How to Avoid Manipulation in Marketing With These Ethical Practices

The Way You Market Matters

If manipulation in marketing gets you down, don‘t worry. There is another way.

In 1991, when I received my marketing degree, we didn‘t have all the sleaze that we have today. 

I also didn‘t realize how much destruction marketing would do to people and our planet. Sure, I knew about false promises and labeling as well as sleazy advertising, but that was about it.

It wasn‘t until the internet was introduced that everyone had the opportunity to make money. And as soon as you wave bills in front of people‘s faces, they will do almost anything to grab it.

Marketing Created a Monster

In our society, we were born and raised to value material things over what truly makes us happy: Relationships and experiences. 

Instead, we buy stuff for the sake of buying stuff. Even if we don’t need it and many times, even if we don’t want it. 

Why? Because

  • We’re lured into thinking we’re getting a bargain.
  • We want to impress someone else.
  • We think it‘ll make us feel better.

We‘ve created a greedy society of “Gimme, gimme now!“

No please, no thank you, just gimme! And that as fast as you can!

Much of this excessive consumerism can be blamed on the manipulation in marketing.

Either we see ads that encourage us to buy things we don’t need. 

Or we feel the pressure of wanting to buy the latest gadget.

Or we feel better when we buy cheap clothes because we certainly can’t wear the same dress to a different party where the same neighbor will be attending.

Since we‘ve been taught to want more stuff, our closets and drawers are so full, we have to regularly sort through it all just so that we make room to buy more new things.

And, we’ve maxed out our credit cards to the point of bankruptcy. Talk about insanity.

The Chicken vs. the Egg Scenario

We, consumers, wanted cheap and fast and the industries gave it to us.

Or was it the other way around and the industries showed us that we‘ll be happier with cheap and fast?

It doesn’t matter if the chicken came before the egg. This discussion is a moot point as addictions, even a shopping one that seems „harmless“, can cause families to split up.

And let‘s not forget about all the animal cruelty and destruction of our environment resulting from the manufacturing of cheaply-made products. That‘s an entire different post in itself.

Fact is: Humans, animals and our planet are suffering because of our spending habits and it‘s about time we make some changes.

Since we have to get to the root of the problem, I‘m starting in my own industry because I see a lot of change that can easily take place in marketing. Not just easily, but effectively without any stress on your sales or psyche.

Let‘s change the way people shop and market.

Thinking Strategic

My mission as the founder of Ethical Brand Marketing is to help purpose-driven brand owners create an ethical marketing strategy that will help them increase revenue so that they can become change creators in their own industry and be able to realize their vision of a better world, whatever that means for them. 

The term ethical means something different to each person and in marketing, it‘s still a fairly new term in the practical sense although the words conscious, mindful and ethical have been chosen to describe how we should market for a very long time.

And yet, we’re still seeing a lot of manipulation in marketing to this day. The reason for this is because humans don’t like change and the manipulation practices have been proven to work.

Why change a running system? Because of all the reasons mentioned above.

When you think about marketing your purpose-driven business, I challenge you to accept and understand that you are unique. 

Seriously, you don‘t want to be like everyone else. 

The reason why you‘re in the business you‘re in is because you want to make changes, so why revert back to traditional marketing methods when you can implement new ethical practices?

Practices that are easy and effective.

7 Ethical Marketing Practices You Want to Use in Your Strategy:

1. Rounded Prices

We’re so used to seeing odd prices such as $5,99, $247 and $99, but it’s not because it makes our lives easier, it’s psychology.

Since we read from left to right, the number on the far left is most important and if it‘s lower, we feel like we’re getting a bargain. 

Even if we have brains and know better.

No matter how „harmless“ it may seem and everyone uses it, it’s still manipulation.

As an active member of the ethical move., I inspire others to take the Pricing Pledge.

It’s an easy first step to show your customers that you don‘t want to use manipulation in marketing.

2. Honesty and Transparency

I’m sure you’ve read that transparency is vital in marketing. Yadi, yadi, ya.

Yes, that term is overused, I’ll admit.

BUT, it’s more important now than ever because greenwashing is on the rise and extremely dangerous.

The first time I heard the term greenwashing was at the first Green Tourism Camp in 2011. Greenwashing was practiced way before 2011, but I just hadn’t heard that term before.

Since then – almost a decade later – greenwashing is EVERYwhere. Unfortunately.

When you read “We don’t believe in animal testing” on a shampoo bottle, what you’re actually holding in your hand is a product that WAS tested on animals. They may not ‘believe’ in it, but they also haven’t taken the measures to stop doing it either.

Believing doesn’t always mean supporting because if they truly believed in supporting animal rights, they would have written “We don’t test on animals” or slapped a leaping bunny or peta cruelty-free logo on their packaging.

It’s also one thing to say “We donate 5% to various charities.”

What does 5% actually mean? Five percent of sales or profit? And what charities do you support?

And another to say “For every 10 dollars you spend, we spend $1 to plant a tree in the Amazon rainforest through our charity partner: One Tree Planted. For more details, click here.”

THIS is what honesty and transparency means.

It proves you’re the real deal and makes you stand out against others. 

It helps your customers decide if they want to support you or not.

It’s what your customers want and actually expect from you.

3. Abundance and Patience

This is a tough one because I’m talking about avoiding the so-called scarcity and urgency tactics we see all over the net.

“Only 3 spots left!!

“If you buy this online course before midnight tonight, we’ll throw in 10 bonuses worth $2475!”

“Quick, time is running out! This is the 1st of 15 mails you’ll get over the next 5 days to pressure you to buy this product!”

“Oh, sorry, even though we’ve advertised this toy so that your child begs you to get it for Christmas, we decided to lie to you and say it’s sold out so that you’re forced to buy another gift for Christmas. And THEN – get this, we’re pretty darn clever – when January rolls out and we want to keep up our sales, we’ll advertise the hell out of it so that your kid will say, “Mommy, Daddy, guess what, it’s back on sale!” and you’ll say, “OK, we feel guilty, let’s buy it today!””

True story. This is what the major toy manufacturers do to manipulate parents.

Scarcity and urgency tactics were invented to cause people to develop a fear of missing out (FOMO).

What comes after most FOMO purchases? Purchases that: 

  • No one needs or wants.
  • Make people feel unhappy and angry they wasted their money. I have several unfinished online courses on my roster. You too?
  • Increase our landfill and further destroy our environment because they get thrown out.

So, while these tactics can be successful to get the sale, they’re damaging for a business’ reputation and to our planet and have no place in this ethical space.

I must add this though. If you really only have 3 spots left, fine. 

If you honestly have to sell by a certain deadline, OK.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but, please, for the love of all things beautiful on this Earth – be mindful of the way you communicate it. 

You don’t have to promote fear or pressure to get people to buy from you.

If you have an established and trusting relationship with your customers or clients, they will continue to support you, so instead, help them feel good about their purchase by showing them what your offer will do for them in the long-run.

Nurture your customers, don’t make them feel inadequate.

4. Long-term Collaborations

So many business owners and marketers feel that competition is a negative thing. 

Have you’ve heard the phrase: Collaboration is the new competition? This is because you can’t create change alone. 

You need the help and support from others and the best and easiest way is to get it is from those who understand your own industry.

You have competition in both the ethical and traditional space as you not only want to serve the conscious consumer, you also want to bring your products and services to the mass market so that change can take place in this world. 

So that you’re able to realize your vision.

As a change creator, you have the opportunity to partner up with whomever you want.

Thinking Big

A traditional partner can help you get your products into big retail stores.

How many books about doing business better are sold on Amazon for profit and reachability sake? Even though we all know Amazon employees aren’t even allowed to pee?

Probably about 99% of them.

There’s also nothing wrong with trying to sell your bamboo toothbrushes in Wal-Mart. In fact, just looked online and they’re already being sold there!

Sure, you have different ethos and missions, BUT, if you have big retailer partners, the mass market will find out about you. You will increase sales and credibility. And you’ll nurture that seed that’s been growing in everyone’s mind since Greta showed up on the 6 o’clock news a year ago.

I feel though, that too many in the echo chamber are holding back because of their ethos.

I’m guilty of this too and maybe I should offer my inspiring children’s fantasy book on Amazon. ??? 

In all honesty, we have to be bolder if we want to help change the way people shop. 

And just think of your leadership role in this equation. What if you helped a bigger brand become more sustainable with your amazing communication talents? How incredible would that be?

Staying in Your Own Safe Space

NOW, if you honestly feel like you’d be giving away your soul to the devil, then please don’t go this route. It has to feel good for you. You won’t be doing anyone a service if you’re wrapped up in guilt.

Not only do you have the opportunity to collaborate with the big guys, you can – and should – also find ways to collaborate with your competition in the ethical space.

I see this as a huge challenge for some though, especially in the sustainable fashion space as fashion is traditionally a highly competitive industry. Too bad though because it’s a huge lost opportunity.

But, think about it, you could:

  • Organize a fashion show together as most customers are not loyal to only one brand.
  • Purchase your materials in bulk to get a better price.
  • Organize a mastermind group with colleagues to discuss trends and business challenges to help each other out.

This will put your fashion brand in front of customers you wouldn’t otherwise reach and save you time and money. Win-win.

There are so many ways to collaborate inside and outside the ethical space with no need to ‘beat your competition’ as you’re in this together and there’s room enough for all of you.

The possibilities really are endless.

5. Brilliant Customer Service

During my corporate marketing days, I worked for a company that was highly stressed about their competition. 

Me, as their marketing director? Not so much.

I didn’t feel the need to concentrate on them. 

Because concentrating on our competition that was in the game for decades longer and had the highest market share in the world wasn’t worth my time.

It wasn’t a Coke vs. Pepsi scenario with us battling over the claim of ‘being better’. It was more like an Apple vs. Microsoft case whereas our brand was Apple, the brand that was different and appealed to a more quality-driven audience. With a higher product quality and that of customer service, care and attention. THAT was our focus and what set us apart.  

Not only that, since it costs more money to gain new customers than it does to keep existing ones, I recommend to do all you can do to nurture your own customers, not someone else’s.

6. Valuable Connections via Social Media

Social media is a great way to connect with others. It brings old school friends and ex-work colleagues together and now we can easily communicate with people from around the world.

That’s what it was all about over 10 years ago anyway. Now, it’s also the place to go for trolling and faking it until you’re making it and while we’re at it, not getting compensated for all of our data that is being sold and making the head cheeses of these platforms filthy rich.

Just think, if we were to receive $0,01 every time Facebook sold our data, we’d all be rich and they’d still make a considerable profit.

But we’ll never see that day and now we have bots wasting our time and interrupting our day instead of humans. Oh, the joy!

And those who follow you on Instagram only to get your follow so that they can turn around and unfollow you again.

This is not the social media world I signed up for. Neither did you.

You signed up to have real conversations with real humans.

Ice Cold Lead Nurturing 

Social media is at the top of the funnel in your marketing strategy.

It’s often where you meet your potential customers for the first time.

Even if there are no guarantees in marketing, I will guarantee this: No one wants to be hard pitched right after meeting you. It’s like asking someone to marry you on the first date.

Your audience will probably NOT visit your link in bio on Instagram, so you have to nurture them differently than on Facebook.

And since your posts aren’t getting shown like they used to 10 years ago, you have to learn how to use your time wisely.

Is it on constant posting and hashtag research or engagement to get to know each other better?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s the latter!

Facebook and co. are now being forced to make social media non-sleazy which is one reason why they change their algorithms so much. If they don’t do this, they will be sent back to court again and again and be forced to pay a lot of money because they will not win this battle.

So, while they’re trying to weed out the sleaze, it’s hurting your stats, but you have to play by their rules and that means you have to engage. 

They want to see comments, not necessarily likes.

They want to see activity in groups, not so much promotion on your business page.

Just like with Google. We all now know that keyword stuffing and black hat SEO tactics penalizes a website, so no one in their right mind is doing that anymore. Not that doing it before was cool, but at least now it’s punished.

Spam commenting on social media is also now being phased out and soon, the visibility of the number of likes of an IG post will be phased out in ALL countries, not just a few like it is today. This is to reduce the imposter syndrome that makes people feel bad on social media.

This is a step in the right direction because we are now learning to put the social back in social media and nurture our valuable connections so that they become our customers.

So that we actually see a return on investment in our social media strategy. Companies like LUSH don’t need social media anymore, so they stopped cold turkey. But you’re not LUSH and you need to grow your audience first and social media is the cheapest way to do that.

7. Ethical Sales Pitch

When I received my marketing degree in 1991, I really sucked at interviewing so landed a crappy inside sales job. It was horrible and I only stayed there for one year.

I am not a good saleswoman even though I sold more Girl Scout cookies in my troop year after year and that’s why my mom said I should go into marketing. 

My secret? Going door-to-door during the icy upstate New York winters and getting those empathy sales from kind grandmas who had already bought a few boxes from their own granddaughter.

Selling in person is a different story than online though. We’re not standing outside someone’s door clattering our teeth at the mere age of 12.

How to Close the Sale 

Since customers buy when the perceived value far exceeds the price, you’re faced with the challenges of finding the right customers and justifying a high production cost if you’re product-based or proving your expertise usually without a full guarantee if you’re service-based.

In order to close the sale, you have to help your potential customers make the right decision.

This could very well mean NOT hiring or buying from you because 

  1. They honestly don’t have the money right now or 
  2. If the wrong person buys from you, they may be unhappy and write a bad review.

Being honest (#2) really is the best policy even if it means not getting that sale.

It’s when you create an incredible offer that appeals to your ideal customer without the pressure of a hard pitch that you have a good chance of closing that sale.

Dare to be Assertive

I also see a lot of holding back with service-based social entrepreneurs because they’re either afraid of being sleazy or don’t want to away too much information.

Thing is, if you don’t present your offer, you’ll never make the sale and your customers will go somewhere else. 

That’s certainly not good for business either.

Key Takeaways about Making Marketing Ethical:

1. Show Respect: Market Like You’d Want to be Marketed To
If you feel icky about a particular marketing tactic, don’t use it in your own strategy and stay clear of those companies that do use them.

Be mindful of your audience and before creating any promotions, think about how you can nurture and help your customers solve a problem, not how you can make more money off of them.

2. Know Your Worth: Do More of What Makes You Happy
You’re in the business you’re in because you know you can do things better and provide a high-quality product or service. Implement tactics in your marketing strategy that are fun for you and your ideal customers because at the end of the day, we all just want to be happy.

3. Dare to be Rare: Show Your True Brand Colors
You’re selling to humans who have emotions. By connecting with your audience, you’ll be able to show your brand personality in creative ways so that you can attract those who want to see more.

Those who are entertained by your unique power.

You can choose to either be better or different than your competition, but a word to the wise: Being different is better.

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