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How Do We Build More Ethical and Humane Digital Marketing?

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Our marketing manager Robert Carnes recently completed the Center for Humane Technology’s Foundations of Humane Technology certification. This is the same group that created the sensational Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix, and this course was equally as informative and compelling.

The certification is primarily aimed at technologists—people who build and influence technology like smart devices, apps, and websites. That’s a small subset of people who have an inordinate amount of control over society and other people’s lives.

However, much of the lessons can also apply to those of us who work with digital marketing. Building websites, sending emails, and managing social media all have an impact on people’s interactions with technology. So we must also seek to be humane with our marketing.

What does that mean? How does a humane perspective impact our practices? Why is it worth it to try being humane? Let’s examine these questions and more together.

Why is humane marketing worth it?

Technology is a tool meant to make life easier. Similarly, marketing is a practice meant to serve people. That’s a noble outlook that’s occasionally warped. Too often we witness both technology and marketing used to manipulate and monetize people rather than helping them.

Humane marketing takes a little more work. It might not yield quite as immediate (or as lucrative) results. That’s usually what drives some professionals to bend the rules and seek to exploit. But a more ethical approach is worth it for a few reasons.

  • It builds a better environment and culture for all of us.
  • It establishes trust, especially when some players aren’t trustworthy.
  • It creates value in the long run and invites your audience into equal partnership.
  • It’s easier to motivate others (and yourself) to participate.
  • It’s the right thing to do—according to any system of ethics or principles.

Who is marketing ethically (or unethically)?

Brands who are setting a good example with ethical marketing include:

Unfortunately, there are likely more examples of companies caught being unethical in their marketing. This includes everything from misleading people to outright lying, demeaning people, using fear tactics, and mudslinging with competitors.

How can we be more humane?

1. Seek to understand, not assume

In marketing, we talk a lot about knowing your audience. To reach people, you need to understand who you’re trying to reach and what they need. However, we often make assumptions about our audience based on our guesses or biases.

To be both effective and ethical, take the time to speak directly to your audience. Ask them what they want and what messages resonate with them. This is especially important as you try to reach a wider diversity of audiences. We’re often shaped by our backgrounds and have inherent biases we’re not even aware of.

2. Shift the focus from attention to value

Technology platforms like social media are obsessed with maximizing people’s attention. With information readily available online, people’s attention has become the new digital currency. People can give away that attention willingly, or it can be mined from them against their will.

Rather than using tricks to optimize time on-site or open rates, focus on value. Take what you’ve learned about your audience’s values and provide that. Constantly ensure that people are giving your their attention willingly, rather than through a bait-and-switch.

3. Consider externalities

Externalities are costs created by your marketing practices beyond what you can measure. However, they build up over time if you’re not watching out for them. This could be something like spreading misinformation or causing people to spend unnecessary money on services they don’t need.

Externalities often become dangerous the more you scale your marketing efforts. That’s not to say that scale is bad. I’m all for being efficient and saving time where possible. However, don’t automate to the point where you’ve removed your humanity. That increases the likelihood of your brand looking robotic and impersonal to all you encounter.

For example, I love A/B testing and how it helps us optimize the right elements of marketing. However, these results might lead you to start exploiting people if you don’t observe where they lead you. Overly sensational subject lines or blog headlines might generate more clicks, but they provide much less value to people in the long run.

4. Help people make wise choices

Not everyone wants or needs to hear from your business. Having a target audience means you’re not aimed at everyone. Therefore, your goal should be to help those people self-filter whether or not they want to hear from you.

Be transparent upfront and allow people to opt-in (and opt-out) of your marketing. Create an environment where people can make a clear choice on how to engage. This runs as opposed to ensuring customers based on false pretenses and making it hard for them to ever leave.

For example, unsubscribes can actually be a positive thing for your email marketing. The size of your email list isn’t as important as having the right people on it. If you help the wrong people leave, then you both win. You’re talking to people who might engage with your business while not blasting people who aren’t interested with unnecessary clutter.

5. Change which metrics you measure

One practical way to enact these changes is intentionally choosing what metrics you measure. Vanity metrics like Facebook likes or email subscribers can be a misleading indicator of success. You’re better off having the right followers rather than just more followers.

Focus on more valuable numbers like engagement rate and churn rate. This is the number of people who engage with your content (and help show its relevance) and the number of people who actively leave your marketing channels. Customer satisfaction is often harder to measure, but it may be one of the best measures of how you’re treating people online.

The metrics you measure are an indication of your priorities. When used well, they help to shape your marketing strategy and business decisions. So pay attention to metrics that show how humane you’re being with your marketing.

How is GreenMellen being ethical?

We’ll be the first to admit that we’re not perfect at this—no one is. However, we’re striving to get better and learn more. It’s our goal to build a brighter web, in part by modeling and encouraging more ethical digital marketing practices.

Our core values are one of the guiding principles of that. We seek to serve our clients and attract the right potential clients through permission-based inbound marketing. Want to work with a digital marketing agency you can trust to do the right thing? Get in touch with us.

About the Author

Robert Carnes

Marketing Manager

Robert Carnes is a freelance writer, published author, and professional marketer. His book, The Story Cycle, is your business's guide to becoming a better marketer. Robert lives in Atlanta and you can follow him on social media @jamrobcar.

View Robert's Profile

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