When I was growing up my family ran a china and glassware store and I spent many summers behind the till and on the shop floor. Working in this environment, I soon picked up the basics of marketing – learning how to effectively communicate with customers and why they chose certain products over others. In time I began promoting our wares to the local community and in doing so I developed an interest in direct marketing.
These were the days before geo-demographic targeting but we still divided up our printed flyers according to what we knew would appeal to certain segments of the neighbourhood. Being exposed to these kinds of techniques relatively early in life laid the foundation for my career in direct marketing but just as formative were the lessons I learnt on the shop floor – Treat the customer fairly, be respectful and be honest. It was upon these pillars that my family built its successful business.
Fast forward to today and whilst reading the DMA Code of conduct, I noticed that many of these lessons are reflected in the Association’s guidelines. If you are unfamiliar with the Code, it is an aspirational agreement to which all DMA members and their business partners must adhere. It is a common sense document that is succinct and simple to understand and I have no doubt that the marketing community will find it accessible and easy to follow. It outlines five straightforward objectives for DMA members:
• Put the customer first
• Respect privacy
• Be honest and fair
• Be diligent with data
• Take responsibility
Some of these objectives may sound like old fashioned principles, and perhaps they are, but to my mind they’ve never been more important. 21st century customers, who have grown up in a trademarked world of logos, endorsements and billboards have become desensitised to the effect of traditional marketing techniques and after witnessing big name brands repeatedly break promises, they no longer trust companies to do the right thing. For brands, this indifference and distrust compounds the difficulties they already face in trying to make their voices heard above the chatter generated by an ever increasing number of competitors. In this highly competitive world, honesty and integrity can be powerful differentiators. It’s no coincidence that in the last decade we’ve seen some of the world’s largest brands put these values at the heart of their messaging, from BP’s 2013 mission statement that repeatedly used the words ‘trust’ and ‘respect’ to Google’s famous slogan – ‘Don’t be evil’.
Of course, appearing to be a trustworthy brand and actually becoming one are two separate things. Companies serious about their principles need to ensure that they are woven into the fabric of their organisation and that they are agreed upon from the bottom up. They also need to ensure that the actions of their employees consistently reflect these principles. Today, even the slightest hint of disrespect or dishonesty on the part of a brand will be instantly spotted by consumers and broadcast, either in the press or through social media channels, causing serious damage to that brand’s reputation and, in some cases, its bottom line.
For any company looking to engender a culture of respectability and honesty within their organisation, the DMA Code is a great place to start. Although every company has different values, they should all want to live by the principles outlined in the document – whether they’re a multinational conglomerate or a small town china and glassware shop.