At Grow Ensemble, we love conscious businesses that are built to shake up the system and make the planet a healthier place. But how do they get themselves out there? I’ll give you a hint: it starts with marketing.
Marketing can be a four-letter word given the digital marketing and advertising we are bombarded with every day when we go online, watch TV, and go on social media. But, marketing is just getting the word out. All the businesses you know and love today wouldn’t be successful without solid purpose driven marketing practices that use data and leverage storytelling to get on our radar.
Ethical marketing harnesses the power of better-for-the-world businesses and amplifies their message so they can share their good-for-the-world impact, and ultimately be successful in growing their audience. Profit is fuel to keep things going, so these marketing efforts are imperative to drive social and environmental change through social enterprises.
We recently welcomed Sian Conway onto the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Podcast, where she told us about her company, #EthicalHour. This online membership community is for social entrepreneurs to learn how to grow their businesses and develop a marketing plan that widens their customer base and therefore, their positive impact—all through ethical marketing.
What is Ethical Marketing?
Ethical marketing is the process of communicating a business’s commitment to doing social and environmental good, while selling a product or service that also improves the world.
Essentially, ethical marketing is both what you’re marketing and how you’re marketing it.
The Principles of Ethical Marketing
Sian mentioned that ethical small businesses are built on three things: relationships, passion, and transparency. These key components in conjunction with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are the principles of ethical marketing.
- Relationships: Sian believes that the superpower for small businesses is that they’re small. These businesses are built on relationships and human connections that drive their mission forward. The same idea is applied to sales, where relationships based on shared values create a community built around a brand doing good things for the planet.
- Passion: Small business owners have a unique connection to the work they do because they’re often handling every part of the business. This passion can be harnessed to show potential consumers how much time and energy goes into making the best possible products. This passion is also valuable for authentic and engaging storytelling, which increases brand awareness.
- Transparency: Small businesses are more likely to be transparent and make environmentally conscious decisions because first, they are more in touch with each part of their impact, and second they aren’t as beholden to profit-driven shareholders as many traditional big brands. Communicating with consumers about where money is made, what materials are used, and what type of factory conditions they have are surefire ways for small companies to gather new customers.
In combination with the relationships, passion, and transparency of ethical businesses, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals play an important role in how companies do good in their work. These goals have laid out 17 of the world’s largest issues that need to be addressed in order for the world to be a habitable place for people around the globe. The UN and collaborating organizations set out to achieve these goals by 2030. Businesses can contribute substantially to achieving these goals by choosing to reduce their waste, offset their fossil fuel consumption, or contribute to causes like clean water access, poverty reduction, and renewable energy.
Sian advocates for her clients to measure their impact in addressing these goals to build credibility and put purpose at the core of their business.
The Issue of Unethical Marketing
It’s not uncommon for brands to tap into our good nature and use unsavory marketing tactics to get our attention, giving “marketing” a bad rap. Often, unethical marketing reinforces mindless consumption and perpetuates a system of waste by fueling the “fear of missing out” that many consumers may be susceptible to. The major problem here is that this marketing is based on feelings of scarcity or emptiness on the part of consumers, not impact and values-alignment on the part of businesses. Lack of corporate accountability makes ethical marketing even more important as we try to parse through which companies fall into which category.
Here are a few common examples of unethical marketing to look out for.
- Greenwashing: Sian believes that brand transparency is important, but it’s not the benchmark for ethical marketing. Take H&M for example. They launched the “Conscious Collection,” which uses more mindful materials. That’s great, but this is just a collection. At the same time, the company continues to actively exploit people in harsh working conditions, contribute to climate change, and reinforce the high-waste practices of fast fashion.
- Marketing that Reinforces Stereotypes: If you watched Mad Men, you probably learned that one major selling point for products is sex appeal. Not only does this reinforce sexist culture, it sends the wrong message to the next generation and perpetuates stereotypes that generations and generations of people attempt to evolve past. Marketing can tell us what we should look like, how we should act, and what we should care about.
- Using Unverified Claims: This is a nice way of saying false advertising. Some tell-tale language to look out for is “scientifically proven” and “guaranteed results” on any product. False claims can be hazardous, especially on wellness and supplement products.
- False Comparisons: Have you ever seen a commercial that bashes one brand just to promote another? It’s technically legal, as long as the claims are true. But often, they’re not or they’re misleading.
Examples of Ethical Marketing
Your favorite socially conscious businesses are using ethical marketing to reach their target market and expand their reach. Here are some of our favorites.
- Dr. Bronners: Have you ever read the label of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap Bottle? If praising spaceship earth isn’t your jam, that’s a-ok. But Dr. Bronner’s does lay out all of their beliefs right on the bottle, which is a creative way to promote environmentalism. Dr. Bronner’s is pretty low key with traditional marketing tactics and instead uses their products and social media to advocate for a more equitable and sustainable world. Just head to their Instagram page to read about factory farming, Black Lives Matter, and psychedelic-assisted therapy.
- Patagonia: Patagonia became a household name as a pioneer for environmentally responsible companies. They also famously ran campaigns telling people not to buy anything. Patagonia would rather you only purchase goods that you really need, and make sure the ones you purchase are good for the long-haul. They also use their platform to advocate for political awareness, like their recent label in clothing that reads “Vote the a@@holes out”, referencing politicians who don’t take climate change action seriously.
- Nisolo: A less radical but ethical shoe company, Nisolo uses complete transparency in their business model and marketing to show consumers how a business can balance profit with business ethics. They pay fair wages, responsibly source their materials, and focus on quality, durability, and customer satisfaction. As a Certified B Corp, Nisolo also has an environmental commitment that includes offsetting their carbon emissions and encouraging mindful consumption through their Ethical Marketplace, which only carries sustainable brands.
The Importance and Benefits of Ethical Marketing
Ethical marketing is building a community of people who are invested in a sustainable future, as shown by a particular purchase. Every time we make a purchase from an ethical brand, we’re joining a new community of social innovators and environmentalists.
By utilizing ethics in marketing, businesses are challenging the big retailers to step up their game and use their platform to help solve social and environmental issues. Millennial consumers are actually willing to pay more for a company with ethical marketing and sustainability practices. This actively reduces the demand on unsustainable products.
What Does an Ethical Marketing Strategy Look Like?
Once you have a clear road to make an impact and Sustainable Development Goals embedded within your business, it’s time to leverage those relationships and show the world how passionate you are about your business. Here are some steps to address as recommended by Sian and #EthicalHour.
- Identify Target Market: This helps businesses know their unique consumer audience so that marketing can be tailored to their preferences.
- Tell a Story: Sian told us that the power of storytelling is the most compelling way to grow your better-for-the-world business. Tell the story of your supply chains, your founder’s journey, or even the story of your future customers.
- Build a Sales Funnel: To make any regular person a customer, they go through a process. Your sales funnel might be a combination of platforms and touchpoints for the consumer. The goal is to push them to an email list where you can directly communicate with them and seal the deal.
- Don’t Forget Metrics: Data-driven decisions are the most impactful in any industry and ethical marketing is no different. By tracking insights on social media, sales data, and SEO content, you can make informed decisions that move the company forward. This also helps keep measurements on your progress for Sustainable Development Goals.
#EthicalHour: Branding Socially Conscious Businesses
#EthicalHour is the world’s first and largest online community dedicated to helping social entrepreneurs scale their businesses through ethical marketing. Members of companies that address the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits use #EthicalHour’s platform to connect and grow their social impact network, strategize, and learn tactics to increase their brand awareness.
As a conscious company itself, #EthicalHour has numerous initiatives in place to give back to the planet. Each month, #EthicalHour plants a tree for each member of its community. For each Masterclass attended by a member, #EthicalHour funds one day of business support for female entrepreneurs in Uganda. The company also invests 1% of all revenue in microfinance loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries. When members join and use the services provided by #EthicalHour, the company spreads the wealth to uplift more entrepreneurs.
Sian Conway, Founder of #EthicalHour
On a trip to Cambodia, Sian realized the impact of her own consumer behaviors and decided to make a change that aligned her values with her actions. In her role as a corporate marketer, Sian honed her skills in startup acceleration and incubators but was ready to pivot to social enterprises.
In 2016, Sian founded #EthicalHour as a way to learn more about ethical living for herself and provide affordable growth services for entrepreneurs in need of marketing tactics that align with their values. In 2018, Sian was named the UK’s Green & Eco Influencer of the Year and continues to dedicate herself to helping thousands of people find their unique purpose and grow their impact.
“When you connect with other people that share your values and you start to work on things together, and you do start to buy from small businesses and you know, you just make those changes gradually, you start to feel so much more empowered and you start to feel like we can make a difference, we can have a voice, we can change things.”
How To Embrace Ethical Marketing for Your Business
- Build Goals with Soul: Remember, your passion is what sets you apart from competitors. When creating company goals, incorporate social responsibility and keep your goals aligned with your values.
- Practice Exceptional Transparency: As a business, fully communicating your pricing, business practices, and even your ethical issues with Amazon is information the consumer wants. This keeps your consumers engaged and interested in what you continue to put out into the world. The #1 thing a sustainable business can do to start is to practice transparency.
- Involve Your Customers: Have you ever been to a business that gives you a wooden chip to put into a bin of your choice for a charitable cause? It’s a simple thing, but it cleverly involves the consumer and displays the business’s values in a meaningful way. Blue State Coffee and REI have done this to share values and engage customers.
- Tell Your Story: Sian is a firm believer in this. Your journey to entrepreneurship is your distinctive tool to share with the world. Leverage it, share it across all platforms, and keep bringing your mission back into it. This creates a strong brand identity and gives consumers something to hold onto. The power of storytelling is undeniable.
Closing: Ethical Marketing in Practice
Next time you switch on the TV or check out social media feeds, we challenge you to forget everything you know about any brand on the planet, and look at those ads with a fresh eye. What story are these brands telling? Are they using stereotyping to sell products? Do they use false claims? Or, do they show how they’re committing to fair trade practices in their sourcing or and sustainability in their delivery of products?
Remember, businesses have the power to do good. If they’re not talking about it in their marketing campaigns, they probably aren’t giving back to the planet or the people on it. Something to think about that next time you’re making a purchase!
Ethical marketing isn’t the norm yet, but Sian thinks it can be if we continue to support socially responsible businesses and especially, the little guys.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- Sian on Twitter, LinkedIn
- Ethical Hour on Instagram and Twitter
- Seth Godin’s TED Talk and Book
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.