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Is your company ready for higher standards of behavior?

If there is one thing that we know from studying history, it is that the more transparency is achieved, the more is expected of people’s–and companies’–behavior. I’m not a very political person, so I won’t argue about whether we are more or less moral as a people than we were 50 years ago. But I think it is hard to argue that businesses aren’t more ethical.

Some will scream at this notion and say that businessmen are evil. Some are. Undoubtedly there are many conscience-free business people walking around. But 50 years ago, there was no belief that business should play fair. The typical attitude when a salesperson fooled a consumer was caveat emptor–let the buyer beware. Consumer protection laws were in their infancy, because there was no consensus that consumers ought to be protected.

Fast forward to today.

Businessmen moan about regulations constraining their businesses. No doubt there is some justification in these complaints, but it isn’t government that is exerting the most pressure on business these days. It’s the consumers themselves.

Consumers expect to change company behavior. Social media boycotts. Change.org petitions. Videos of every interaction everywhere.

The same kind of pressure that government and mainstream media brought on businesses in the last 50 years is moving on to social media and other digital forces. It starts with isolated pressure in individual situations. It moves on to a general pulling back from traditional sharp practices. After awhile, mainstream business people themselves recoil at the risk of having a light shine on them. Before you know it, professors are adding it as bad behavior in their business ethics courses.

You don’t have to be embarrassed. You don’t have to singled out. You don’t have to wait to respond to pressure. You can change now.

If you are fooling your customers, it needs to stop. Understand that it is going to stop. It is going to stop because transparency stops that kind of behavior. You can do it now or you can be forced into it. If you do it now, you can actually crow about how consumer-friendly you are–it can be a differentiator.

If you wait? It will cost you just as much to stop, but you won’t get any credit for it with your customers. In fact, if you are forced into change, it usually leaves a bad taste in your customers’ mouths that doesn’t wear off in a week or two.

Get ahead of the trend. Think about what your company is doing that can’t stand the light of day. Consider the practices that you wouldn’t want customers to get wind of. Whatever they are, stop. Eventually someone is going to blab and you will end up with a public black eye. Don’t assume that if you have been doing it a long time that it must be OK. The lines keep moving and you need to move with them.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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