Ethical marketing – increasingly vital in business

Ethical marketing“Ethical marketing – isn’t that an oxymoron?” I hear you ask. I think it need not be. Marketing should be true to the brand and, for me, a brand is a promise kept. Brand is vital for small businesses. So often, the business owner is the brand. We may have some brand extensions such as our qualifications or accreditations, but the core of the brand is us individually. Our brand is what we do, who we are; it is our values and beliefs and our overriding sense of purpose. We know the risks to our brand of not being ethical in all ways at all times.

As our lives become increasingly fast-paced and ever-more complex the opportunity for marketing to trick us increases exponentially and this is why I think ethical marketing is increasingly important. Let me develop the logic, the emotion and the response.

Technology develops faster than we do as a species. We know that often our modern day actions and reactions are little different from those of our cave-dwelling ancestors. We all recognise the “fight/flight” reactions that certain situations automatically produce within us. How often do we see groups of people all doing the same things and looking very similar – the “pack instinct” in us? As technology develops ever-faster, our natural capacity to process more and more information is increasingly likely to be insufficient to manage the excess of choice, change, stimulation and challenge presented to us by our increasingly complex world. I recently read a report identifying that the amount of data in the world is now doubling every two- to two and a half-years. This baffling complexity makes our brains hurt because the brain is unable to process the bewildering array of messages, possibilities, implications and interpretations presented to us. We need a mechanism to enable us to cope.

Fortunately, we have such a mechanism that we use without cognitive recognition. In many ways, the use of this mechanism is similar to other species who cannot cope with complexity. If we look in the animal kingdom, where there is less brain power available to the species, we see how they cope. Their intelligence is often insufficient to process all the information available to them, so they don’t. Instead they rely on single pieces of information.

An experiment by the animal behaviourist M.W. Fox, undertaken in the 1970’s, illustrates my point. The study involved turkeys, specifically mother turkeys. These creatures spent (and still do spend) great effort looking after their chicks; warming, cleaning, tending and generally looking after them and huddling the chicks underneath them. Fox identified that the turkeys doled out their tender loving care based on one single piece of information. Available to the turkeys was a range of information to enable them to identify their chicks – their smell, their feel, their appearance and so on. However, Fox concluded that the turkeys relied solely on one piece of information, the “cheep, cheep” sound of young turkey chicks.

Unconvinced? Fox’s experiment introduced individual mother turkeys to a stuffed polecat (it was an experiment conducted in America) – the natural enemy of the turkeys. Unsurprisingly, the introduction of the stuffed polecat invoked a response from the turkeys of squawking, clawing, pecking rage. However, if the stuffed polecat had within it a small recorder that played a recording of young turkey chicks making “cheep, cheep” sounds when the stuffed polecat was introduced, a very different response was invoked. The mother turkey not only accepted the stuffed polecat, but drew it underneath her. Switching off the recorder led to the vicious attacks seen without the identifying noise. This behaviour is known as fixed-action patterns. Similar experiments have been reproduced in other species, for example substituting the red feathers of a stuffed robin with blue feathers produced different behaviour.

Surprisingly, we see humans frequently also rely on single pieces of information. To take one example, how often do we look to see what other people are doing in a situation where we are uncertain, and then mimic their actions? If everybody else is acting the same way, that must be the right thing to do – right? Often we don’t bother to process all the information available to us, we just rely on one piece – in this case what everybody else appears to be doing. Just because everybody else is doing X doesn’t make it right. Everybody else is walking past the man collapsed on the street, so we do the same – ignoring his moans and clear distress. Maybe everyone else knows he is drunk and it is his own fault. Why bother to process any more information than the single piece of what others are doing?


It works in reverse (what people are not doing) too. When I lived in Japan, I had a visa that permitted me to enter the country through the passport queue used by Japanese nationals. Narita Airport queues were often long, and frequently there was great disparity in the size of queues at the respective passport checks for nationals and for foreigners. After a long flight, and before a long train journey from Narita to my home in Tokyo, the last thing I needed was a long queue. Accordingly, I went to whichever queue was shorter. If that was the queue for foreigners, I passed through without incident. Almost without fail, when I went through the queue for nationals there was pandemonium and great unease and muttered conversations around me, and several people would earnestly explain to me in halting English that I was in the wrong queue. My explanation in Japanese that I was permitted to use the queue for nationals led to even more earnest urgings to use the other queue. One piece of information, my looks, was all those around me (apart from the passport inspectors) needed to govern their behaviour.

So as the world becomes ever more complex, our brains come to rely more frequently on fixed-action patterns and single pieces of information. This makes us vulnerable to unscrupulous marketers who bombard us with erroneous information, as we exhibit more of a tendency not to process all that is available.

I want to be very clear that I recognise the benefits of fixed-action patterns and using single pieces of information. Their use can make our lives easier; I am not an advocate of the brain ache caused by considering every single piece of information all the time. When making decisions, we will less frequently enjoy the sumptuousness of a fully considered analysis of all the information. Instead we will rely increasingly on a focus on one single, usually reliable feature. Where those single features are truly reliable, there is nothing inherently wrong with our shortcut approach of picking a single factor and using fixed-action patterns to arrive at an automatic response. The problem arises where something causes the normally trustworthy to lead us to errant actions and wrong-headed decisions.

The “something” in the previous sentence is often the result of unethical marketing, aimed specifically at tricking us into the rather mindless and mechanical nature of our shortcut approach. This can be as crass as marketers adding canned laughter to a TV programme (everybody laughed, so we laugh too) or making up statistics to try to convince us that their products are the “fastest selling” products (Where? For how long? At a fraction of the price you are now offering it to me?) This is why I think ethical marketing is so important, and will become ever more important as our world becomes increasing complex. Marketers can help us to cope with complexity by giving us information that is genuine and does not pervert and distort. The treachery is when the profit motive tempts them to make their profits in a way that threatens the reliability of our shortcuts. To avoid brain-ache we have to have reliable shortcuts, faithful rules of thumb that we can depend on. These are no longer luxuries for us; instead they are increasingly becoming vital cornerstones that allow us to cope with modern life. Where we see unethical marketing we should shout about it from the rooftops and shame those who use it.

Better still, we should boycott the product or service being unethically marketed, and let the marketer know why we are so doing. Maybe I am being too cynical, but when I see a retailer, who has a price-match promise, increase the price of an item by 40% I begin to think. They get 40% more at the till, and give you a coupon so you get the money back when you next shop there. “No harm, no foul”? I think not! This is unethical marketing. You may get your money back off your next shop, but they get the cash flow and the return visit. The hyper-cynic in me is just waiting for the future promotion that proclaims “Great Price Reduction, Previously Priced 40% Higher!!!” Leave the item where it is and tell the store manager why! Better still, don’t use the retailer at all and tell them why.

It’s time to fight back against unethical marketing. Ensuring we market our businesses ethically is no longer enough, because unethical marketing is compromising the vital cornerstones and faithful rules of thumb that we need to thrive in our increasingly complex world.


The road to success – doing the right things right

It is estimated that failed change initiatives cost the UK £1.7 billion a year. The majority of changes either fail completely or don’t achieve the improvements they were designed to deliver. A previous article in this blog outlined what not to do. This article will identify for you the factors that lead to successfully delivering the outcomes you desire from change.

success ahead

In the last article on this topic I stated that I had my “Top 10” things that lead to failure or partial success (by definition, partial failure). There is also a Top 10 list of the factors that drive success in change initiatives, supported by research from the teams at IBM. In this article, I will take you through the top six (and explain why I am choosing six).

The single biggest factor that drives successful change initiatives is the biggest by a substantial margin. I will therefore devote appropriate time and space to explain why there is such a strong correlation between successfully achieving change objectives and effective senior leadership sponsorship. To achieve this aim, I will devote a whole future article to outlining the sponsorship behaviours that drive successful change programmes. I have shared and coached these behaviours with the most senior leaders in organisations, and have done so with their direct reports, and their direct reports and so on and so on. They will be open to you as part of your toolbox when you have the article in the near future. Sign up for this blog now to automatically receive newly published articles in your Inbox.

In terms of what effective sponsorship by senior leadership is, all I will say about “senior” leadership is that it is a relative term. It does not exclusively refer to one person such as the Chief Executive. Effective sponsorship is required at all leadership levels. The point is that the higher the level of the leader, the greater the impact and influence they have on the outcomes of change programmes. Where you find change delivering the desired outcomes, you find great sponsorship by senior leaders.


The next biggest factor that leads to change objectives being achieved is the level of employee involvement. A lot of research and many case studies exist showing the dramatic impact of increased Employee Engagement on levels of performance. The effect is shown in all of the areas of income growth, productivity and performance, customer/client satisfaction and innovation. It also drives significantly better results in absence and well-being, in staff retention, and it even dramatically improves health and safety, reducing the level and impact of accidents. It is therefore unsurprising that organisations with high levels of Employee Engagement are also better at achieving effective results from change programmes.

The third and fourth factors that provide the conditions for achieving the desired change results are linked to some extent. They have similar degrees of impact, and are (a) honest and timely communications and (b) an organisational culture that motivates and promotes change. Communication is key to success in many facets of life, be it personal life or organisational life. In my experience, successful change is not just about having a great internal communications capability that is keeping everybody informed (although this is a vital component). It is about being able to create a two-way communications capability that enables everyone in the organisation to contribute and to feel involved. Often external communications (again two-way) are also vital to success, by engaging all the stakeholders to contribute to and support the changes, and to contribute to defining what results the changes should be designed to achieve. Factor number six is similarly connected to numbers three and four – it is having a culture that naturally supports the change that is being attempted.

Gerstner pic and quote

The final ingredient in the successful recipe for change is the existence of Change Agents (sometimes referred to as Pioneers). I am a great believer of having defined Change Roles and Change Agents are one of the important Roles. To promote great sponsorship of change by senior leadership, I implement Change Sponsor as a clearly defined role as well as having a Change Agent role. Change Agents are not the same as the most senior leaders, although some senior leaders can fulfil this role effectively. Often, Change Agents are the senior leadership of the future. They must be carefully selected, trained and supported – as must all the holders of the Change Roles. Good coaching and behavioural change skills and capabilities are key components in supporting all the Change Roles, and are vital to get the best out of Change Agents who are still evolving their capabilities.

The reason I have chosen to include the top 6 factors, rather than the top 3 or 4 or whatever number, is to illustrate a learning point. If you go back over the 6, ask yourself how many of them are things you can see or touch? I could argue that all of them are “soft”, intangible factors – they are not “hard” things like resources, processes, project plans and reviews and the like (although I do admit Change Agents can be seen, it is the way in which they are selected and supported (intangible factors) that makes them effective, makes them more than just resources). The message is clear – the key factors required to successfully achieve goals through change initiatives are largely “soft”. If you recall, the factors that cause change programmes to fail in delivery are also largely “soft.”

They may be “soft” but they are certainly not “fluffy” – getting the soft factors right delivers results that are very hard-edged.


Change: avoid failure now, learn what doesn’t work

Most change initiatives either fail or are heralded as “partially successful.” The latter means they did not achieve their original objectives. Because failure is an orphan and no-one wants to parent it, people would rather focus on partial success than admit failure to achieve the original goals. The annual cost of failed change initiatives in the UK has been estimated at £1.7 billion. Why does this happen? This article will outline what not to do. You could find out what not to do by trying it and measuring the results. Or you could learn from others.

Failing street

How do organisations end up on Failing Street when it comes to managing change? Studies have revealed the major causes of failure and have ranked their importance. The results may not be what you might expect.

Before you read about why things fail please rest assured that a future article on this blog will outline how changes succeed. There is no need to be depressed about change for too long. If you sign up to follow this blog, you will get to read about what works. I promise not to leave it too long before the next post on this subject reveals what enables the successful achievement of change goals.

The number one cause of failure when it comes to change initiatives is “failing to change mind-sets and attitudes.” This is closely followed by the existing culture of the organisation strangling the change, starving it of oxygen, silencing the voice of the change or depriving the change of the food it needs to be sustained. Whatever analogy works for you, I hope you get the point that the culture of the organisation is the problem.

The third biggest reason why change initiatives fail is that the inherent complexity of change is underestimated. This is made even worse by a failure to understand the complexities of the specific changes that will be needed. We may all get the concept that people underestimate how difficult any change can be, but few of us will include ourselves in this concept. We tend to have the opinion that others struggle with change, but we cope just fine most of the time. If you do recognise that change is complex, what adjustments do you make to help you cope?

In terms of underestimating the complexity of the specific change, how many times have you experienced this? I would be a very rich person if I had a £5 note for every “software upgrade” that I have been given that caused unexpected problems and completely altered the UX (User eXperience) in a way that made me less efficient (and comfortable.) Sound familiar? As I type, I still am befuddled by the latest version of a software package that is crucial to my business. The last version worked fine, I knew what I was doing, and I was happy. With the new version, it took me more than ten minutes to find the “help” facility. My mood was somewhat darkened when I found the help videos told me how to do what I wanted in the old version, which looked nothing like what was on the screen in front of me! “I didn’t ask for this change and I don’t like it” I heard myself think.

Computer rage

The fourth biggest factor that causes change initiatives to fail is the first factor in my list that is tangible – something you can see and touch. It’s the first “hard” factor; it’s not “soft” and intangible. It’s that organisations just plain don’t allocate the amount of resources needed to achieve the change. The resources could be money, capital equipment/tools, or land/office space. They might be software programmes and IT equipment, or something as mundane as office stationery. I recall one organisation that invested huge amounts of money in a corporate rebranding programme, but the accounts department were still sending out invoices with the old branding because there was no budget to order new invoice stationery (okay, it was a while back –  they sent out paper invoices then.)

The resource that is most often lacking available is, I believe, the resource that causes the biggest number of failures. It is entirely predictable that this resource will be needed and so often organisations assume (unconsciously) that it will just magically supply loads of extra quantities of itself for free! Other seasoned change management experts are way ahead of me here – the resource is the time of people in the organisation.

Here’s what happens. People are doing things in an organisation on a day-to-day basis. They may not be fully utilised, but they are doing stuff. A change is needed and the assumption is that the people can continue to do the stuff they are doing, and they can do more stuff to make the change happen. The argument goes something like “we’re not asking them to do more, we’re just asking them to do something different.” Or “if they do stuff differently, they will be more efficient, so the change means we will need less resource.” This latter view is indeed often true, but managing the design of the change, the implementation of the change, and any redesign all require resource before you can realise the benefits.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Change requires planning. To be successful it needs resource and it is a high-risk strategy to rely on those doing the “day job” to also make the changes. What are those doing the “day job” going to focus on? When push comes to shove the “day job” is right here, right now. The change is in the future, so people do what they need to do to handle the immediate requirements of the “day job” in the best way they know right now. The better way that will come in the future is unknown to them right now, so they have to do things the way they always have. And so the wheel turns and the cycle is repeated again and again and the change either happens slower than desired, or withers on the vine and never happens.

So far I have covered the top four factors that cause changes to fail or deliver less. I want to make you aware of number five (I have my top ten) because it is another “soft” factor. I want to be clear that it is the “soft” factors that are the biggest contributors to change initiatives falling short. Factor five really doesn’t need much explanation, it is “lack of commitment of higher management” – another intangible.

If you recall, the estimate is that the UK is losing £1.7 billion annually through failed change initiatives. The best organisations, who manage change well, achieve an average of 80% of their objectives. The worst average 8% achievement. The difference is not an accident, a fluke of nature.

Change success requires careful management, it means avoiding the pitfalls outlined above. Avoid them and you will be half-way there. Getting the rest of the journey involves doing the right things well. In a later article, I’ll take you through the factors that enable successful achievement of change objectives. Sign up to follow the blog and you’ll get that article in your Inbox automatically.


Getting the best Performance Coaching

How do you maximise the chances of success when using Performance Coaching to improve bottom-line results? Studies have shown that progressive people management practices lead to significantly improved business results. How can you get payback in these troubled times? What can you do to find out whether Performance Coaching works for you, without risking much? Whilst there are few guarantees in life, these tips will help you.

Success childTo increase your chances of success, select a qualified Performance Coach. A bit of online research can pay big dividends. Professional coaches are trained and are often members of Trade Associations for Coaches. You should be aware that there is no agreed standard for coaches to reach to be a member of an Association; the Associations each have very different rules. Coach training is very important, as is commitment to Continuous Personal Development (CPD).

You could ask people you know who have had experience of Performance Coaching for recommendations, but do be aware that past performance is not always a predictor of future success. Trained Performance Coaches have a wide range of tools and techniques that they know how to use, and have been trained in when and why to use them. Other coaches may only have one process that they use in all situations. The analogy is if you only have a hammer, everything looks like nails. The recommendation of someone you know could have been because a “hammer” was what was needed.  If a Performance Coach has a full toolbox, and has been trained to use the contents, they can work in a variety of situations. That is why training and qualifications, and CPD, are crucial

While researching, think very carefully about what you want to achieve by engaging a Performance Coach. Is it something you want to achieve personally, or is it a goal for the business you need help with? Performance coaching is unlocking the potential of people to maximise their own performance – is it your potential you want to unlock or the potential of others? Do you need a Performance Coach that can work with teams of people, or just in one-to-one situations? Team coaching is different from individual coaching, requiring knowledge of team dynamics and team roles to be successful. Be as clear as you can be about what you want to achieve – later, a good Performance Coach will help you to better define your goals.


With a good idea of what you want to achieve, and some potentials that you haven’t yet contacted, now is the time to limit your exposure – call them to find out more. Use the conversation to get some information on why the coach does what they do – are their motivations similar to yours? Do they have experience of working with many different people? Don’t be afraid to ask if you can have a “taster session” in order to find out if you can work well together. Good coaches recognise that the relationship between the coach and the person being coached is fundamental, and also recognise that sometimes the “chemistry” is just not right. Good Performance Coaches will be just as keen as you are to see if you can work successfully together, and really good ones will demonstrate their value in any initial call. One other “test” – ask them if they are coached and by whom. If Performance Coaching is so good they will surely be coached, won’t they? If they are not coached, how serious are they?

When first “meeting” (this could possibly be in a skype session), discuss with the Performance Coach what you want to achieve. It is important that you use this time to discuss and agree a “coaching contract”, essentially a personal agreement between the coach and the person, or team, being coached. The essence of this agreement is that both parties will do certain things that are intended to result in the sustained or enhanced performance of the person / team being coached (and possibly of the coach as well). Ask the coach again about their past and future training, how they define coaching, how they coach, and why they do it. If you are getting a good feeling about the person, then see how you get on – remembering that coaching needs your input to be effective. If you’re not having a good experience, try another coach, having only spent a little of your precious time. I wish you good luck and much success.