I’ve always struggled with the ethics of my chosen profession. Even while poring over copies of Advertising Age in college, my attraction to brilliant campaigns was tempered by the nagging sense that marketers’ influence on our thoughts and values isn’t always good. After all, a marketer’s job is to creatively convince people to do or consume things that they sometimes don’t even want or need.
That nagging feeling led me to spend the first 15 years of my career in health behavior change and nonprofit marketing. Later, my business partner and I founded RoundPeg to create brands and campaigns for organizations committed to social good. But I always had a sense that marketing’s potential for good wasn’t fully realized.
Ultimately it was RoundPeg’s joining the B Corp community that revealed a new approach to marketing that realizes that potential – and solves my professional ethical dilemma – for good.
Our Chance to B Better
It was a no-brainer for RoundPeg to become a certified B Corp in 2012 and incorporate as a Benefit Corporation in 2013. We already operated responsibly and helped clients promote social causes and sustainable behaviors. We figured certification would strengthen our commitment to people, planet and community and we could learn from other good businesses. It did all of those things. But we never anticipated how significantly being part of the B Corp community would influence and inspire us.
Conversations with colleagues at other B Corps told us that the number of companies pledging to use business as a force for good is growing more rapidly than consumer attitudes and knowledge are changing. For this movement to survive and thrive, we need to make buying responsibly the norm.
It became clear that marketing – the practice that has encouraged society’s excess – is the exact tool needed to make the good choice the easy choice for mainstream consumers.
While marketing isn’t the only force to blame for wasteful consumption, its significant contribution can’t be ignored.
Most consumers don’t test the marketing claims of every company, so when a company says they’re doing good, we assume they’re telling the truth. While scandals of goodwashing and worse increase skepticism, consumers are often at the mercy of marketers and remain powerless to distinguish between genuinely good and apparently good companies and products.
As consumers, we’re so far removed from where and how our stuff is made that we're often blind to the effects of our choices. For decades marketers have exploited that. Tapping into our values, they’ve positioned superfluities as necessities, made the case for shoddy products and convinced consumers that obtaining the latest version of everything is essential to creating the best version of oneself.
But time is revealing the negative consequences of decades of conspicuous consumption and consumers are generally paying more attention to what they buy, who makes it, where it’s from and what’s it’s made of. Sometimes they even question whether it’s needed at all.
The rise of socially responsible business like B Corps and Benefit Corporations presents an opportunity for marketers to reverse the damage done by our predecessors by using marketing as a force for good.
Purposeful Marketing: A New Approach
Through Purposeful marketing, we can show consumers that every purchasing decision they make is a chance to be the change the world needs. We can equip them with the information they need to make better choices and invite them to be our partners in change.
While B Corp and other certifications provide context and ensure accountability, mainstream consumers with busy lives aren’t likely to take the time to distinguish the good, the bad and the ugly. Many don’t know that what these certifications mean or even that they exist.
Purposeful marketing champions the companies that are truly doing good to help consumers cut through the fray of false claims. Inspired by our fellow B Corps, RoundPeg applies Purposeful marketing principles to help good brands:
· engage customers by connecting their company Purpose with customer values,
· cultivate long-term, meaningful customer relationships that amplify social impact and profitability
· create meaningful customer experiences
· build loyal communities of influence
· empower customers to be brand ambassadors for social impact
Time for Change
Until the majority of the marketplace demands change, conscious consumerism is at risk of becoming a fad. As marketers and as B Corps, we must encourage consumers to demand that brands act as part of the solution to social problems and invite our customers to be part of the solution.
Our experience as a B Corp taught us that businesses with good built-in do everything else differently, so it’s natural that we should rethink marketing as well. We can’t expect consumers to change the way they think, act and purchase without making changes ourselves. That’s why RoundPeg’s sole focus now is using marketing to help Purposeful brands make buying responsibly the norm.
We urge the visionaries behind purposeful companies – and our marketing agency colleagues – to join us in seizing the opportunity to use marketing for good. When we lead with Purpose, we don’t have to manufacture justifications to win customer loyalty because the shared Purpose itself creates the bond. The more consumers insist on purchasing with Purpose, the closer we’ll get to a world where companies that don’t do good don’t stand a chance.
The B Corp Life is a new blog series geared towards exploring what it’s like to work at a benefit corporation. Why do b corps matter, and what does the future hold for them? Let us know at PurposePlusProfit@huffingtonpost.com or by tweeting with #TheBCorpLife.