Practicalities of responsible marketing – rethink how your customers behave

Responsible marketing. Societal marketing. Ethical marketing. Socially responsible marketing. Humanistic marketing. You will have your preference. Moreover, you will have a CSR pundit, philosopher, academic, advisor whose perspectives on responsible marketing you share.

Tempted as I am to join the discourse among the philosophers and wordsmiths, I feel safer looking at the subject from the position of a practitioner. For, when all is said and done, it is what we do in  brand and marketing management which matters. Most of us understand and buy into the big moral, ethical and societal arguments – and may even be inspired by the emerging philosophies – but what really helps is some practicality. Experiential insights from our peers we can draw upon. Good practices and tools we can adapt and use in our daily work.

As marketing and brand pros working in a dynamic, fast-paced world, we can see how emerging technological, social, economic, environmental, political and business trends might affect the substance and style of our marketing responses. Inevitably, there will be some aspect or another of analyzing, planning, developing, organizing, managing and evaluating our market effort which will need to change. It may be an incremental or disruptive change but it has to be authentic: keep us moving true North in terms of sustaining and enhancing customer experience and brand loyalty. No room for puffery, single coats of green or white or any other kind of wash.

There is a great deal which can be done to make our marketing more ‘responsible’. Here are a few items off my checklist:

  • Be even better informed about how our customers buy and use our products/services and how they influence others; 
  • Hold smarter, richer conversations with our customers about who we are, what we stand for, what we do, what we produce; where we make a difference ;
  • Make smarter use of our investment in the Internet and intranets to connect our employees with our external markets;
  • Take marketing beyond the marketers and brand managers to everyone in the company.

Here,  I’ll take the first item – and the others in blogs to come.

If the desired outcomes of marketing responsibly are trust, loyalty and knowledge, then we start with being even better informed about how people buy, use, rate and recommend our products/services. This means auditing and improving how we currently collect, measure, manage, analyze and use our marketing information. Everything from marketing research to how we observe consumer buying behavior to brand metrics to customer service feedback mechanisms can be sharpened. It may be time to shed some habituation – there is little value in collecting millions of points of data  in the same way from same sources and put through the same mill if they do not do the job. If they leave gaps in our knowledge because the rest of the world has moved, we will soon find ourselves out of synch with our customers.

Take the purchasing cycle. What can we learn from reviewing the way people go about making decisions to buy from us? Typically, their previous experience of handling and using the product and the opinion of friends, families and acquaintances counts the most. Rather than rely on advertising or sales material or reviews from the media or consumer-rating organizations, our customers trust people like themselves. In our toolkit, therefore, viral marketing activities need to take a higher priority. The company web site, advertising, press releases, in-store staff recommendations, point-of-sale promotions, demos in public spaces and so on play a secondary role.

Smarter interventions need not be just at the level of how people buy and consume but also at how they communicate. Here, we cannot ignore the fact that the Internet has become a powerful influencing channel. And an impressive generator of social capital. People are discovering and investing in new ways to share what they know and feel faster than most companies. Information is a social asset and people will link to, organize and make it more valuable. The apparent chaos and messiness is not  seen as a problem – but an opportunity to generate new ideas, efficiency and social knowledge.  Marketing and brand managers need to be as good as if not better players in the digital world. We need to be hooked up to the mavens, the connectors and all the other ‘voices’ in our marketplace. Or risk becoming irrelevant in the influencing and buying space. The practical task here two-fold – continuing with our own professional development as marketers but also building capacity in our organization to make more skillful use of the Internet and hold richer conversations with our customers around what we and they mean and expect of responsibility.

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