The marketing moral compass

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

Are marketers the most loathed human beings on earth?

It is a question worthy of an answer. As a marketing professional, I often wonder where the vocation sits on the list of the most respected and appreciated industries out there. Without any material proof, I’m going to guess it’s way down at the bottom of the list, cuddled between the used car salespeople, drug dealers, and assorted scumbags of the world.

Maybe that’s being a little harsh, but our reputations precede us. Marketers have done so many nasty things to society that now require governments and laws to protect the public (think about spam, privacy, and telemarketing). But, it is different times and a business’ success in marketing has a direct correlation to its financial health and walking the line, as Johnny Cash would put it.

Changing the marketing game.

While too many people try to strike it rich on Facebook and Twitter, the true value of social media is how it acts as a truth serum for brands. Companies that have spent any semblance of time online know this, in a profound way. Just look at any number of consumer reviews (on any site) and it’s plain to see: Brands are neither loathed or loved. They are not just purchased or dismissed.

What social media has brought is the ability for every business to understand the tiny nuances that make consumers both appreciate or revolt against something. There is a ton of ambiguity (for every one person who can’t live without a product, there are five people who consider it a complete waste of time, money, and effort). Regardless of these varying opinions, it is clear that there is one component of marketing that offers the opportunity to overcome the negative (without fail): a strong marketing moral compass.

The moral compass of marketing.

You can have a brand that people aren’t interested in, but if you’re always perceived to be doing the right thing (because you are doing the right thing), this will lessen the potential damage of negativity, while adding layers of comfort to those who are already in love with the business.

So, what does your business stand for in relation to your consumers? What types of relationships do you want with your customers? Before you buy that first ad, before you ask for that first email address, before you post that next piece to your Facebook page, spend some serious (and quality) time defining your marketing moral compass.

Ask yourself the right questions.

Most marketers run afoul or try something that inevitably gets them into trouble, because they haven’t defined their moral compass of marketing and they have no bearings when presented with opportunities that could wind up messing with their cultural GPS. So, grab a notebook, a cafe au lait, and start asking yourself these questions:

  • How do you want people to feel before, during, and after they touch your brand?
  • What are you willing to do to get attention for your brand?
  • How important are the relationships that you have with your consumers?
  • How open, responsive, and quick will you be when responding to consumers (positive, negative, and neutral feedback)?
  • What should (and should not) be used in terms of consumer’s information? Do you have their permission and do they understand it?
  • What is the common good that everyone — within the organization — should be working towards?
  • What will be the measurement of a healthy marketing organization? Will it be by revenue? How many people are employed? What consumers think about your work? Something else?
  • Is the overriding success of the work going to be the company’s needs, the needs of others, or something else?

More questions.

Don’t stop there. In answering these questions, more questions (and hopefully better answers) will arise. This work is not meant to be a linear piece of work that ends up in a document, then a vision statement, then posted somewhere on a wall in your office as some kind of finished idea, or a slide in your PowerPoint deck.

Your marketing moral compass is an ever-growing and on-going organic embodiment of what you stand for (and what you can’t stand). When it is roughly defined and in-line with the personal and corporate values of everyone involved, share it with your team, be open to their candid feedback and input, and ensure that it is honestly in-line with the values of the company and the people that you keep.

In a sea of brands who are willing to do anything for a click, a like, a follow, a friend, a retweet, a comment, a review, an impression, and more, being vigilant about having and embodying a strong marketing moral compass will always keep your business on the straight and narrow. Ultimately, it will also be in the defining moments — like an opportunity to have a business benefit that may not be as good for your consumers — when the metal of your marketing moral compass will meet the road.

Having it fixed, in place, and part of the culture will always help you to resolve these moments, and point your business towards the true north.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for Inc. Magazine called “Reboot: Marketing.” I cross-post it on my blog for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here: Inc. Magazine – What Are You Willing to Do for a Click?


About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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