Marketers struggle to prove commercial value of supporting ethical issues

A 'power to the people' placard at a protest.

Almost seven in 10 marketers think that adopting an ethical stance leads to increased sales and revenue, but say that internal culture – such as lack of buy-in and understanding among staff – remains the top reason (59%) holding businesses back from supporting social, political or environmental issues.

This is according to research by global review platform Trustpilot. Other factors holding brands back from taking a stance include lack of skills or know-how (48%); confusing regulation (43%); concerns about a lack of positive, or risk of negative, commercial impact (43%); and relevancy to the business (31%). This news comes at a time when, according to the same study, 92% of consumers say a business’s honesty and transparency is a deciding factor in purchasing decisions – with almost half (49%) saying they now consider a business’s stance on ethical issues before going to checkout.

The study, commissioned for Trustpilot’s Brands that take a stand report, interviewed 600 marketers across the UK, US, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden, between them working across four sectors. Overall across all markets, it found that those working across home or electronic brands saying they were slightly more likely to promote a stance (61%), whereas those within the fashion or financial sectors were both slightly less likely to promote a stance (57%).

While 69% of marketers agree that demonstrating support for ethical issues is important – with 44% saying that doing so can win new customers – with lack of internal support and buy-in halting progress, the research suggests marketers may be failing to move the dial and effectively communicate that importance to business stakeholders. Worse yet, 44% of marketers surveyed believe that not demonstrating a stance on ethical issues can be detrimental to a business by leading to poor reviews and ratings, with 40% admitting that failing to do so can reduce sales – suggesting that pressure for marketers to win over stakeholders is mounting.

Yet while marketers agree on the value for a business in taking a stance on ethical issues, the research did warn brands to ensure they practise what they preach – as a survey of consumers found that unfair treatment of staff and suppliers, greenwashing and poor customer service top buying turn offs.

When asked where they go to verify a business’s ethics and values, social media (36%), friends and family (38%), and reviews websites such as Trustpilot (43%) were the joint top three sources consumers said they go to – demonstrating the growing influence consumers have on other consumers’ spending habits, in comparison to more traditional sources such as TV and radio.

Alicia Skubick, CMO at Trustpilot, said, “While taking a stance and supporting ethical issues has perceived value, in a world of misinformation and declining trust, ensuring your brand is honest and transparent about its position on issues is what adds real value.

“Clearly there has never been a more crucial time for marketers to win over internal stakeholders and ensure businesses are taking an ethical stance. Brands which vocalise support for social, environmental and political issues must do so authentically in order to resonate with savvy consumers, otherwise – as social media and reviews play an increasingly influential role in spending decisions – they risk turning customers away.

“Our research gives brands an accessible strategy towards honesty, ensuring they connect to the growing numbers of consumers who are loyal to and advocate for brands which represent their values.”

The study surveyed 600 chief marketing officers and 7,000 consumer’s across the UK, US, Australia, Sweden, France, Germany, and Italy, to understand the value consumers place on brands’ ethics, and how marketers are responding to the trend. In a world of declining trust and misinformation, Trustpilot works to connect businesses with consumers by gathering open, honest feedback, which helps consumers shop with confidence and businesses improve their service. The report comes as part of the company’s aim of becoming a universal symbol of trust.

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