Dr M Muneer & Anil Nair
Most senior executives know this: A top consulting firm gets hired by the enterprise to please the stock market analysts. The “firm” presents an impressive bundle of recommendations and charges millions. Later they realise that the “grey-hair wisdom” that they paid for is neither original nor specific to their unique problem – it’s a rehashed and superficially customised report of another work the “firm” has done elsewhere in the world.
While drawing from work done earlier is fine, charging top dollars for cosmetic changes isn’t. What’s more, replacing the grey-hair who made the first handshake to work on your project with freshly-minted MBAs who have little or no exposure to the critical work you’ve entrusted the “firm” with is blatantly irresponsible. Recall the failed retail store format at petrol stations? What worked in the USA will not always work in India, certainly not when copy-pasted.
A few alarming stories are altering the dominant logic in our minds, tainting various industries and practitioners within. It is incumbent on all of us who believe it’s better to play it right, to do something about it so we can be more trusting of each other and the community at large, so that the wheels of commerce can rotate faster and more smoothly – especially when the pandemic is creating mayhem in the country.
The very thought of visiting a hospital is scary, not just because of the pandemic. Worry is more about the number of unnecessary tests one will be subjected to, with more medicines to boot, and worse, potential surgeries when none are warranted. Horror stories of dead patients kept longer in ICU for billing more, using cheaper stents and charging for most expensive ones, reporting complicated procedures for a simple surgery, etc abound. The current trend of selling beds to the highest bidder despite promises by the government regarding transparency is downright treacherous.
The list of treachery goes on. Teachers who teach badly at school but very well in private tuition, lawyers promising heaven and the earth to get your case but not devoting much time for it so they can keep on postponing the case while charging you per sitting, creating a mammoth backlog for the courts with pending cases running into tens of millions, or automobile service centres and consumer durable companies that replace good parts so they can charge you for expensive new items and labour. It’s no different whether you’re buying a broadband plan or an insurance policy – false promises and benefits galore.
We inadvertently encourage unethical behaviour by applauding those who oversell. What’s more, while every graduate programme in management or medicine has a course on ethics, it remains just a credit course that one has to scrape through. And with “moral science” as a subject missing from most curricula, in tune with the societal materialistic orientation, it is a Herculean task to expect the adults to change behaviour.
There are just a handful of enterprises who have embraced the philosophy of not selling till the customer benefit is explicit, the underlying belief being that if sales folks took pains to understand customer needs and expectations, it would be easier to live up to implicit promises, thus creating the foundation for a relationship and the basis for value creation all around. The ‘intended consequence’ was that it curbed overselling and increased credibility while reducing suspicion and sales friction.
Ethical marketing has become even more critical in these times of pandemic. Can marketing have a soul? A few enterprises stand out globally by believing in this – and are doing very well by doing good. They’re in clothing, shoes, coffee and soaps – distinctly different sectors but sharing a common culture embedded in their DNA: being ethical, and committed to giving back for the livelihood and sustainability of vulnerable communities.
For companies like Conscious Coffee, TOMS (vegan shoes for women), Everlane and Dr Bronner’s (top organic liquid soap), ethical marketing is not a cheap tactic to build short-term revenue. They have been highly successful by embracing ethical marketing as part of their mission.
Going forward, making ethical marketing a core part of the mission and values of enterprises is critical. It needs a long-term strategic outlook that includes educating, multi-media communication and a fair level of activism for delivering results.
Educating customers to choose better with conscious thinking while buying a product or service is a key component of ethical marketing. It's about changing the way people think – to also consider how items are procured, packed and the people and communities who depend on fair and ethical trade to sustain their livelihood. When the entire nation celebrated by greeting each other New Harvesting Year a few weeks ago, hardly anyone remembered the farmers protesting peacefully for months for a fair deal.
Ethical marketing is also about aligning the enterprise values with those of the ideal customers to build loyalty for the brand. Not every company can do this right because many of them will have to altogether discontinue their entire product range! But what they all can do is take a step back and raise the bar on selling process. Keeping a focus on people and not just profits will be a good investment in the right direction for the co-existence of all. Increasing inclusion, avoiding stereotyping, and portraying reality instead of airbrushed models are some of the possible action points for companies.
It’s time for consumers to stand up and demand ethical standards. After all, when we embrace socially and environmentally conscious products, we move towards conscious consumerism. That can be our small but significant way to impact the world positively. At this time as we stare at a pandemic-driven catastrophe, three words that are fairly new to the business world pop up to rejuvenate both consumers and markers: Moderation, Minimalism and Pragmatism.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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