A special guest post from Thea van Diepen!
The day had finally come. After a semester of learning ways to influence people, we were finally going to talk about ethics. I’d taken the course as part of my psychology degree, with the intention of using what I learned to more effectively market my self-published books.
The fact that we’d waited until the final class to talk about ethics bothered me, but I told myself that it would be fine. I anticipated that what we learned in this class would tie everything together, sending us out to use our knowledge responsibly.
Instead, we spent the entire class talking about situations in the ethical grey zone, arguing for or against using the tactics presented. The final thought our professor left us with? Social influence is mostly shades of grey and we can never know what the right thing is to do. So do what you can argue most strongly for.
I was disgusted.
For the past four years, I’ve read blog posts and articles, taken online courses, and spoken with coaches in an effort to improve my marketing skills. And, amidst all the advice I’ve found, there is little to no discussion on morals in marketing and business.
Certainly, there’s the occasional outrage when someone messes up big time, and a lot of assurances that it’s possible to market in a non-sleazy way. There are people who have a line (or two, if they’re generous) about using their advice for good and not evil. There are others who talk about how tempting it is to do something that’s clearly wrong because it can make the people who do it a lot of money.
And, in all of it, I couldn’t find anyone talking about or showing what ethical marketing looks like and why. Instead, I found a lot of advice where some of it would sit wrong with me and I could never articulate why. It seemed I could never find advice on marketing that I always felt good about implementing.
Your Conscience Knows What It’s Talking About
I’m going to tell you something that I’ve heard literally no one tell me when giving marketing advice: Follow your conscience.
Follow. Your. Conscience.
People talk about having a values-based business (enough so that no one knows what that phrase means anymore), about following your heart or intuition. People talk about priorities and doing what feels right, but that’s not the same thing.
The word conscience has to do with knowledge, not feeling. You know, even if you can’t always articulate it, when something is wrong and something is right.
If you don’t believe that there’s such thing as right and wrong, you’re going to get yourself in trouble. Because, much as you won’t like it, people don’t react well when you do something immoral. They will refuse to trust you, they will take their business elsewhere, and no amount of saying how great your game is or how nice you are will change that.
For example: don’t review your own games. Don’t have people working for you review your games. Do not write bad reviews for your competitor’s games. Don’t pay for reviews. Why?
Because reviews are meant to be authentic, voluntary customer reactions. That is the implicit agreement of reviews, and the moment your customers discover that you’ve broken that agreement, you will have broken their trust. And it will take a lot of work to heal it. Work that will cost you time, money, and resources. Work that must, above all, come from a genuine heart if you ever expect it to be effective.
This is how dealing with people works. And guess what? If you ever hope to make money, you will have to deal with people. This is not an opinion. This is fact. So do it right.
Do Not Compromise
You will see a lot of people using marketing strategies and techniques that will not sit right with you. This is an unfortunate truth.
If you’ve been in the marketing game long enough, a lot of these practices you used to react strongly to become familiar. If you’re not careful, after a while, you’ll start to consider them as legitimate. This will almost always come out of a sense of desperation – out of fear that you won’t get enough customers otherwise, out of fear that you’ll never measure up otherwise, out of fear that it’s impossible to succeed without doing what you see others doing.
It might not seem a big deal. You might tell yourself that it’s just for now, or that most of what you’re doing is fine, so this little bit won’t matter. You will be tempted to compromise on this one, tiny, inconsequential thing. After all, you’ve got a strong argument for the benefits of doing it.
Do. Not. Compromise.
Do NOT make compromises on matters of right and wrong because you see other people succeeding at what you know to be wrong. If you compromise on things like kindness, value for yourself and others, patience, self-control, peace, being faithful to your agreements with others, joy, and gentleness, you will soon find yourself living in turmoil. You will have chaos both inside and out.
Do What You Know to Be Right
Running an ethical business isn’t all great grand gestures – it’s the little things. It’s not charging more than what something is worth. It’s not paying someone less than what they’re worth. It’s about saying no to things so that you can be faithful to the things you said yes to. It’s about saying yes to the things that encourage others.
It’s thank you cards and birthday wishes.
It’s being generous with your time.
It’s going to funerals even when you didn’t know the person who died because you know the people who loved them.
Bring that kind of character to your business, to your marketing. Be above-board and honest. Don’t seek conflict, but seek to solve it. Treat both your customers and your peers as people full of dignity and worth. I don’t care how different they are from you; they are your equals.
This isn’t the same as playing small, as deciding against what would be good for you because you’re afraid of looking stupid. Coming up with strategies that your conscience is on board with will require work, creativity, and ingenuity. It may look foolish if you’re used to quasi- or un-ethical marketing. It will also be rewarding in all the ways that matter the most.
There is a Cost to Ignoring Your Conscience
When you do what you know is wrong, you suddenly find yourself with an inner voice condemning you for it. It’s torture, and it’s exhausting. People who do what is wrong on a regular basis can only do that because they’ve desensitized themselves to that voice and, trust me, they find no peace in it.
If that’s you and you’re not nodding along with this right now, I urge you to re-evaluate your priorities. Acting against your conscience has a corrosive effect – it will destroy what is good in your life. If you think it doesn’t, you’re fooling yourself. Choose to listen to your conscience again, to follow it no matter what.
Because when you do what’s right? That inner voice has no ammo.
If you’ve made mistakes in the past (and, let’s face it, we all have), forgive yourself, take steps to heal the trust you’ve broken with yourself and others, and act differently next time.
In a world where so few people do that, you will stand out like a candle in a pitch-black room.
When that last class of my social influence course ended, I left the classroom glad I would never have to enter it again. And, after these years of research and observation, it’s become clear that we’ve all been taking the same course. So here, take my hand:
Let’s walk out of it together.
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