Marketing That Doesn’t Feel Gross for Impact-Driven Brands!
Updated: Mar 20
We all know it’s happening, and we see it everyday: whether in ads on the subway, or that 5-second promo on Youtube that you have to wait through and which promises unbelievable results: marketing that is being used to manipulate our perspectives and buying habits with a much stronger focus on making a profit without consideration of whether the thing should be sold at all, and whether it’s good for us or the planet.
Among other scenarios, corporations use this gross marketing style when claiming that their ecologically damaging products are harmless and denying or downplaying the harm that those products cause. This tactic of greenwashing has a large role in magnifying climate change and other environmental challenges.
Gross marketing involves manipulation, exaggeration, pressuring, shaming, lying, creating anxiety…you’ve seen it, you know. If you’ve ever tried this kind of marketing, likely you know in your gut that there’s something wrong with it.
But, there is a better way!
It is totally possible to promote your wares and offers without feeling like you’re just tossing around a bunch of dinosaur poop!
The way to do that is by being authentic and ethical in your marketing efforts and messages.
Let’s start with getting clear on what these two concepts mean.
Ethical marketing is a philosophy that informs all marketing efforts. It seeks to promote honesty, fairness, and responsibility in all advertising. Ethics is a difficult subject because everyone has different ideas of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, so there is no definitive list of rules.
Authenticity in marketing means to be true to ourselves and our businesses, while putting our best foot forward. This can only be done by discovering our true values and working with customers who also share those values. It also means making our potential clients and customers aware that we’re here to serve them while having the responsibility to use an ethical approach.
To market ethically and authentically, I believe that it starts with the product, and that sustainability is very important:
Do people actually need it?
Is the product produced fairly and ethically, respecting all people along the value chain?
Is the product produced and transported sustainably?
Are its components and packaging recyclable and do they stay in useful circulation for a long time, after which they are returned to the earth in a sustainable way?
Obviously, meeting ALL of these sustainability criteria would be really hard, but keep working towards these goals! A great idea is to have sustainability integrated into your business plans and work to improve your environmental and ethical performance.
Next, get clear on your business’ values and align your actions with them:
State your values, communicate them accurately, and then make sure the actions of your organization are carrying out those values so that your messages align with your values and actions.
Be transparent. Give the green actions an amount of attention in your marketing that is proportional to how those actions stack up against the rest of your organization’s activities.
Market and talk about things that you are an expert in. Do research or get input from experts to make sure what you’re saying is accurate.
Be specific about your sustainability efforts. For instance, instead of, “we are eco friendly,” state, “we are switching to cloth napkins and using detergents for washing them without synthetic fragrances so that we contribute less to deforestation and the pollution of our waterways.”
It can take a lot of work and there can be contradictions when we try to be very authentic in our marketing, especially when it comes to sustainability. For instance, when we move from disposables to ceramic dishes, the dishes will need to be washed which requires more soap, water, and energy!
But, let’s realize that we are human!
There are going to be flaws and that’s ok!! By having sustainability as part of an organization's plans and mission, we can improve its environmental impact on a continual basis.
People WANT to connect with purpose driven brands that align with their values. So, share your efforts to improve the social and environmental performance of your brand. Working towards these improvements provides an opportunity to engage with your audience!
Let’s look at what we can do instead of some of the classic icky marketing tactics.
Urgency – It’s ok to have deadlines and remind people of them. For instance, Easter is coming up and you want to sell all of your fair trade (dinosaur) Easter chocolates by then! It’s ok to remind people, and to have deals to encourage people to buy them and to say ‘while supplies last’. But do it fairly. Who are we to cause someone stress?! Let people have time to think about it. Respect that they have other things going on.
Pain points – Use it as an opportunity to be empathetic by showing that you understand your customer’s struggles and care about helping them with overcoming the challenges.
Bad-mouthing competition – Instead, emphasize those aspects that make your offer stand out from the rest of the pack. Also, think about how you want to connect with your audience.
Overcharging/price gouging – Instead charge fairly for the value you provide.
Spamming – Review the Canadian Anti Spam Legislation (CASL). Even if you’re allowed to email, think about what you’re sending and how you’re sending it. Don’t pretend to know someone if you don’t.
Building trust and relationships is a key way to create loyal customers.
When you are genuine, honest, and can share the pros and cons, the audience knows they can trust you, and can see that your brand is the perfect match for them.
Another way to build credibility with people you don’t know personally is to work on getting certifications within your industry. This will provide standards to drive your efforts, and to show your audience that a third party has verified that you do what you say you do. By having applicable certification, we challenge our own organizations to step up to be responsible and accountable in meeting a set of standards.
I’ll give you a quick peek at how I market. I focus on making sure people know what I do and who I do it for, so my audience can see whether working with me would be a good match for them. I just lay it out, and if they want it, they can take it, if they don’t, then that’s fine. I move on, there’s lots of work out there! It’s like serving food to guests!! I’d never pressure them, trick them into eating something or lie about the ingredients!! I work to make sure that my value proposition is clear, and focus on the benefits I can bring my clients. I build on relationships by being honest and upfront, building on word of mouth, following up with people, showing gratitude, and doing the things I say I’m going to do.
I’m not perfect, but I do my best!
Dinosaurs practiced authentic marketing!
The idea of authentic promotions pre-dates marketing itself (like, waaaayyyyy predates it)! The evolutionary model of “honest advertising” has been a successful mating strategy for species all the way back to the age of the dinosaurs (and likely for even longer).
Many species of dinosaurs would attract mates by proudly showing off their best traits, like bright coloration, large talons, or impressive courtship dances.
These traits demanded that the dino put extra resources, like energy and nutrients, into things that didn't always have an immediate biological payoff -- for instance, fancy feathers could prevent them from hiding effectively from predators. However, those same fancy feathers showed others that the dino was, in fact, a stronger potential mate specifically because they could go the extra mile, grow bright feathers, and still avoid predators! In effect, those fancy feathers weren't just window dressing -- they were an honest, authentic representation of that dino as a great mate. Our dino friend couldn’t hide behind murky claims about being the brightest or the biggest or the fastest – they had to honestly be able to invest resources in these traits and then celebrate them for their audience to see.
The mates who were attracted to them knew exactly what they were getting and stuck with them, rather than getting sidetracked by other competitors.
The overall goal with regards to ethical and authentic marketing is to get your marketing aligned with what is actually being done, to be honest and open with the right audience and to build a strong brand that you feel good about, so that your audience is eager to work with you.
Keep in mind that what is ethical or unethical is a big, grey, nebulous area. If you’re agonizing over whether something in your marketing is right to do, you’re likely on the right track! Don’t be too hard on yourself!
I hope that I’ve inspire you to show the world how you’re using your business as a force for good, to continue to work on the sustainability of your business and your impact, and to market your products authentically so that you feel good about promoting your business and the great work that you do.
Would you like help with connecting with your perfect audience in an ethical and authentic way? Book a time with me (Julianna), your first meeting is free!
Lee, Seung Yun et al. (2014) The Effects of Scarcity Appeal on Product Evaluation: Consumers' Cognitive Resources and Company Reputation. Social Behavior and Personality: an International Journal. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/sbp/sbp/2014/00000042/00000005/art00004
Authentic Marketing Program: http://authenticmarketingprogram.com/
Marketing Schools. (2020) Ethical Marketing: Explore the Strategy of Ethical Marketing. https://www.marketing-schools.org/types-of-marketing/ethical-marketing/