Last week I was talking with some friends about Coca-Cola and how it has once again topped the list of global waste producers in 2020. We agreed on how important the environment is, how the alternatives to plastic packaging are better and how companies like Coke have a duty to the planet.
It is safe to say that our collective opinion of Coca-Cola was not very high but despite our high horses, there was a case of Diet Coke on the floor and a Coke Zero in the fridge.
How much consideration your clients give your values isn't clear. What also isn't clear, is how much you should communicate your values to the market as part of a marketing approach.
Do clients use values & ethics to make decisions?
While there is definitely evidence to suggest that values impact decision making, it's clear that ethics and values may not have as strong an impact as we might like.
NYU Stern's Centre for Sustainable Business on U.S consumers revealed that 50% of growth in consumer packaged goods from 2013 to 2018 came from sustainable products.
That is an excellent start - but the other 50% in growth has to be coming from somewhere.
The uncertainty of how values impact consumer preferences is reinforced by the list of the top growing companies from 2020, it reads like a list of sins.
1. Amazon: +$401.1bn
2. Microsoft: +$269.9bn
3. Apple: +$219.1bn
4. Tesla: +$108.4bn
5. Tencent +$93bn
6. Facebook +$85.7
These companies have been investigated or fined for environmental exploitation, worker exploitation, supplier exploitation, human rights violations, consumer rights violations, privacy violations, planned obsolescence, election interference and ties to white supremacy among other things that should all have consumers concerned.
These firms added $1,177,000,000,000 to their bottom line in 2020.
Taking a step back from research and being sensible for a second, its almost entirely certain that clients do take a firm's track record into consideration. It is certain that you do not need to be a paragon of goodness to grow in 2020.
Should your company ethics and values be part of your marketing?
Values are the core of what your company and its people believe in. They are the moral grounding for how to tackle difficult situations.
Firms can't call on Kant, Nietzsche or Socrates to formulate their values statements. As a result, they end up sounding generic - despite how important they are at a core level.
Here's a real example from three real and very different companies:
|Company A||Company B||Company C|
|We put our customers and people first||We do what matters||Put people first|
|We are good neighbours||We think and act boldly||Take pride in what we do|
|We open our doors to everyone||We respect each other and draw strength from our differences||Respect others|
|We get better together||We never stop learning and improving||Strive to be the best|
|We do the right thing||We do what is right||Act with Integrity|
According to values statements. All these firms have the same moral compass, approach problems in the same manner and run their businesses the same way. Except in practice, they don't have the same approach to much - because one sells Hamburgers, one is a big 4 accountancy and one is a London hospital.
It's difficult to build a competitive advantage around something that your competitors, your lunch provider and your Doctor all use to "drive everything that [they] do".
The place of ethics and values in marketing
The values of your firm probably aren't written on the wall. They are little things that happen when nobody is watching. The little things define how your people act and how your firm is perceived. Values and ethics are the real competitive advantage of your firm. They influence how and where you conduct your marketing efforts.
All this is true, but company values should not be the basis of your messaging. "We always act with integrity" should not make it into your campaign copy.
Instead, focus on the expertise, the people and the capabilities that your firm brings to the market. Focus on the opportunities and threats coming down the road for our industry and the knowledge that makes your firm the obvious choice to tackle those obstacles.