams, and demand generation centers of excellence from the ground up. She is recognized for delivering meaningful insights and fresh approaches and for earning best-in-class content, design, and multi-media awards.