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Ethics in digital marketing: Why are they important?

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Ethical marketing seems to be the newest buzzword that you can’t stop seeing left and right. You may be wondering why that is relevant at all for your business, and whether you can actually achieve business success by implementing ethics in digital marketing.

In this article, I am giving you the rundown on why ethics are important for your digital strategy, and how they can actually boost your brand’s success.

Ethics in digital marketing: why are they important?

Before we begin, I want to highlight that the topic of ethics contains a lot of grey areas. Ethics, by default, are linked to personal morals and values, and aren’t necessarily about what is legal or illegal. There may not always be a clear distinction between what is right and wrong. This means that it can be difficult to have exact definitions of what ethical marketing may look like.

Let’s start by taking a look at common definitions and how we can interpret ethical principles within business marketing.

What are ethics and how are they relevant for marketing?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘ethics’ as:

“the study of what is morally right and what is not”

I like this definition, as it presents the concept of ethics as a ‘study’, something that has to be explored and examined. They can be deeply personal, so the concept can mean different things to different people.

When it comes to marketing, the practicalities of creating strategies with ethics in mind can be vast, both from a legal standpoint and from a moral one. Furthermore, consumers are increasingly led by their own set of values when making business decisions. This means that brands who continue to ignore them may lose out in the coming years, while those who choose to explore and implement them will foster increased revenue, customer satisfaction and trust.

What is the importance of ethics in digital marketing?

There are two ways that we can look at ethical principles for your digital strategy:

1. Legal guidance: There is a great amount of existing legislation aimed at protecting consumers, which can serve as a guide towards deciding what is right and wrong in your marketing strategy. A good example are data protection laws, or more recently, laws against greenwashing claims. This is a good place to start to make sure that you have the legal bases covered.

2. Generally agreed-upon values: Terms like transparency, honesty, or sustainability may spring to mind when speaking about business values. An aim to never cause harm towards consumers, particular groups of people, or our planet may also be included. The way in which each business does this can be different, and while it may not be illegal to do otherwise, there are many reasons to begin your journey towards building more ethical digital marketing strategies.

#1: Consumers choose brands based on ethical credentials

#2: Having a code of ethics is not enough: you can build brand integrity through ethical implementation

#3: Including ethical values in your marketing can aid your business’ sustainability


Why are ethics important for your digital marketing strategy? 1: consumers choose brands based on ethical credentials ; 2: having a code of ethics is not enough: you can build brand integrity through ethical implementation; 3: including ethical values in your marketing can aid your business' sustainability.


#1: Consumers choose brands based on ethical credentials

Today’s consumer is increasingly critical of businesses’ reputation, actions and values. They are keeping a close eye on who they spend their money on, and most of them are picking brands that fall in line with their own values and beliefs. For example, many of them will look to buy products or services that don’t harm the environment, or who have a good track record of respecting human rights within their supply chains.

“76% of UK adults say that the ethical and sustainable credentials of their products and the reputation of companies or brands are important when making a buying decision.”

Mitchel White (2019), Serve: Stop taking and start giving, your key to sustainable and ethical marketing success

Using ethics in your digital marketing strategy can foster that trust and positive reputation with your customers, ensuring that you are at the top of their minds when they are ready to buy.


#2: Having a code of ethics is not enough: you can build brand integrity through ethical implementation

Building your brand reputation and trust goes beyond having a code of ethics, or simply talking about ethical concepts. Customers can now see beyond empty claims, and you must be prepared to show the receipts.

Here are some visible* aspects where you can take action by using ethical concepts in digital marketing:


      • Your advertising campaigns (e.g. using non-invasive advertising);

      • Social media marketing tactics (e.g. genuine growth vs. bought followers/engagement);

      • Influencer campaigns (e.g. checking that influencers are in line with your code of ethics);

      • Your content messaging and formatting (e.g. using inclusive content that can be easily run through e-reading software, or using image alt text responsibly).

    These areas are easy to notice for your potential customers, meaning that they will be more drawn to your brand thanks to your ethical strategy and overall brand integrity.


    #3: Including ethical values in your marketing can aid your business’ long term sustainability

    Including ethics in your digital marketing strategy goes beyond your consumers – it can also foster positive feelings within your own business, and create a sense of loyalty and pride among your employees, as well as attract new talent with a similar set of values.

    Starting with your marketing department, you can build your internal brand culture and values, which can then aid in creating impact throughout all departments, and even within your supply chain (picture it almost like a game of dominoes, spreading further and further, creating more impact).


    The next steps for your ethical marketing strategy implementation

    There is no better time to begin your ethical marketing journey. It’s a side of business that is full of jargon and still largely undefined, however more marketing professionals are starting to contribute to the field, and there are plenty of resources to start out. Plus, today’s consumers call for more transparency and a clear implementation of ethical values, meaning that we are headed towards a positive resolution between profit and purpose in business.

    Want to know where you stand from an ethical marketing point of view? Book a Digital Boost session with me and we can look through the current challenges and questions you may have about building ethical marketing strategies.

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