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Values-based marketing vs Conscious Business

by Arthur Kendall
Many heads connected with a door, representing values-based marketing vs conscious business

Last week I wrote a short post on Gillette’s new ad denouncing “toxic masculinity”, ironic, for some, given the macho, pin-up image of the models in their ads up to now. It prompted a little discussion and one of the comments pointed to an article on Value-based marketing. While I agree with most of what the eminent author says, and he has statistics to back it up, it kind of validated my decision not to go into marketing as a profession (though this is mainly because my entrepreneurial spirit had other ideas).

Without wanting to appear arrogant, I don’t think he said anything that I couldn’t have written or that is anything other than common sense, actually. But that’s like so much in business. And, of course, they say common sense is the least common of all the senses.

In responding to the comment I realised I had more to say, so I thought I’d set them out in a new post. And I chose our ACG site as the primary channel (I’m also publishing this on my personal blog) since I’d like to inject a bit of my conscious business philosophy here, which is key to what I like to call The ACG Way to run a business. Unlike Mark Shaefer, I do not have surveys and studies to draw on, only my own experience and conscience. You will be the judge of the relative value of each.

It is, of course, natural that companies like Procter & Gamble are desperately trying to avoid eventually dying out with the Baby Boomers (and losing sales and market share in the short-term) through failing to connect with a younger market who do not believe in giant corporations. It’s a tough tightrope walk but a necessary gamble.

And, of course, the world is finally waking up to the need to be human (or at least seen to be). Values-based marketing has already become trendy jargon; it remains to be seen how well organisations adopt the principles behind it and not simply view it in an opportunistic way to get more sales.

Arguably, of course, even if Gillette’s ad is merely opportunistic, it still has merit and is better than not taking a stand or worse, implicitly condoning inequitable treatment. I have argued the same myself, not just of this, but of the Quality Management industry, which while immensely imperfect, at least now means that basic standards of quality and safety are maintained in most jurisdictions – from an inherently self-interested starting point of wanting to reduce the cost of returned products due to manufacturing or design flaws.

But if multinationals are to survive, and some would argue that many millennials’ antipathy towards them means that they cannot, at least in their current form, then they do need to adopt a genuinely different approach. In Gillette’s case, if they genuinely wanted to level the playing field they would stop charging women more for similar products. Failure to do so before this ad has already led to calls of “hypocrites!” Continuing with this policy will surely out them as purely using opportunistic value-based marketing to boost sales by jumping on the #metoo bandwagon.

In the same way that we repeatedly argue on the ACG website (in this case backed by hard stats!) that compliance to regulations and codes of corporate governance is no guarantee of either success or even survival, an approach which is genuinely interested in treating people equitably and protecting the planet and its limited resources is the only way to guarantee long term profits.

Conscious business is such an approach. Clearly a legal entity cannot, itself be “conscious”. But arguing this completely ignores the fact that such an entity cannot do anything without the people on its payroll. People work for people, not the corporate memorandum and articles or HR rules

We have argued on this site before about the need for personal governance, not just corporate governance. Without personal responsibility and accountability, no amount of rules and regulations will be effective, as countless rounds of failed regulation have proven.

It is time to stop hiding behind these, and the resulting “clean bill of health” given by auditors, and encourage education (in the true meaning of to “draw out”) in matters of personal growth, where awareness of the needs of others and the planet – not just the needs identified (or invented) by the marketing department – takes first place.

Becoming more aware of our own behaviour, how we react to others and how as an organisation we are affecting all our stakeholders, including the wider community and the planet as a whole, means awakening to the true power we have to change the world for the better while building businesses that truly engage with people

Even if some of this language is not appealing to some, especially those who choose to deny the near irreparable damage human beings have inflicted on the planet since the industrial revolution, increasingly, measures such as ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) ratings, affecting investment prospects and share price, make it increasingly difficult to ignore the underlying message.

How much better to acknowledge and choose to listen and react, than to disconnect with future (if not actual) customers. After all, there are more and more companies doing just that and many household names have already lost out to them.

I would argue, therefore, in the spirit of our holistic approach to corporate governance, that it is essential to go beyond the drive for differentiation via a purely marketing approach, and that values-based marketing will only be truly effective if it is a reflection of a more conscious approach to business as a whole.

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