Being unethical is more than bad brand karma; consumers ban bad brands from their wallet and shopping lists. In fact, 56 percent of consumers stop buying from a brand they believe is unethical. But in a crowded marketplace — where almost every brand speaks to its “authentic” credentials — how do you actively convey integrity in a way that matters to buyers?
The One Mistake
First, integrity must be an explicit part of your brand message. Most companies put integrity on the back burner while hyping up their authenticity. They believe consumers will see integrity on their own or that being “authentic” is enough to draw consumers to the brand. This is a big mistake. Consumers want to feel they are dealing with a company that is as honest as it is transparent in its actions.
Consumers don’t assume integrity. They want to see it. And they reward brands that deliver on ethical behavior.
Costco, for example, built its reputation on integrity, and the company’s treatment of employees goes far beyond the third bullet point in its mission statement. It’s demonstrated explicitly by everything they do, and from sales performance it would appear this is a critical element of their success. Costco’s Code of Ethics has been part of its core commitment to being an integrity-driven, sustainable company for shareholders. This philosophy has helped produce solid returns year after year that often surpass other stores in its class.
Going Beyond Authentic
Second, you must move beyond being authentic. Integrity is more than authenticity. Consumers want authenticity but only if it’s honest, too. There’s a difference between being “real” and being “honest”. You can have authenticity without integrity, and many companies are a prime example of that. Consider Sam’s Club.
Like it’s sister company, Wal-Mart, the membership-only warehouse store authentically focused on delivering the lowest prices possible to members. To meet this authentic standard, Sam’s Club routinely offered wages significantly lower that Costco and didn’t hesitate to layoff personnel to trim costs.
The interesting result is, while Sam’s Club authentically delivered on its pledge of lower prices, and outperforms Costco in this regard, it is struggling in the marketplace in a way that Costco is not. Costco’s growth is well-documented, while Sam’s Club has recently announced it is closing dozens of stores across the country. It would appear that Costco’s commitment to integrity in its treatment of its employees and members has delivered powerful benefits to its bottom line.
Marketing with Integrity
Third, you must market with integrity. As more corporate scandals erupt, and more unethical practices come to light, the number of consumers voting with their wallets continues to rise. Companies that want to stay profitable and relevant in today’s marketplace must operate with integrity and communicate that integrity to buyers.
Communicating integrity means that every statement you make delivers on the promise that you operate in an honest way. This includes marketing messages. You can’t just claim you’re honest. Consumers want proof.
Marketing with integrity involves three things:
Communicate Your Values. Whether your company values environmental sustainability, the humane treatment of animals, or taking care of your employees, consumers won’t know unless you tell them. Make your values explicit. Feature them prominently on your website, in social media, and in public relations messages. Need an example? With it’s One for One® message, the socially conscious TOMS footwear company does this particularly well.
Demand Performance According to Those Values. Costco’s Code of Ethics isn’t famous because it’s well written. It’s famous because the company stands behind it in everything it does, from its no-questions-asked return policy to its higher-than-average wages. Whatever values you communicate, you must uphold in dealings with employees, vendors, stakeholders, and customers.
Honor Your Word. Consumers want to see that you stand behind what you sell. Offering a performance guarantee and making it easy for potential customers to find up-front reviews from real buyers are two powerful ways to do that.
Marketing with integrity will propel you past the companies pushing a real, but dishonest, message, and get consumers to notice you. Acting with integrity will get you buyers — and help you keep them. One doesn’t work without the other; but doing both will grow your business in a sustainable way.
Terri Maxwell is CEO of Share On Purpose, an investment company that has created dozens of powerful brands, like Promote on Purpose, the ROI delivery firm that amplifies business brands. In a 25-year career, Terri has launched, owned, sold, or turned-around more than 40 firms, and now serves as a well-known consultant to companies competing in the new world of work. Every business in her portfolio, as well as associates who work in her organization and the clients she serves, receives tireless passion, purposeful expertise and authentic servant leadership.