Max Kailis
Max Kailis 25 October 2018

5 ways to find the value in values

Ethics. We don’t see a lot of it in politics and even among celebrities nowadays. Despite this, when it comes to brands, ethics are on the rise. This means social and environmental principles. And is shown by purchasing trends: Gen Y and Z consumers dedicate over three quarters of overall spending to ethical products, with consumers overall willing to spend twenty percent more on ethical products.

It’s a trend that brands cannot afford to ignore, and surveys show that society as a whole is actually getting nicer. As the consumer value attached to ethics grows, brands are being forced to reassess their approach and attitude to it. What they’re finding is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But what is driving this movement and encouraging this change in attitude?

Social media amplification of news has had a big part to play. Consumers are flooded with ‘issue-led’ marketing and more choice than ever. Campaigns championed by NGOs, commercial activism from companies like Lush and Patagonia or trailers for serious and intense documentaries like the popular Blue Planet series. More and more people want to invest in brands and products that are doing their bit for the environment.

Whether the motivation for brands to make a change stems from their own morals or even from a tactical approach, the question is, in what way can a brand position or even reposition itself to fit with these changing times and needs?

At Start we know the importance of distinguishing your brand from the crowd. Taking this mindset on board we’ve identified five ethical ‘brand personality types’ and ways for brands to move forward.

1. The Unsung Heroes

Some companies are already there and are actively doing good things, but people aren’t always aware. Perhaps their brand principles and products are reaching the higher ethical standards and all they need is a straightforward opportunity to shout about them.

For most brands, there’ll be some elements of your operations that straddle the ethical line, but how much this matters to your customers’ individual sensitivities varies from brand-to-brand. Take McDonalds, who are set to ban plastic straws in all of its restaurants in UK and Ireland, yet are recently being threatened with staff strikes over pay and employee treatment.

The next stage for brands like this is to try and communicate your positive actions on all accounts.

2. Laying it all out

Ok, these brands may not be doing all the right things – but they’re not actively doing anything bad. They don’t need to apologise for their behaviour and these campaigns are playing on transparency (one of the advertising industry’s favourite buzzwords). In a recent survey, 53% of consumers said they would be more likely to consider brands that are transparent on social media for their next purchase.

For example, take Patagonia’s ongoing environmental campaigns. It’s a core part of the brands business model and marketing strategy. The brand is committed to bringing their resources and connections to help combat threats to wild-ness. They believe we all have a chance to make a difference so want to take a stand.

Simply advertising that you’re not doing anything wrong is an asset in itself, helping consumers believe in your brand message and want to purchase the product.

3. ‘Preactive’

The combination of being proactive and reactive.

Your brand may be happy to make some changes to its running, but nothing that will rock the boat too much. Start with something small. You never know the impact it could have if done right.

If your brand’s ethics have typically not been a crucial part of your marketing messagings, choosing to change something small yet obvious to align with regulations, and then maximising it from a PR perspective can be a valuable tool.

For example, following the proposal to regulate single use plastics, Iceland are set to bin plastic bags for pre-packaged bananas and instead will sell them in a recycled paper band in a move the supermarket says will soon be ‘saving 10 million plastic bags a year’.

Actions like this help create a balance – they show the consumer that as a brand they are actively changing things but also delay an impactful and costly change. It’s about timings – and not missing the boat to who’s done ‘it’ first.

4. Changing for the better 

Those companies that go above and beyond to make a change, and most importantly a change for good in the world can position themselves at the head of their game. Just look at TOMS’ One for One programme – with every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. People in developing nations receive a free pair of glasses or footwear every time someone makes a purchase.

Committing to ethical trends that are aligned with your company’s long-term activities help drive sales and earned media, meaning you gain the sustainable benefits.

5. Quite contrary

Some brands are set in their ways. They aren’t worried about being controversial in campaigns and may feel that they’re never going to align with rising ethical standards.  There is a counter position to be taken. Aim your message directly to those who don’t engage with trends or jump on the bandwagon.

Sometimes we see very big brands deliberately taking a risk. Nike’s recent campaign with controversial ex-NFL star Colin Kaepernick, had a predictably divided reaction. With eager supporters on one side, and on the other side a whole slew of deriders, from the US President down to furious consumers sharing images of themselves burning their own Nike products. Although it’s in all senses a burning issue, even if Nike’s stance was merely a marketing ploy, it definitely seems to have paid off. The brands online sales grew by 31% in the bank holiday weekend after the ad launched.

These brands aim to communicate across the ethical grain but need to be prepared for backlash – which you should plan to capitalise on.

So, what next?

To ensure success when making changes to your brand’s ethic, it’s crucial that the values you convey align with your core business goals. This could mean a change of projected course for your brand.

Whichever camp your brand falls into, it’s essential that you communicate your beliefs and actions effectively and, wherever possible, track them to evaluate them. And to celebrate them, when they deliver the goods.

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