Ethical Questions for Marketers – Series Recap

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For the last twelve weeks, we’ve been running a weekly series on ethical questions that marketers and small business owners must be prepared to answer/handle/deal with in a variety of areas. Alas, that series has come to an end. We are really proud of the content it generated. So if you missed out on any of them, you can view them below:

  1. Customer Privacy Concerns
  2. Price Collusion
  3. Price Wars
  4. Spying on Competitors
  5. Pricing Consistency
  6. Targeting your Advertising
  7. Deceptive Ad Practices
  8. Selling with Sex
  9. Paying Influencers
  10. Spam
  11. Chatbots
  12. Native Advertising

Stay tuned next week, when we’ll introduce a brand new series.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 12

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Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Chatbots.

This week’s topic: Native Advertising

Native advertising comes in a variety of different forms – sponsored posts, paid articles, advertorials – but they all mean essentially the same thing. They are content that brands pay to place in places that readers are likely to engage with them.

For example, a company like Blue Apron might sponsor articles on websites dedicated to cooking or healthy eating. In exchange for payment, they might get to include details about the company or its offers, links back to their signup page, and more. Sometimes, they might even get full editorial control over the entire article.

Depending on where these kinds of articles are published, they might take a number of different forms. On some sites, they might look just like any other article. On others, they might get a different look and feel to signal to readers that this content was paid for.

Ethically, the issue is more on the publisher’s side than the advertiser’s. But at the end of the day, they both have some responsibility when it comes to user experience.

The question is this – as a reader, how important is it that I know this content was paid for, and by who? In the Blue Apron example, it might not seem to matter much. But what if it was an article on why people should use a specific credit card, and the bank that offers that card were the ones paying to have it published. You would think the reader is entitled to know that fact, otherwise they might think it an impartial piece of advice.

Native advertising certainly has a place in the larger marketing environment. But the key is that, as brands and publishers, we must be more transparent with our audience. If they don’t know that what they’re reading is content that only exists because someone paid for it, something is wrong.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 11

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Spam.

This week’s topic: Chatbots

Chatbots are a state-of-the-art technology that is allowing companies to automate customer interaction in a way that saves money and provides a better, more consistent user experience. The most sophisticated chatbot technology utilizes artificial intelligence to get smarter over time and provide quality service in an efficient manner.

The technology is still new, and will continue to improve exponentially. So now is the time for brands to begin to learn about how they might deploy chatbots to work for them.

Already, companies from Dominos to General Electric to Uber are using chatbots in some form or another. Whether they’re used for customer service, sales support, product demos, or ordering, marketing teams will use chatbots across a variety of industries and functions in the next decade.

The ethical question we need to ask ourselves is this – how important is it for consumers to know when they are talking to a bot vs. when they are talking to a human being? In the cases where someone receives high-quality service, accomplishes what they set out to, or gets the answers to their questions, this may not matter. In those cases, a bot is just as good as a human, maybe even better.

But in the cases where the interaction is negative, where the answers don’t come, or the customer is left unsatisfied, we have an issue. Was it the bot’s fault? Would a human have handled a situation better?

Since the technology is still so new, most customers today will assume that they are talking to a human being every time, until something or someone tells them otherwise. But in the near future, it may be commonplace to talk to bots, so much so that we assume we are talking to a bot unless proven otherwise.

If I, as a customer, think I am talking to a real person on the other end, is it the company’s responsibility to inform me when I’m not? I don’t know the answer to that, but I tend to err on the side of transparency. It is certainly something that industries and brands are going to have to decide before too much longer.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 10

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Paying Influencers.

This week’s topic: Spam

When I talk to email marketers today, many of them think that spam is a thing of the past. I say good for them. But the reality is that there are still far too many organizations engaged in this years’ old practice. We just have to define it better.

Usually they’re thinking that spam is when you try to deceive or trick someone with email. They think of phishing attacks and Nigerian princes sending you offers with bad links in an attempt to steal your identity or your life savings.

This isn’t spam so much as a scam. And modern email providers like Gmail and Yahoo have gotten so good at filtering that stuff out that it’s hardly a problem anymore.

Today’s spam looks like a perfectly good email. It comes from a legitimate company with a legitimate offer. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that the subscriber never asked for it. They never signed up and they never gave you permission. It’s the email equivalent of a telemarketer’s cold call or a flyer you never asked for in your mailbox. Except that its more prolific than either of those forms of outreach because of the relative cost.

Email is nearly free. But that doesn’t make it okay. Spam can hurt your brand, and get you in trouble. For every 100 people you send an email to unannounced, you might get 1 additional sale. But you will anger 20-30 people to do it. (I’m making up numbers of course, but the reality is not far off)

What your company needs to decide is how far you are willing to go to find new customers. How far are you willing to bend the rules? How many people do you risk turning off of your brand forever?

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 9

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Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Selling with Sex.

This week’s topic: Paying Influencers

Influencer marketing is all the rage these days. Whether or not it works, and is worth the money, is the subject of another post, and not the intention of this series. We want to know, what are the ethical considerations involved?

Influencer marketing is the modern day combination of product placement and celebrity spokesperson. Companies actively seek out people who have a large and engaged social media following and contract with them to promote their product – usually in the form of paid posts across a variety of social media channels.

Ethical questions are involved when it is not made clear that a company is paying to have their product promoted.

For example, most of us know that when a star athlete is wearing clothing with a big Nike swoosh on it, Nike is paying them to do it. We also know that when a movie goes out of its way to show the Ford logo on its main character’s car, Ford is paying for that pleasure.

But what about the fashion company paying the style coach on Instagram to feature their latest pieces? If they don’t admit to being paid, that person’s followers are being misled. Even if the fashion brand does make great clothing, and even if the style coach would have featured it anyway, the fact that they are being paid changes the nature of the relationship.

It is important for any brand that is going to pay people to use and/or promote their products to confront this reality. You may not want your influencers to tell people they are being paid to do what they’re doing, but if they don’t, all you are doing is tricking your potential customers.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.