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by Alice Alessandri and Alberto Aleo

For some time now, advertisements, company mission statements, and marketing and communication strategies in general are going through a process of “whitewashing and are focusing on spreading an “ethical” message. Examples from companies such as Heineken, Adidas, and Momondo show that ethics and morals have now become a “fashion” because these qualities help them gain visibility. Is this good news? For a few “fundamentalists”, it isn’t. Both purists who take values very seriously and feel this trend is trivializing and corrupting ethical principles, and greedy profit lovers, who conversely feel that all of this is a distraction” from the true objectives of business, have expressed their discontent. Therefore, here is our opinion on the increasingly common trend of adding the word “ethical” to business.

Unfounded concerns

First of all, we want to reassure the extremists: ethics and profit are not conflicting objectives! Promoting the former does not mean sacrificing the latter and vice versa.

Thinking of business as a zero-sum game is a prejudice belonging to those who don’t really understand the workings and purposes of markets.

libro la vendita etica alice alessandri alberto aleo

Research such as the ones carried out by Prof. Raj Sisodia prove that nowadays companies get the best results when adopting business models based on ethical principles. In other words, their sole concern isn’t profit, but instead they try to create value for all stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers. Need a few examples? Whole Foods, New Balance, UPS, and Distillerie Branca. We’ve said it before: economics is a social science, and its objective is to generate wealth on all levels. It is only by pursuing “economic” objectives in their entirety that an organisation can achieve full returns, including in terms of profit.

There is no such thing as bad publicity

If discussing ethics isn’t detrimental to profit, but instead helps generate it, would widespread implementation of ethical business models make virtuous companies become indistinguishable from ones who are just jumping on the bandwagon? It certainly is a risk, but as Nicolò Branca confirms “it’s better to be ethical to follow a trend than to not be ethical at all”. Once the sense of novelty wears off, consumers will develop the ability to really understand who is ethical, and even the companies that have adopted this “style” to embellish their offer, sooner or later will be challenged to show their real nature.

We at Passodue can proudly state that we were among the first in Italy to raise awareness on these topics, and for a long time we’ve almost been the only ones to offer ethical sales courses (moreover, these days, the second edition of our book “Sales Ethics was published, with new case studies and techniques). Now, many of our colleagues and competitors have started offering similar services, and we are happy about it because this interest will broaden the market, allowing clients to access more information, which in turn allows them to recognise real training offers.

From storytelling to storymaking

So, how can we recognise businesses that are really ethical? The word ethics comes from the Greek word ethos that means “behaviour”.

Ethics deals with actions, not intentions, and you can’t be ethical in theory!

To evaluate how ethical a company is, you need to observe their behaviour, not their commercials. The most significant behaviours are those that act “at the base” of the value chain, i.e., at the human scale. In other words, the way people are treated, regardless of them being employees, customers, or suppliers. Has your company built a hospital in Mozambique but pays invoices late? You’re not ethical! Do you say you want to take care of your customers but pester them with telemarketing on a Sunday morning? We’re sorry to say that you’re also part of a category that is telling an inconsistent story.

Many companies are very good at making use of what we nowadays call “storytelling”, by whitewashing their marketing and communication strategies and stuffing them with emotion, but they later forget that people would also like to experience that same amazing story and that a simple out of place detail can “unmask” their inconsistencies. More than beautiful stories, we need to constantly work on behaving well with others, which is why we should be talking about “storymaking”.

etica buoni comportamenti

Some advice on consistency

Here is some practical advice to improve your business and to ensure that what you do is really ethical, regardless of official statements of intent.

  • What do they say about you and how large is your network? If you often face conflict, if you see your client portfolio shrinking, or if there’s a decline in employee, supplier, or customer satisfaction, this means something is wrong in the way you relate to others. Don’t look for excuses, try instead to redefine your actions.
  • How do you treat people? If, in your business, roles are more important than people, and if you demand things from others before you give them anything, you can’t say that you’re ethical. Remember that economy is based on the law or reciprocity: you first invest and then you have returns, you first give and then you get back, not the other way around. 
  • What changes have you introduced since you stated that you’re ethical? Ethics is something you have to work on by developing precise skills and abilities. You can’t just state it, you must act accordingly. If nothing has changed in your processes or your relationships since you included the word “ethical” in your public statements, it means it’s nothing more than an artificial face-lift. 
  • Which values guide you and which objectives have you set for your company? Your mission statement might say that you want to save the world, but if your sales manager was told to “focus on revenue, no matter what”, it will be hard to be consistent. Consider doing some serious soul-searching and ask the people who work with you about the objectives they are really pursuing: some embarrassing surprises might emerge.

Once your business has become really ethical, you won’t need to promote its ethical message. It might seem contradictory, but data shoes that virtuous companies spend much less in advertising or communication when compared to those who have to artificially support their reputation. Their visibility is based on customer loyalty and on positive word-of-mouth, which are much more powerful tools to expand your market.

| partem claram semper aspice |

The photos used - where not owned by the editorial team or our guests - are purchased on Adobe Stock and IStockPhoto or downloaded from platforms such as UnSplash or Pexels.

Did you like this post and want to learn more about the topics?

Passodue research on issues related to salesmarketing, ethics and the centrality of human beings within the market logic, officially started in 2012. The results derived from our work are described in the publications and in the books you can find in this section.

Click below to find out Passodue's books.

Passodue is a consulting and training firm founded in 2011 by Alice Alessandri and Alberto Aleo, who decided to combine their experience and make a change in their personal and professional lives. The aim of their project is to change the mindset of the market with regards to the concepts of “sale”, “marketing” and “leadership”, and to prove that doing business ethically is possible and totally effective.

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