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The Holy Grail of Successful Marketing: Responsibility

| Friday April 3rd, 2009 | 3 Comments

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With so many companies jumping on the “do good” bandwagon, even more names have emerged for the concept itself — cause marketing, cause-related marketing, cause branding, green marketing, conscious marketing, marketing with meaning, social good marketing, social change marketing and a slew of others. Even the umbrella term of corporate social responsibility is often used interchangeably with cause marketing efforts. But in my ongoing quest for a clear and simple definition, I stumbled across the Responsible Marketing blog, and it all crystallized for me. The common thread isn’t social change or charitable giving. That’s merely the by-product of those types of initiatives.
What binds the myriad of terms is employing your marketing efforts in a way that’s responsible. And while that can mean aligning tactics with a cause, it is not limited to that description. It could also mean responsible use of dollars, reducing unnecessary print marketing materials, or pulling an offensive ad, even if the increased exposure could actually benefit the company. Distilling it further would probably be to simply call it “Ethical Marketing,” but the fact of the matter is that there still needs to be a strategic focus, and Patrick Byers, the mastermind behind the Responsible Marketing blog is committed to helping companies hone that strategy as an outward expression of their core values.


I connected with you through your Responsible Marketing blog. Tell us a little more about the impetus behind creating it.
One day we were talking about how to package green marketing for our clients. The discussion got quite heated: half the room was all for it, the other half felt consumers were becoming cynical about green claims due to greenwashing.
As the conversation progressed, the word “responsible” popped up and then the conversation got really good. What is responsible marketing? Who decides? Is green marketing responsible? Is socially responsible marketing responsible if there’s no ROI? Is doing good always good for business?
I had been working on a book about doing marketing the right way and had, quite frankly, lost my mojo. I’ve been preaching and teaching for years about the three challenges marketers face today: 1) Information overload; 2) Cynical consumers; and 3) A complete lack of trust — but I was never fully satisfied that great Integrated Marketing Communications alone was the complete answer.
Then it all clicked. Doing marketing well isn’t good enough anymore. You can do everything right, and still fail to break through if you can’t gain the trust of increasingly cynical consumers. Responsible marketing had to involve doing things right and doing the right thing.
My mojo restored, I started work on a book about Responsible Marketing immediately. We were considering a blog for my company, Outsource Marketing, but I decided I needed an online lab to test out a few ideas, so we dubbed it the Responsible Marketing Blog instead.
How do you define “Responsible Marketing?” Where do you think that fits into the concept of Cause Marketing?
How do I define it? I believe it’s defined contextually. What’s responsible for some categories and some companies isn’t necessarily so for others. For example, some people thought a Guitar Hero ad featuring Alex Rodriguez, Michael Phelps and Kobe Bryant shot before the Rodriguez and Phelps scandals should have been pulled by Activision. After all, these guys are role models and the video game is being marketed to kids.
Totally irresponsible, right? Well, some argued that it would be irresponsible to pull the ad. The PR associated with the scandals resulted in additional attention for Activision in the form of PR and online views of the ad.
Although I don’t define Responsible Marketing, I have defined seven Responsible Marketing elements, broken out below. “Competency” and “Character” are from Steven M.R. Covey’s book The Speed of Trust. The definitions are my own.

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I briefly descibe the graphic above and relationship between Responsible Marketing and trust here: http://responsiblemarketing.com/blog/?p=491
You’ve said that “the difference between success and failure comes down to one word: responsibility.” Please expand on that theory. Can you offer an example of it in practice?
I speak frequently and I often ask my audience, “how many people here are pleased with their marketing results?” Even if there are several hundred people in the crowd, nary a hand goes up.
Later in the speech, I ask, “Now, how many of you are working from a marketing plan — be honest.” Doesn’t matter if the attendees are from big companies or small, again, nary a hand goes up.
From a competency standpoint, you’ll never be happy with your marketing results if you won’t do the fundamentals, even poorly.
But even if you nail it with your marketing, if you company isn’t trusted, you won’t convert customers. For years, Hyundai was a punchline. Their cars were unreliable and unattractive. They’ve been working hard to gain the trust of consumers by offering a 10-year warranty and winning some reliability awards. But what has really stood out is their Hyundai Assurance Program where, if you lose your job, you can return your car to the dealership without penalty.
Brilliant.
How does your company, Outsource Marketing, deliver on this concept for clients?
Of course, we’d like to think we deliver the “competency” side of the equation as well as anyone.
On the “character” side, we start by looking at what they are already doing. Most American businesses are quite generous, but typically lack focus. One of our clients was involved in over a dozen things, none of them related, and some of them they weren’t even sure why.
We work to learn what’s really important to them: Finding a cure for cancer? Supporting education or the arts? Providing malaria nets in Africa?
Then we try to help them find a way to bring their values into their business. For one client, that meant a large company-wide donation to a food bank on their clients’ behalf instead of sending them tchotchkes.
What company or brand would you say is leading in Responsible Marketing? Why?
Subaru knows their customers as well as anyone. They are socially and environmentally responsible, and they stick to their key messaging. I loved their “Share the Love” cause marketing campaign at the end of last year.
Tide’s work to create a more environmentally-friendly laundry detergent and helping disaster victims with “Loads of Hope” also puts them on my list.
Starbucks should be on the list as well. Their free cup of coffee to encourage national service and circulation of the GOOD Sheet were great examples of Responsible Marketing at work.
Apple, whose marketing has always been good, is starting to improve the “character” side of their Responsible Marketing Balance Sheet lately.
Where do you see most cause marketing efforts failing?
Sadly, it’s usually competency and/or budget. Lack of organization. Poor promotion. And increasingly, too much competition. I’ve been asked to give to clean water funds for Africa at least a dozen times in the last year through a host of events.
How important do you think intention and accountability are in launching a cause marketing campaign?
Both are important, but intention less so. If a company jumps aboard the cause marketing bandwagon because they think consumers will trust them and buy more products, so be it. The more good being done the better.
Accountability is important in any effort in marketing, and in business for that matter. Measurement is critical, too.
How can companies prove they are being responsible in their marketing efforts?
That’s a great question. I’m not sure if they can prove it beyond what we see in the marketplace.
What best practices have you observed in marketing responsibly?
I’ll speak from the “character” side of the equation. There are a host of things that can be done, but everything should start from strategy. I want our clients to take part in social good, but I want them to benefit from it.
Finding the right social or environmental cause to associate with is critical. The target audience should share some DNA with people who are passionate about the cause. If a marketer gets too far off track, they might be deemed a greenwasher or even a pinkwasher.
Do you have any predictions for how the market will evolve as more companies shift toward responsible marketing practices?
Eventually some elements of Responsible Marketing will become commonplace as our culture changes, by choice and by mandate. Eventually, carbon offsets will be mandated and all our marketing will be green. Eventually, the minority will become the majority and everyone will be doing multicultural marketing.
I also hope, eventually, spam will be eradicated and all printed catalogs will have an opt-out option printed clearly on the cover.
And eventually, none of the above will be a competitive advantage anymore. So the question for business is, what are you waiting for? Do some good now while you’ll still be rewarded for it.
Now that’s responsible.
Branding your integrity…

Patrick highlighted some important elements of effective Responsible Marketing, the most important of which I think goes deeper than just marketing messaging and tactics, Even beyond the product or service you’re marketing, it’s about behaving responsibly as a brand, and letting what you stand for speak for itself. Then, consumers opt to do business with you for what you represent, not for which flavor-of-the-month cause you support or what percentage of sales you donate to charity. When you build a relationship with customers rooted in integrity and they trust that the decisions you make as a company have their best interests in mind and your eye on the greater good, it’s not a matter of benefitting from the halo effects of a cause-related campaign; it’s about embodying the principles behind it and the conscience that drives it.


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  • IndiePma

    Very good article. I need extreme marketing help and this was insightful.

  • http://www.business-ethics-pledge.org Shel Horowitz

    Patrick Byers’ blog is one I read almost daily, for over a year. He’s one smart guy, and I always enjoy it when he shows a pop-culture example and asks us if it’s responsible.
    One of the reasons Patrick and I have become friends and colleagues is that I have been beating the drum for ethical, customer-focused, cooperative, Green marketing approaches for seven years, most notably in my award-winning sixth book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, http://www.principledprofit.com
    Shel Horowitz, Founder of the Business Ethics Pledge http://www.business-ethics-pledge.org

  • http://www.marc-portugal.com Marc Portugal

    Wonderful article and ideas. I just subcsribed to your blog as well. Thanks for such helpful information!

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