So what is an ethical brand?
As things stand, claiming to be an ethical brand is still on the whole considered to be on the outside, or even the wrong side, of mainstream commerce. Many large corporations have corporate responsibility policies in line with good business practice and many of these are genuine and sincere.
However, these policies are not to be be confused with my understanding of the definition of an ethical brand. As with most things in life, perfection is rarely achievable but a good thing to aim for. I want to work with people who really believe that being an ethical brand is the future of business. Responding to this idea is more than half the battle. This and the willingness to move in this direction are vital criteria.
The ultimate aim is to reach a point where all businesses embrace ethical values as an everyday consideration, a cornerstone of their activities in the same way that they would consider exceptional customer service, for example.
Things they are a changin'! I believe that businesses that think this way will be well placed to take advantage of an increasing desire from consumers for genuine ethical products and services; it’s much more than a passing fad, it’s a new and better way of living.
Consumers can easily be misled by slick marketing techniques that create an ethical ‘aura’ around a brand. Packaging, symbols, colours and typefaces can all be employed to cynical effect to sell to unsuspecting consumers the supposed home grown, hand made, artisan credentials of a product. Marketing that is just packaging. But without a genuine ethos it isn’t genuine. It only serves to dazzle and confuse the consumer (aka ‘brand washing’).
You could argue that the reason why some products go to all this trouble to pretend to be an ethical brand is proof that ethical brands are on to something. There is very strong evidence that millennial consumers, i.e. your future customers, would claim to prefer genuinely ethical brands.
In terms of a water-tight definition, there will always be grey areas of debate. As I mentioned before, it’s a journey. No one is perfect. It’s as important to try and set out on the right path as it is to get to your destination. And on the way, constantly monitoring and improving your direction.
For start-up businesses, the decision to operate with strong ethical values will be much easier if it is built into the brand’s ‘why’ right at the beginning. It then becomes an important brand quality that binds the company. It will enhance brand loyalty, internally and externally, and create a culture where everyone feels responsible and accountable for the success of the business, working towards the same aim.
Working with The Ethical Branding Co.
What to aim for
I’m indebted to Ethical Brand for their blueprint for how an ethical brand should behave:
Tune into the interests and needs of your stakeholders
Be willing to change course and improve
Act on genuine concerns and feedback. In this way you can develop a culture of openness and continual improvement. Always question how things can be done better!
Along with these guidelines I would add:
Take responsibility for your actions!
For the purpose of working with The Ethical Branding Co. you need to consider the following questions:
Does the production of your product exploit people?
Do your products or services harm animals?
Are your products as environmentally friendly as possible? E.g. recyclable packaging, biodegradable components etc.
Are your raw materials from a sustainable source?
Does everyone in the business have an equal opportunity to develop and gain promotion?
Does your business have an environmental policy?