Ethics in Branding - Studio Humankind
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I'm a brand and website designer specializing in ethical storytelling for organizations tackling complex social issues around the globe.

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Ethics in Branding

Ethical branding includes everything from honest and trustworthy marketing, to building strong relationships with consumers through a set of shared values, which is why 92% of Millennial consumers say they would prefer to buy from ethical companies. It relies on a long-term strategy mixed of education, campaigning, and activism while helping consumers make more conscious decisions on their purchases.

According to Wordstream, it’s about changing the way we think about how goods are provided, the people who make and sell the things we buy every day, and the communities that rely on fair, ethical trade to survive. It’s about cultivating brand loyalty by aligning your organizational values with those of your ideal customers.

Because let’s be honest. Our consumption-oriented society is often perceived as incompatible with the words “ethical” and “sustainable”.

  1. We consume too much.
  2. We purchase things that we don’t need.
  3. We purchase things that are harmful to humans, animals and the environment.

And worse, we are often not even aware of it.

In modern society, companies have indeed a powerful role to play. Some corporations have even become so big that their actions and strategic decisions have a direct influence on governmental policies and the lives of citizens. The Branding Journal suggests that due to their systematic importance it is vital that corporations exert their power in a way that contributes to public good and that they play their part in finding social and environmental solutions for the future of this planet.

Ethical marketing fair trade principles

Image via World Fair Trade Organization

So what are some ways we can continue to be mindful about our ethical approach to branding and marketing? Consider the following from Forbes as a checklist to ensure you are continuing to run your business in the most ethical and responsible way for our world and for your consumers:

Cause support: First and foremost, you’ll have an easy gateway to support a cause that’s personally important to you. That could mean donating money to a specific charitable organization or simply raising awareness that a certain problem in the world exists. Either way, you’ll be making a positive contribution to your community and, possibly, the world.

Niche appeal: Some people have dedicated their lives to a specific mission, whether it’s reducing their personal carbon footprint or making sure children have access to books. If you align your business with a cause like this, you’ll strongly appeal to the niche associated with that cause. Even if your business charges more or is less convenient, you can easily beat the competition with this angle.

Differentiation: If you’re struggling to find a way to differentiate your business from competitors’ with traditional modes of differentiation, like choosing a new target audience or different brand voice, an ethical stance could be a godsend. It’s an easy way to make your brand stand out, assuming it fits appropriately and gets plenty of visibility.

Recruiting benefits: Today, employees care about the ethics of the companies they work for more than ever before. If your company has a strong ethical focus at its center, it’s going to make recruiting much easier; people will be more interested in applying to work for your company, and they’ll be more likely to stick around for the long haul.

Choosing a unique angle: Again, this can’t be something simple and broad like “going green.” If your cause is going to be effective, you’ll need to choose something unique — and preferably something that isn’t already getting a lot of attention. One of the best benefits of this approach is differentiation, so find a way to stand out from the crowd.

Truly integrating your ethics: An ethical brand identity isn’t a casual one-time mention that you’re interested in a specific cause. This needs to be truly integrated into your identity, manifesting itself in your company name, logo, and various marketing materials. Make it impossible to think about your brand without thinking about this ethical consideration.

Avoiding the image of pandering: If you try to shoehorn an ethical cause into your brand identity, it could be seen as unconscionable pandering. Make sure you approach this with authenticity and sincerity.Every time you launch a campaign, a new product, or a service, secure an “ethical” sign-off from your target group. Develop your own independent consumer panel (a representative target audience) and disclose the perception of the product, as well as the reality. Let the consumers make the final call.

Align perception with reality: Your talents might very well lie in brilliantly creating convincing perceptions, but how do they stack up against the reality? If there’s a mismatch, one or the other must be adjusted in order for them to be in sync.

Be 100% transparent. Nothing less: The consumer needs to know what you know about them. Furthermore, they must be told exactly how you intend to use the information. If they don’t like what they see, they need a fair and easy way to opt out.

Almost any product or service has a downside, so don’t hide it: Tell it as it is. Be open and frank, and communicate the negatives in a simple and straightforward way.

All your endorsements and testimonials must be real: don’t fake them.

Be open and transparent about the environmental impact of your brand including its carbon footprint and sustainability factors.

Do not hide or over-complicate any legal language you must place in your ads or on your packaging. These should be treated just like any other commercial message, using a simple, easy-to-understand language.

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