14 07 2011


Francine Pickering

Francine Pickering’s passion is to bring professional marketing knowledge to small and growing businesses.  As a Chartered Marketer, she helps business owners move away from marketing as an ineffective piecemeal attitude to promotion and towards a strategic planning approach designed to get pragmatic results.

People who don’t understand marketing have been known to use the word to describe dubious behaviour in business: “marketing spin”, “marketing ploy” and such as if there’s something underhand about it.

But a vital part of building long-lasting customer relationships is to build trust – and you don’t do that by being unethical. Here are the key things that you need to consider when developing and conveying your trustworthiness.

1. Values, ethos and reputation come first for your brand

Contrary to popular belief, your brand is not about your logo – it’s about the beliefs and attitudes of your customers. You can’t control these but you can influence them by being clear about your values and protecting your reputation. Your logo should represent what matters to you in ways that are meaningful to your customers but don’t expect a glossy logo to cover up ethical cracks.

2. Stay true to all your values

Chances are you’ll have values and brand personality characteristics beyond those typified as “ethical” so you should make sure that your ethical stance reflects these too. If your brand is fun, youthful, innovative, pragmatic, the last thing you want is to start being labelled as dull and worthy just because you’ve brought some important principles to the fore. Consistency builds trust too.

3. Think about what does being ethical means in your sector

What are the baseline requirements for ethical behaviour? What else can you do to make a difference in your sector? What matters to your customers most and how can you work with this understanding to build trust in your own unique way? Can you learn anything by observing what people do in other sectors?

4. Keep your promises

Building trust is not about what you say – it’s about what you do. Your actions will speak louder than words. Whilst your stakeholders may well check out your web site to see what you say about ethical, green or sustainable principles, that’s not what they’ll form their opinions on. They’ll want to see from your actions – and, indeed, hear from your staff – that what you claim gets put into practice.

5. Don’t pretend you’re perfect

The perfect ethical decision is elusive for any business and can be especially so for small businesses with limited resources. If you can’t make the perfect decision every time, don’t pretend that you can. Better to set out your stall about what matters to you and what you’re doing to move towards the standards you have set yourself. This way you can be honest about your efforts and how you balance any conflicting standards.

6. Consider developing an ethical policy

Not for its own sake and not just to try and impress but as framework for making business decisions that you can be comfortable with. In a constantly changing world consider it to be a living document and review it when appropriate.

7. Look at your whole marketing mix

As we often discuss on this blog, marketing is not just about promoting your business; there’s a whole “marketing mix” of elements than need to work together cohesively to ensure that what you offer your customers is attractive to them and makes good business sense to you. In particular you might want to consider the “process” element – the way you work with your customers is an important part of keeping your promises and will
reflect on how much they trust you.

8. Ensure your claims are honest

Whether they are directly related to your ethical stance or not you should ensure that your claims hold water and abide by all relevant legislation and codes of practice. Take into account:

  • The CAP Code from the Committee of Advertising Practice which covers all aspects of marketing communications.
  • The Code has a specific section on Environmental Claims and also covers sensitive areas such as advertising to children, and advertising
    health-related and beauty products.
  • The Direct Marketing Association supports the GreenDM website with information on the PAS 2020 standard for environmentally friendly direct marketing. The standard is more for professional direct marketers than small businesses but there is a useful guide to the DM process that will allow you to do your own “ethical check”.
  • You should also check out DEFRA’s Green Claims Code which outlines best practice for the claims you make about your products.

9. Expect to be scrutinised

Consumers are increasingly unlikely to be fooled by “greenwash” and other ethical claims. The more ambitious the claims you make, the more likely they are to expect higher standards throughout the business. Don’t let that deter you – remember what I said about setting out your stall and being honest about your aims.

And please don’t mislead indirectly. Certain types of name and certain styles of imagery raise certain kinds of expectation and people won’t be appeased by weasley apologies if your business practice doesn’t meet the expectations raised.

Be honest in your pricing

The reality is that many best ethical practices can incur additional cost. And, traditionally, businesses have been able to charge an extra premium for ethical products – think a certain high street coffee chain which made a big extra mark-up on their Fairtrade coffee compared to the relatively small additional cost to them.

These days, however, it’s also the case that consumers are looking for higher ethical standards but are less prepared to pay that premium. Can you raise your own standards in ways that don’t involve raising prices?

Some creative thinking called for, perhaps.

© Francine Pickering, Clarity Marketing Ltd, 2011

Clarity Marketing Ltd


Mercury House, Shipstones Business Centre,

Northgate, Nottingham, NG7 7FN

Tel: 0115 964 8222

Mobile: 07775 947472

Twitter @fmpickering



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