Marketing Ethics

Marketing Ethics

How the marketing industry can foster a better world

Marketing is a broad discipline. It’s dynamic, and constantly evolving. It walks the line between the world of a brand and the world of a consumer. It’s viewed by many as a necessary evil, a way to capture the minds and hearts of people. But I don’t think of it as evil at all. Or it certainly doesn’t have to be.

We started as a media relations firm. That was 22 years ago when Mademoiselle was fading into history, the Baltimore Ravens swept the Superbowl, and America was forever changed by tragedy. It was a different time. Back then, media relations existed in isolation, before the explosive growth of the digital world. It was before media relations found its place in the constellation of marketing approaches – what is today an interconnected series of categories with blurred lines and agile approaches.

Perhaps because we didn’t start as a full-service marketing agency, but followed a winding, often chaotic path to become one, I have a different viewpoint than most marketers. I’ve never lost the thought process of a journalist because that was our initial audience. And journalists look for the truth. The story demands it.

I’ve heard many people say (in one way or another) that marketers are salespeople, with the goal of persuading people to act. In other words, they make people buy stuff. That’s a cynical approach to marketing.

My role is that of a diplomat, one that brokers a relationship between a brand and people. It’s not about persuading people that they need to buy a product or service, but to connect with people that already want to be a customer but haven’t found the right brand.

The cornerstone of this kind of approach is radical transparency, on the part of the marketing agency and the brand.

  1. 1.

    Dig deep

    A great brand has a mind, a heart, and a truth. When a potential partner approaches me about working together, my first goal is to understand the brand. Does that brand have a philosophy I can support? Is the product or service valuable, meaningful, and capable of creating positive change? Are all the components working in concert, or are they disparate voices? Answering these questions is critical to deciding whether it’s a good fit. Every marketer needs to realize that it starts there. Only choose to work with a brand you believe in; one that inspires you.

  2. 2.

    Set the groundwork

    Once you do find a brand that you’re sympatico with, remember to set the dynamic. We are subject matter experts, and part of our job is to keep the brand authentic. That means being ruthless in our truths, candid in our successes and failures, and unwavering in our commitment. If the brand knows from inception that’s the approach, then the marketer becomes one of the visionaries charting the course.

  3. 3.

    Be a biographer, not a fiction writer

    Marketing is built on accurate and verified information. I have several clients in the science space, and part of my role is to validate the data and provide counterpoint perspective. Substantiating a brand’s platform not only keeps the marketer honest, but it prevents the client from making unverified claims that could hurt the brand.

  4. 4.

    Score high on emotional intelligence

    Once the facts are in order, it’s up to the marketer to add the richness of emotional experience to the narrative. We’re a society with a dearth of attention. It’s our job as marketers to use authentic prose, visuals, and interactive pieces that capture the truth of a brand and provide the consumer with a rewarding and engaging experience.

  5. 5.

    Relationships are work

    It’s easy to think of consumers in terms of broad numbers and strokes, but these are people who we need to care about. It’s not enough to connect a brand and a person. That’s simply a date that’s gone well. It’s up to the marketer to prove that we value each person that adopts a brand and to embrace a relationship that isn’t transactional but synergistic and enriching.

It’s been a conscious choice to work with client partners that inspire me with their vision, their passion, and their drive. It means that every day I get to advocate for brands that are determined to leave this world better than they found it. It allows me to fully live in professional integrity, rather than giving it a cursory nod. And every marketer can live in that space. It’s about seeing the goal and deciding who we want to be.

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Serge Gurin

Serge Gurin is a partner and Chief Vision Officer at Pierce Mattie. Serge's key areas of focus include vision and growth strategy, concept design, science and technology, and creative development. A science fiction and comics geek, Serge does side projects in science, transhumanist philosophy, and neuroatypical research, and makes a mean vindaloo.

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