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Ethical Marketing: Definition, Principles, & Examples

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Ethical Marketing: Definition, Principles, & Examples

Ethical marketing is tricky to talk about. How do you even begin to define it, given the very concept of ethics varies from person to person?

To broaden my initial understanding of the topic, I:

  • Spoke with three marketers whose marketing efforts are guided by their ethics.
  • Polled marketers on both Ahrefs’ and my personal Twitter account.
  • Trawled websites and other resources.

As a caveat, this guide is by no means exhaustive nor perfect.

My aim is to help you better understand what ethical marketing encompasses, what it means to different marketers, and how you might consider incorporating it into your business.

In this article, we’ll cover these:

What is ethical marketing?

Ethical marketing is an extension of ethics—which is defined as a system of moral principles.

Put simply, ethical marketing is when you promote a product, service, or brand in a way that aligns with your values and morals. This can mean not making inflated claims, as well as practicing full transparency and openness. Your actions depend on what you define as ethical.

What are the principles of ethical marketing?

The principles of ethical marketing depend on, well, your principles. When polled on Twitter, here’s what Ahrefs followers and marketers had to say:

Following these polls, I spoke with three marketers in the SEO space whose ethics shape their marketing efforts. These were their thoughts:

Maria Soleil, Soleil Marketing

Maria Soleil founded boutique agency Soleil Marketing to help purpose-driven brands create a positive social and environmental impact. For instance, she’s shaping the marketing strategy for social enterprise Etrify—a climate tech-focused startup that helps businesses track and report their carbon emissions.

For me, the principles of ethical marketing include being responsible, honest and transparent in promotional activities, prioritizing data privacy, not engaging in pressure tactics, avoiding using UX dark patterns, using inclusive language, and more.

Ethical marketing is also about using suppliers, partners, and platforms that align with your morals and values. For example, I no longer use Meta to promote my business, and am exploring how to help my clients be less reliant on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. 

Alice Karolina, The Ethical Move

Alice Karolina is the founder of The Ethical Move (TEM), a movement built on three commitments:

  • To put the person before the sale
  • To communicate inclusively, truthfully, and clearly
  • To take responsibility for TEM’s part in changing the marketplace

For instance, TEM aims to provide the resources and space for like-minded marketers to congregate through its upcoming community, The Ethical Move Community. This will play host to events, summits, and roundtables.

TEM also maintains a Medium page that discusses manipulation in marketing to help readers better understand ethical marketing. You’d do well checking out its newsletters too. Each edition features a marketer’s pledge to ethical marketing and why they’re choosing to be a part of the movement.

The core principle of ethical marketing is how we do it. Ethical marketing is a matter of collective learning and unlearning over time. Changing tactics is just the beginning; challenging our core beliefs and really listening to our audience is the juicy stuff.

Jamie Indigo, DeepCrawl

Jamie Indigo is a senior technical SEO analyst at DeepCrawl. She previously penned a piece on ethical SEO for Search Engine Journal.

As a brand, ethical marketing can come in the form of transparency and fairness in hiring, salary, and safety.

Is it ethical to ask candidates to do hours of free labor for an opportunity to work for you? Once someone has interacted with your campaign, website, or converted, how does your business store that data? If you’re buying data, how was it obtained?

These questions are thought exercises that allow us to see the common thread. Ethical marketing is a lens to view our marketing tactics and consider if we’re treating users as humans, first and foremost.

What’s the difference between ethical and sustainable marketing?

The difference between ethical marketing and sustainable marketing is that sustainable marketing promotes environmental and socially responsible values. Ethical marketing promotes the brand’s values and morals.

For that reason, sustainable marketing is a subset of ethical marketing because it’s an example of a brand value.

So if the brand cares about sustainability and practices that in its marketing, it’s engaging in both ethical and sustainable marketing. This is because sustainability is one of its brand values.

Here’s an example of what it may look like:

Infographic showing examples of ethical marketing and sustainable marketing

As Alice shared with us: “Ethical marketing and sustainable marketing can be symbiotic and thrive when used together. They are both rooted in how the company perceives responsibility.”

For instance, Singapore-based shoe brand anothersole describes itself as a business that wants to do social good by building sustainable communities. It’s also transparent in how its profits are split:

Statement from anothersole indicating how the company splits its profitsStatement from anothersole indicating how the company splits its profits

Benefits of ethical marketing

Ethical marketing comes with a slew of benefits, including a clear conscience and transparency among customers—which breeds trust.

From an SEO perspective, you may also stand to benefit through (free!) positive publicity, which may come in the form of backlinks and media mentions.

We’ll touch on the latter point shortly. For now, let’s take a closer look at some real-life examples of businesses that use ethical marketing and how that has benefited them.

Three examples of ethical marketing

Earlier, we framed the definition of ethical marketing as two key things:

  • Being honest (not making inflated claims)
  • Practicing full transparency and openness

In the following examples, we’ll look at how each of these businesses fulfills the above criteria.

Apple

Tech major Apple is not without its flaws: For all its environmental efforts and focus on transparency, it has got just as much flak for some of its opaque practices. Still, we thought to include it solely for its commitment to sustainability.

Let’s start by looking at its dedicated page on ethics and compliance:

Apple's "Ethics and Compliance" statementApple's "Ethics and Compliance" statement

Its business conduct policy is the same and framed around Apple’s guiding principles of honesty, respect, confidentiality, and compliance.

List of Apple's principles List of Apple's principles

In this blog post, we’ll hone in on Apple’s emphasis on honesty—which most closely reflects what ethical marketing is about, i.e., transparency and open communication.

Let’s take a look at its Environment page. Here, you’ll see specific examples of how its products are made sustainably, complete with clean copy and explainer graphics.

Picture of iPhone with explainer graphics about how Apple ensures the phone is built sustainably Picture of iPhone with explainer graphics about how Apple ensures the phone is built sustainably

While we can’t verify the authenticity of Apple’s claims on how its phones are made or recycled, the tech brand is widely trusted—and its transparency in this regard only adds to its credibility.

Here’s a look at the number of backlinks and referring domains to Apple’s Environment page for the words “apple sustainability” (via Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer).

SERP overview for "apple sustainability" SERP overview for "apple sustainability"

We’ll be honest: Ethical marketing can sometimes serve as good PR, especially if your business is doing something unique (and practicing what it preaches). Over time, you may even acquire quality backlinks, boosting your website’s authority and positive sentiments surrounding your brand.

Ahrefs

At Ahrefs, ethical marketing is put into practice quite differently from Apple—and that’s why we decided to include ourselves in this list.

Here’s what it looks like:

Telling it like it is

We show exactly how our toolset can help you achieve certain goals through blog posts, YouTube videos, quick product update videos, and more.

Take this video on link building tools, in which we recommended the likes of Google Search, Ahrefs, Hunter.io, NeverBounce, Pitchbox, and Screaming Frog SEO Spider:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-o5te5lt0w

The tl;dr is that we never oversell the utility of our toolset. Instead, we educate users on how to complement their use of Ahrefs with other tools.

Maintaining user privacy

We’ve spoken about this at length before, and we’ll say it again: Ahrefs doesn’t use cookies or tracking unless absolutely necessary. We also avoid retargeting campaigns in our marketing efforts simply because we don’t believe in it—which goes back to our business’s ethics.

It’s also why we’re in the midst of building an alternative search engine: to reward content creators through a transparent 90/10 profit model.

Giving back

Ethical marketing also happens when a business gives back and explains how exactly it plans to do so.

In a show of support for Ukraine, Ahrefs’ founder, Dmytro Gerasymenko, made the call to launch a donation-matching initiative, which was displayed on users’ dashboards for several months. For any amount a customer donated to an approved charity in Ukraine, we extended their subscription for double of that.

This resonated with many subscribers and won us organic mentions on platforms like Twitter, as well as media mentions—even though it certainly hadn’t been the aim of our donation-matching campaign.

Patagonia 

Outdoor clothing label Patagonia’s mission statement is simple:

We’re in business to save our home planet.

It sounds like a sweeping statement, but the brand walks the talk by acting on its four core values.

Patagonia's four core values plus short write-ups to explain eachPatagonia's four core values plus short write-ups to explain each

While these values seem to be shaped primarily around sustainable marketing, let’s not forget the latter is a type of ethical marketing. An example of Patagonia’s focus on transparency and open communication can be seen in its Black Friday 2021 ad:

Picture of jacket; above, big words in all caps "Don't buy this jacket"Picture of jacket; above, big words in all caps "Don't buy this jacket"

The brand ran the ad in The New York Times, gave an announcement explaining its stance on consumerism, and informed customers that all Black Friday sales proceeds would be donated to grassroots organizations working in local communities.

Excerpt of Patagonia's articleExcerpt of Patagonia's article

Did its move stir people and get them talking? By golly, yes. It’s worked on us. Consider the fact that what you’re reading now has earned Patagonia a quality backlink.

The business even has a self-imposed Earth tax: It dedicates 1% of its profits to nonprofit environmental organizations.

These efforts are widely cited too—just take a look at its backlink profile in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

Backlinks report results for Patagonia's "activism" pageBacklinks report results for Patagonia's "activism" page

Closing thoughts

Having dissected what ethical marketing is and what its underlying principles are, it’s my hope you’ve gleaned some useful takeaways you can apply to your business.

Have any further thoughts—or maybe a bone to pick? Shout me on Twitter.

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17 Types Of Content Marketing You Can Use

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17 Types Of Content Marketing You Can Use

For marketers, content is still king. It provides value to your targets, helps establish you as an expert in your field, drives traffic, and tells search engines why your website should be ranked highly.

But what’s the best type of content? You would likely get 12 different responses if you asked a dozen marketers.

Some will swear by blogs, while others will claim infographics are the best way to generate exposure. Ebooks can be a great way to establish your authority, while memes encourage organic shares.

Every type of content has different strengths and weaknesses. By understanding each offer’s unique benefits, you can develop a cohesive content marketing strategy unique to your needs.

In this piece, we’ll take a look at 17 types of marketing content, explain how you can use them to achieve your goals, and give you the knowledge you need to make a bigger splash with your marketing.

Why Content Marketing Is Important

The world has gone digital. As of July 2022, there were 5.03 billion people worldwide using the internet. That means 63.1% of the global population could potentially land on your website.

Thanks to smartphones, the internet has become the go-to source for entertainment, shopping, or settling arguments about Florida’s state bird (the northern mockingbird), no matter where you are.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that a study by the Pew Research Center found 31% of American adults reported being online “almost constantly.”

The heart of any successful digital marketing campaign, content marketing offers several benefits, including:

  • Building trust with your audience.
  • Improving SEO efforts.
  • Showcasing your expertise.
  • Helping maintain your brand’s reputation.
  • Encouraging social shares.
  • Improving conversion rates.

And on top of this, it’s one of the most cost-effective ways to attract new leads, as you can often repurpose your content to get added exposure without a lot more work.

Of course, not all types of content will reap the same level of rewards. Your mix will depend on the specifics of your business and your goals, but some types are essential.

17 Essential Types Of Content

1. Blogs

Since 1994, when Justin Hall created the very first weblog, or blog, as it would come to be known, blogging has been a cornerstone of successful content marketing.

A great way to regularly add new content to your website, blogs are a versatile, low-cost, and often evergreen way to boost organic traffic.

Their long-form format lets you focus on your target keywords and the important topics to your audience.

Blogs can also play an important role in your SEO strategy.

Their length (the average blog post is 1,500 to 2,500 words) provides Google’s search bots with a lot of information about their content, which in turn helps it determine how it helps answer search queries.

To ensure your blog posts are generating as much traffic as possible and getting the results you need, make sure they are:

  • Written for humans – not search engines.
  • Use your targeted keywords.
  • Optimized for loading speed.
  • Linked to sites with high authority.
  • Use headers for effective skimming.

And don’t forget your long-tail keywords. Remember, the more detailed a blog post is, the more likely it will attract the traffic you want.

Plus, it’s a great way to show off your brand’s personality.

2. Case Studies

Your target customers have a specific problem. Your goal as a marketer is to show them why your business is the best answer to said problem.

To do this, you have to demonstrate not just that you’re an expert in the field but also that your solution actually works. And one of the best ways to do this is through case studies.

Case studies give your audience a real-life scenario in which someone like them used your offering to solve their problem. They see the buying journey from start to finish, helping them visualize how your product or service works.

They allow you to portray yourself as an expert, which helps reduce perceived risk, particularly for high-cost products and services.

And like blogs, they offer a longer format in which you can effectively add keywords without feeling like they were shoehorned in.

To maximize their impact, you should make sure your case studies:

  • Focus on an issue your target audience can relate to.
  • Feature a cohesive narrative from start to finish.
  • Include real statistics wherever possible.
  • Accurately portray how your business solved the issue.

3. Checklists

Santa Claus is not the only one making a list and checking it twice. Many people love a step-by-step guide to performing a task or solving a problem.

By dividing tasks into smaller, more manageable ones, checklists can make even the most complex jobs less daunting. And from a marketing perspective, they’re a great way to generate leads.

Audiences use them as a simple, easy, and free way to make sure all the right steps are being followed. They create ownership, establish expectations, and set deadlines, all of which contribute to productivity.

In addition to creating a useful tool for customers, checklists also let your targets know you understand what they’re facing. Good checklists will include:

  • A title establishing the purpose of the list and why it’s useful.
  • Step-by-step tasks that outline the overall process – including subtasks.
  • Timeframes for each step – this could be a hard date or a range.
  • Status indicating whether a step is completed, in progress, or not started.

4. Customer Reviews And Testimonials

You know your business is great, but let’s face it: saying it yourself doesn’t count for much. What does matter, however, is what your customers are saying.

Word of mouth for the digital age, customer reviews, and testimonials give you a level of credibility no amount of paid marketing can ever achieve.

Studies have shown 93% of consumers say online reviews impact their shopping choices, which makes them extremely valuable.

Reviews and their less-celebrated-but-no-less-important-counterpart testimonials help reduce the feeling of risk and provide a useful way to overcome potential objections. Plus, because they’re customer-generated, they cost you nothing.

There are several ways to encourage them, including:

  • Directly asking for reviews and testimonials.
  • Incentivizing customers to create them.
  • Creating automated replies that make creating reviews easy.

Google factors in positive reviews when determining Search Quality Raters Guidelines.

These do not have a direct impact on search rankings but do help ensure your pages meet the minimum quality threshold the search engine demands.

You should prominently feature testimonials and reviews wherever they logically fit, including on webpages and in emails.

5. Ebooks

One of the best ways to present yourself as an authority is to demonstrate thought leadership. And one of the best ways to do that is by creating an ebook.

These long-form texts are not advertisements, at least not in the traditional sense, but instead, they offer value to potential customers.

By deep diving into a subject particular to your field, you demonstrate your expertise while simultaneously providing value to your targets.

If your ebook covers a particularly under-covered topic or presents information in a new light, it can lead to significant interest in your company. And even better, because these long-form texts are generally hidden behind an email or contact form, they offer a great way to generate new leads.

6. Email Marketing

The bread-and-butter of marketing in the 21st century, email marketing is a fast and flexible way to reach a highly targeted audience.

Whether you’re trying to stay top of mind for existing customers, reach new ones, or build brand awareness, email marketing gives you a measurable way to engage with targets.

You should be using email to contact people regularly at each stage of your sales funnel.

Limited-time offers can help persuade that hesitant lead to finally give you a chance. Birthday messages to existing customers help keep your brand at the forefront, and abandoned cart emails can entice people back to complete purchases.

No matter what your business goals are, there’s an email strategy to help you achieve them.

Make sure you keep your strategy centered on those goals, segment your audience to speak to specific audiences, and measure your results. Then, take what you have learned from this campaign and apply it to the next one.

7. Guides And How-Tos

In-depth guides and how-tos are necessary for any company offering a complex product or service.

Another way to demonstrate how knowledgeable you are, they are a great way to expand your online presence.

For example, if you are a software company, providing how-to content in the form of printable guides or online training courses will help your clients get the most from your product.

They can also help eliminate frustration and minimize learning curves – both things customers love.

8. Infographics

Everyone knows a picture is worth a thousand words. Infographics are this adage applied to marketing.

By allowing you to present a significant amount of information in a quick and easy-to-understand format, they provide an easy way for viewers to understand information.

Great for catching the eyes of people who only scan the text on your webpage (which is almost everyone), infographics give marketers control over which information is highlighted.

Create infographics that call out statistics, events, or timelines that help pitch your business. Quick and low-cost, they often act as standalone content that can be shared on social media.

To ensure you’re getting all the credit (and backlinks) you deserve from your content, include a snippet of HTML code that allows other webmasters to embed them on their sites.

9. Interactive Content

In the old days (i.e., before the internet), marketing usually talked “at” an audience. But now, the power of technology has given marketers the ability to speak “with” people.

Interactive content is a great way to harness this functionality to gather information, boost engagement, or find new customers. Plus, they’re a great way to provide value and/or showcase your creativity.

Create quizzes to help people decide on which product is perfect for their needs, build games to distract them while increasing your brand’s exposure, or create an app that adds value to their lives.

While this type of content may require a bit more technological knowledge (or outsourcing) than some of the items on this list, it can also be one of the highest-performing.

10. Interviews/Q&As

Want to massively expand your audience with just one piece of content? All you need to do is secure an interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Simple, right? Well, maybe not, but don’t let that discourage you from putting the power of interviews and question-and-answer segments to work for you.

A great way to build relationships (and links) with other websites, these are a great way for your internal thought leaders to showcase their knowledge to external audiences.

By going “on the record,” you’re showing the world that you stand behind your offering. This implies quality customer support, helps with reputation management, and can improve overall engagement.

11. Listicles

Unfamiliar with the word “listicle?” You’re not alone. But they refer to something you’ve definitely seen before. In fact, you’re reading one right now – it’s an article structured as a list, hence the name.

While the most popular of these are often Buzzfeed-esque pieces like “15 Hedgehogs With Things That Look Like Hedgehogs,” they don’t have to be mindless entertainment but instead can be used as powerful pieces of marketing content.

People love listicles because they are easy to skim, you know what to expect, and they break information down into digestible chunks.

Marketers love them because they’re easy to plan and write.

Create your own marketing listicles following these steps:

  1. Choose a topic and angle.
  2. Select a keyword.
  3. Write the list points.
  4. Wrap up with a solid conclusion.

12. Podcasts

No longer solely the domain of true crime junkies, podcasts are a great way to build your brand with effective content marketing that people can consume on their commute, on a walk, or at any other time they find convenient.

Podcasts allow you to share your stories and experiences directly with your audience, building relationships by speaking to your targets on a personal level.

To maximize the impact of your podcasts, ensure you’re providing useful information in an entertaining format. You can also use guest hosts or interviewees as a way to expand your audience.

13. Social Media Posts

Everyone from your grandmother to the teenager next door is using social media these days.

While it’s true they might not be on the same platform, they’re all using it for the same purpose – to stay in touch. And there are literally billions of users worldwide.

Providing a way to initiate and maintain conversations with targets, social media has become an important part of every marketing mix.

Of course, how you use it will vary dramatically from one company to the next.

For example, a candy manufacturer may have good luck with recreating viral videos on TikTok, but that approach will probably fall flat for a software developer.

To ensure your social media efforts are reaping maximum rewards, you need to identify which platform or platforms your audience is using, then create content that will speak to them.

Seek to build relationships with both your audience and any influencers who can help expand the impact of your content.

And don’t forget, social media is also a great place to repurpose content you’ve already created.

Have a great infographic? That would be perfect for your Facebook. That tutorial video about your product’s hidden features should be on your YouTube page. Linking to your ebook on Twitter can help you land new leads.

Find where your content fits, then put it on your social channels.

14. User-Generated Content

Much like testimonials, content created by your users gives you an authenticity no amount of self-promotion can match. Even better, because it’s generated by a third party, it doesn’t take much investment on your part.

User-generated content, or UGC, could be anything from someone tagging your brand in a selfie to a recording of them using your product. It provides social proof while simultaneously providing word of mouth and encouraging engagement.

Encourage your fans and customers to make content by:

  • Regularly posting UGC on your social media channels.
  • Inviting user-submitted content, with or without rewards.
  • Creating and using your own branded hashtag.

15. Videos

If you’re looking for a way to engage your audience, there’s nothing quite like video.

Platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Meta’s Reels have made videos a ubiquitous part of digital marketing. And with good reason – video content works.

While this type of content generally requires more time and resources to produce than text or static content, video content has been shown to increase dwell time, improve customer understanding of your product or service, and lead to higher lead volume.

Part of the strength of video content lies in its versatility.

From short demo videos and social media clips to interviews and long-term videos that tell your story, video can help you connect with your audience in a way most other forms of content can’t.

16. Webinars

When you think of content marketing, webinars are probably not the first thing that springs to mind. However, they can be a very valuable part of your strategy.

Whether you’re using on-demand webinars to provide round-the-clock value or live sessions to create personal connections, these online education sessions are a great way to educate existing and potential customers, attract new leads, and establish your authority in your field.

To create successful webinars, first, identify an area of need. Maybe there’s a new law that impacts your industry, and there are many questions surrounding its implementation.

Maybe there’s a certain aspect of your offering that customers don’t seem to understand clearly. Or perhaps you just want to offer expert insights on a relevant topic.

Whatever it is, your webinars should provide unique content that adds value. Require an email list for registration, and they provide a great way to build new contact lists.

17. Whitepapers

Not to be confused with ebooks, whitepapers are lengthy papers filled with data, statistics, and information – sort of like business research papers.

The information they include can be the results of your own studies or a compilation of information compiled from other sources. Either way, they should offer key takeaways and provide credible insights.

Keep your design clean and visually appealing for easy scanning, and allow others to link to it to help generate backlinks.

Takeaway: Why Use Different Types Of Content

Though they may have common features, every prospect, lead, and customer you’re targeting differs.

Some people are visual learners and like videos and infographics. Others prefer to be taught new information and retain information from webinars best. And yet, others prefer downloadable texts they can peruse on their own time.

If you’re only creating one type of content, you’re not reaching as many targets as possible with a more varied approach.

It’s often tempting for busy marketers to take the easiest approach, but this isn’t the best recipe for long-term success.

Instead, determine what your goals are and how you will define success. Then, use this to create a multi-channel content plan that will help you reach it.

Regardless of which content mix you opt for, there are certain things every element, regardless of format, must do:

  • It should provide value.
  • It should promote your brand and product/service.
  • It should be targeted to your specific desired audience.
  • It should actively move customers along the purchasing journey.
  • It should be shareable.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and take risks. Not every type of content works for every brand, but if you put in the work, you’re sure to see rewards.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

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