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Ethical Marketing, One Step At The Time

2020 has been a year of profound changes. Due to these changes, many of us have been moved to make an in-depth evaluation of how we live our lives, which are our priorities, and which tools we use to reach them. The big question is: are we living our lives in the best possible way?

As a digital marketer, I am interested in how people in my industry handle this question. And some of their conclusions resonate strongly with me. This year’s work-from-home and isolation requirements have resulted in many people taking to social media and spending more time online than ever before. We have also seen an increase in digital interactions for business purposes, replacing in-person meetings, conferences, networking events, etc.

But has this been to our benefit? In our October post, we discussed the social media dilemma and the implications it has for anyone who works in digital marketing. In these difficult times, people flock to social media platforms to feel connected to others, but togetherness is not necessarily a priority for these businesses. These platforms are corporate-owned and built to make money out of our data.

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The Social Dilemma

The social media dilemma has an ethical side that we simply cannot ignore. As a content marketer myself, I have come to question the role I play in supporting the corporate goals of social networks, whether directly or indirectly. On the one hand, I encourage clients to develop a robust online presence, and social media is a crucial component of this. But on the other hand, I can’t help but wonder how fair is it to promote practices that may jeopardise my clients’ privacy and integrity. So is what I am doing 100% beneficial to my clients?

As things stand right now, I cannot say it is. This realisation has direct implications for my line of work, and I am sure many other marketers will be in the same boat. The main implication is that my old business model is no longer viable if I want to truly serve my clients’ best interests – and only theirs.

After giving this matter some serious thought, I have decided to transform my business one step at the time. I hope to document the process and the challenges I find along the way in an upcoming series of blog posts. The transformation starts by no longer offering social media as a marketing tool. My key focus lies on strategy and data-based content marketing respecting every aspect of GDPR privacy regulation. At the same time, I started developing different ethical marketing solutions.

The Case For Ethical Marketing

The concept of ethical marketing is not new; in fact, it was being discussed even before the famous documentary “The Social Dilemma” raised the question in mainstream circles.

Society changes, and so does technology. This change means we must be prepared to ask and answer honest questions about to which extent we should accept the interference of technology into our private or business lives. This is especially pertinent to social media marketing, as the nature of the data collected via these platforms raises serious ethical questions.

But we reach another crossroads: social media marketing (and to some degree most digital marketing nowadays) is effective precisely because of the vast amounts of personal data we now have access to. This allows for higher personalisation, which can be more satisfactory to the user and financially rewarding for businesses. So if we take this away from the equation, are we setting ourselves up for disaster? In other words, can an ethical marketing business succeed?

RELATED: Authentic Communication In Times Of Crisis

Towards Ethical Content Marketing

I believe that there will always be a market for companies who genuinely care for their clients. The expectation is already there, for example, in late 2019 a research piece found that brands perceived as “ethical” get more committed, loyal, and satisfied customers, among other competitive advantages.

As marketers, we need to promote brands and services and help clients find the perfect match between their offerings and what their users need. But in the new context, the marketer’s role has to take an educational or informational perspective. People cannot demand what they don’t know about.

Content marketing is a big win here because offering valuable content for free, instead of using it to track or collect data, is the best move. Ethical content marketing informs and empowers through content, prioritises freedom and privacy by promoting individual choice, responsibility, and well-being.

I have started to outline a few guiding principles that will help me evaluate marketing strategies against an ethical benchmark. This list is work in progress, but I believe it sets me in the right path:

  • Stay clear of spammy practices.
  • The ultimate goal is to build genuine connections, not getting more clicks.
  • Content should deliver value and uphold values.
  • Content should empower clients through knowledge, so they implement ethical practices in their online interactions.

But I also accept that I have my limitations. It is impossible to change the way algorithms work or to influence the privacy and data use policies of the big players. But that does not mean my hands are tied: there are things I can do to limit the influence of unethical practices in my day-to-day life and also in my business.

One of these things is re-learning to use the Internet and other digital products by focusing on how to do so safely. Privacy issues surrounding the online world are a top priority in ethical content marketing, so I’ve been experimenting with the best way to transform my habits first, before recommending them to clients.

These thoughts marked the beginning of my personal (but also professional) transformation towards an ethical online presence. The time has come to critically evaluate what digital marketers have to offer in today’s changing landscape – I hope you will accompany me in my exploration!

Authentic Communication In Times Of Crisis

2020 is being a year of disruption and uncertainty, and the impact seems to grow bigger as we transition from a public health crisis to an economic crisis. For brands and the business owners behind them, the key concern is how to maintain a customer base. Redrafting your marketing strategy can help, but so is investing in a genuine communication plan. In this post, we review the guidelines to deliver authentic communication in times of crisis in a way that builds trust and loyalty to your brand.

The Importance Of Authenticity 

In crisis situations, it is important to remember that appearing as a genuine brand can help sustain trust. Of course, authenticity in communications needs to be underpinned by a deep sense of empathy for your customers and staff needs. 

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Sometimes it may be hard to stay on top of your stakeholders’ expectations, and especially in rapidly-changing situations like the one we live in now. In such cases, authenticity starts with:

  • Asking for feedback frequently before problems happen. Be specific when requesting feedback and make sure you get a clear picture of how people are feeling and what they need. For example, someone who is anxious may need reassuring, whereas someone struggling with a sense of loss will benefit from learning about your vision for the future.
  • -If you made a mistake, authenticity means admitting to it – the sooner you do it, the better. 

Stick To The Basics

When communicating during a crisis, don’t be tempted to reinvent the wheel. Authentic communication is possible using the fundamental tools and techniques and of effective communication. So what exactly are those? Here are some suggestions:

  • Find common pain points between your brand and your customers.
  • Give facts, but don’t overwhelm people with numbers or jargon.
  • Keep it conversational, not scripted.
  • Don’t hide the negatives and balance them with the positives. 
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. The main goal is to provide relevant information and to reassure the audience.
  • Bring it back to your values, and explain how those values support your crisis response plan.

Building Your Crisis Communication Plan

A crisis communication plan is an internal document that will guide your company through the event, whether it is caused by natural disasters or health emergencies. At the very least, this document should include the following:

  • The why: The reasons and context behind the crisis.
  • The who: Specify who can activate the plan and establish a crisis communications team. You will want to appoint a spokesperson with excellent interpersonal skills too.
  • The how: Outline how you will handle internal and external communications as well as the steps needed to manage them. Also, account for how you will evaluate the response to your communications – you need to know what’s working and what isn’t.
  • The what: Include the communication channels or tools you will use (e.g. website, email, social media, press releases, etc.). 

RELATED: How To Design An Omnichannel Marketing Planning

Remember that crises have stages and so should your communications plan. Each stage has an objective, so you will need to adapt the content of your communications as follows:

  • Early stage: Clear instructional and informative messages.
  • Mid stage: Practical information about how to adapt to the new situation.
  • Final stage: A “what’s next” approach with a focus on recovery.

Five Additional Tips For Authentic Communication In Times Of Crisis

  1. Make sure you do not leave anyone behind, whether they are staff, contractors, suppliers, or neighbouring businesses. You want to be proactive and encourage dialogue with all your stakeholders.
  2. Communicate using your stakeholders’ preferred channels. Social media communications are effective to deliver a crisis response due to their reach and immediacy. Moreover, people are spending more time on those platforms now, but be aware that patterns of engagement have changed.
  3. Keep all crisis communications updates in the same place. This could be a microsite or an FAQ section. 
  4. Acknowledge your weaknesses. Everyone feels vulnerable in a crisis, so admitting to it can build a genuine connection with your audience. Honesty and transparency are the main drivers of trust and can help strengthen your market position.
  5. Make it about people. Highlight the human factor when explaining how your organization is tackling the crisis.


Effective communication in times of crisis requires striking the right balance between being authentic on one side and managing the natural reactions of alarm and confusion. Now is the time to start planning a coordinated communications strategy that shows the most authentic side of your brand. Get in touch today if you’d like to speak to a digital communications specialist about how to make this happen.