The only way is ethics for trusted brands

The only way is ethics for trusted brands

A lack of trust in government, businesses, media and NGOs, linked to recent scandals, means customers are more cautious of brands’ motives than ever. This article, which follows my recent CIM webinar, ‘The Only Way is Ethics’, explores how organisations can build CSR into their brand strategy, and why it should be a priority for marketers.

Social change now

Hardly a week passes without a fresh scandal revealing the unethical misconduct of famous people or organisations. From Cambridge Analytica to Harvey Weinstein, immorality in the world of business has rarely been more prominent. On a social level, movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have become the rallying cry for an ethically engaged public, desperate for change. Carey Gracie, the BBC’s China Editor, resigned via an open letter highlighting the corporation’s gender pay gap, and drew attention to how far the broadcaster had strayed from its stated values of trust, honesty and accountability. This case brought the question of values into focus: what are they, and why do brands need them?

 It’s all about values

It’s prudent for an organisation to determine its values, which can then guide and help realise the brand strategy. These values should motivate behaviours that, when practiced, create a culture of performance. They should be clear enough for employees to interpret through their job function and social conduct.

Values can be observed, measured and audited:

  • Defining values’ are the essential qualities and associated behaviours the brand stands for, was built upon and is measured by.
  • Progressive values’ enable a brand to identify the qualities needed for the organisation to innovate and grow. These new values may become part of the ‘defining values’ set by recruiting new talent and celebrating behaviours that practice these qualities.
  • Shadow values’ are the bad habits and shady practices that creep into institutions and need to be checked so they do not damage the brand (such as the emergence of a gender pay gap).
  • Generic values’ are the qualities that do not differentiate a brand sufficiently and may be applied to any organisation in the same industry. Words like ‘trust’, ‘quality’ and ‘respect’ are general values that do not offer a differentiator, unless the associated industry is corrupt, unregulated or in its infancy.

Why are values so important?

A brand can have a purpose beyond profit – a motivating idea that can stimulate belief in its aims and be guided by its values. Evidence suggests that customers gravitate towards businesses that share their attitude, interests and values. It’s also an important internal message: every employee should be aware of their brand’s defining values and be able to measure their own performance by these qualities.

The philanthropic tradition today

Authentic corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a passionate cause felt at leadership level and shared within the organisation through its values. For example, Sky Group’s chief executive Jeremy Darroch, a World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) ambassador, is a driving force behind Sky Ocean Rescue, which makes people aware of the effect plastic has in the oceans.

CSR may seem like a relatively new concept but has been practiced for generations. For example, Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist, championed the notion of philanthropy in the 19th century by giving away $350m (value at the time) to charities, foundations, and universities. His 1889 proclamation, The Gospel of Wealth, inspired the wealthy to improve society through philanthropy. This tradition has been continued into the present day, for example, with ‘The Giving Pledge’ founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Since 2010, this has already inspired 170 signatories, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, to give generously to philanthropic causes.

Powerful CSR is linked to the core idea of the brand. For instance, Dame Anita Roddick, founder of cosmetics brand the Body Shop, engaged in issues such as animal welfare and environmental protection that were close to her heart. Connecting business values to a higher purpose provides an emotional and moral motivation that transcends price points, builds integrity, enhances brand reputation and increases customer, employee and shareholder engagement.

The marketer’s role

Marketers have a vital role in leading this work for businesses because they have a direct link to customers and understand what matters to them. From carbon emissions to diversity recruitment, different issues matter to different groups. Brands need to provide evidence of their CSR achievements, through regular, transparent communication. Otherwise, customers may perceive positive actions to be a superficial, box-ticking exercise. The marketing team is the natural channel to evangelise why you do what you do.

As author Simon Sinek says; “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” 

Paul Hitchens is an author, TEDx Speaker and Brand Strategist. He is a CIM course director and presents the Brand Masterclass. CIM members can watch the webinar on which this article is based here.

Paul Hitchens
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