25 March 2024
2 minutes read

By Brad Bennett

Playing catch-up with consumer expectations, an increasing number of brands are embracing ethical practices. Whether it's advocating for environmental responsibility, social welfare, or animal rights, ethical concerns (sometimes simplified to be called “ESG”) are a hot topic in many boardrooms.

At Paper Moose we often get the opportunity to help brands communicate their new ethical creds to the market. But before we help a brand scream from the hilltops (or humble brag on LinkedIn) about all the good they are now doing, we advise answering five essential questions:

1. What problem are you really fixing?

While we believe that new ethical practices should be celebrated, we’ve found that taking a slightly cynical view is the best way to quickly and realistically align the initiatives to the core brand strategy. Are you taking the lead to fix structural issues within your industry? Are you countering the unintended bad things your brand has done? Are you closing the gap with consumer expectations of your brand or category? Be honest with yourself if you want to be taken seriously by consumers (or the board). 

2. How do your new ethical practices enhance your core product or service?

When introducing ethical dimensions, it's paramount that these new facets complement and elevate your core offerings. Superficial changes – ie donating more to your foundation, or tweaking non-core business operations – doesn’t usually deliver much customer value and may quickly be perceived as "greenwashing." If your ethical initiatives authentically align with your mission and values, and your mission and values are properly calibrated, your new ethical practices should have a tangible benefit to your core offering.

3. How will it impact pricing?

While it used to be true that many consumers were willing to pay more for ethical products, we are seeing more research on our clients’ brands telling us that consumers are no longer willing to pay a premium. So, if adopting ethical practices influences your product pricing, it's essential to communicate this transparently. Ensure your customers understand the added value they're receiving, even if it comes at a slightly elevated cost.

4. Does it support an ethical identity?

Consumers often showcase their values through their purchasing decisions. However, it's essential to recognize that not every ethical initiative helps consumers signal their values in the same way. For instance, choosing an ethical banking product is not the same type of behaviour change as choosing a new bio coffee cup. Understanding the difference will help your brand better communicate the emotional value of your new ethical practices.

5. How relevant is your certification?

Achieving an ethical certification or badge is certainly commendable. However, your brand must gauge how familiar your target audience is with these certifications. Before leaning heavily on such badges in your communication, consider whether you can connect more profoundly with your consumers by highlighting a specific new ethical practice rather than your new badge.

In conclusion, integrating ethical practices isn't merely about adopting a trend—it's about embedding it within your brand's very essence and using it to authentically connect with your consumers. Brands that succeed in achieving this balance can expect not just short-term appreciation but long-term brand transformation.

Head of Client Success

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