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Peter Brown

Peter Brown

Helping Small and Medium Businesses Achieve Their Full Marketing Potential | Digital Marketing Expert

Is Social Responsibility Important In Digital Marketing?

Within the realm of digital marketing, there are ubiquitous conversations about the ethics of this vast and consistently evolving industry; concerns regarding ethical practice and the use of AI, algorithms and tracking. 

There are discussions based on digital marketing and the widely accepted use of utilitarianism as an ethical practice – making a decision that is judged as ethical or unethical based on the outcomes or consequences of those decisions. Ultimately resulting in questions surrounding privacy, the use of personal data and the numerous factors that come from creating online presence, and utilising platforms like social media. 

However, a growing factor that must be considered alongside the questions of ethical practices, is that of social responsibility. A recent study in the US shows that 75% of people are more likely to purchase from a company that aligns with an issue they agree with. 

This suggests that not only are general audiences becoming more and more conscious as to social and cultural matters – but that in the same vein, audiences are expecting more from companies themselves and showing that they mean it through their buying habits.

So, when it comes to a digital marketing agency in London, for example – as one of the most competitive locations for digital marketing in the UK, how is this relevant to standing out amongst the crowd of digital marketing businesses? Is it important? And how can social responsibility within marketing practices impact the success or failure of a marketing agency itself? 

But on the flip side, how is social responsibility important in this era of collective awareness? Younger generations, in particular, are expecting more from the infrastructures and conglomerates that have held up a system of commerce for generations – demanding that better, more ethical and conscious practices are put in place. 

Being climate positive, diverse, and forward-thinking is governing entire demographics. 

So how important is that for digital marketers to consider in their own practices?

Let’s explore.

What Is Social Responsibility In Marketing?

In the context of business, social responsibility holds that a business should be ‘good citizens’, balancing the act of driving revenue with acts or strategies that benefit communities or society – whether that is on a local or global scale. Many companies have also incorporated socially responsible elements into their practices and marketing strategies in order to benefit communities with products or services.

Social responsibility in marketing represents the practice of attracting customers who want to make a difference with their purchases. It also, therefore, extends to the idea that digital marketers need to be conscious of whether the clients they’re representing are making a positive impact, or not.

And if not – is it becoming necessary for marketing agencies to ask these questions of their clients? 

Why Be Socially Responsible? 

A Kantar study conducted in 2020 revealed, somewhat unsurprisingly, that 68% of consumers expect brands to be clear about their values, while 46% of millennials and 42% Gen-Zers are placing these expectations on companies and brands to be brave about tackling social and cultural issues within their practices. 

If there is a growing demand from audiences as a whole that the businesses they engage with are actively tackling social issues, changing the larger scale practices that may be ecologically damaging, or supporting structures of inequality, for example – then arguably, the same must be asked of the digital marketing agencies who are planning and strategising the online presence of these businesses? 

Of course, for the giants within E-Commerce particularly, these brands will have in-house marketing teams, so the question becomes one of multiple parts, to focus on the role of the digital marketer in this situation. 

When it comes to SMEs that a digital marketing agency tends to represent, how important is it for the longevity of that agency to consider the social and environmental footprint of their clients? 

And what are the consequences of not taking these factors into consideration, for digital agencies themselves? This is something we’ll explore slightly later.

Remaining Relevant

Many more audiences are requiring more from the companies that they engage with. As well as the recent Kantar study that found that 68% of US respondents would expect brands to be brave about their values, recent statistics around social value suggest that:

  • 68% of consumers in both the US and UK would stop using a brand because of poor or misleading Corporate Social Responsibility
  • 71% of responders to a ‘purpose perception’ study, would purchase from a purpose-driven company over the alternative when costs and quality are of equal standing
  • Nearly half of online consumers in the UK and US would pay a premium for socially conscious or eco-friendly brands

So, when reviewing just a few of these stats, it’s almost impossible to ignore the correlation between audience buying behaviour and whether a brand or company is socially responsible. 

While the figures of those who would consider and expect brands to be upfront about their values changes depending on ethnicity or other demographic group, it’s undeniable that in order to remain relevant to their audiences, and their vastly more impactful expectations, being socially responsible is critical. 

And while this is largely applicable to companies themselves, and their practices, it again feeds into the suggestion that if the success of the company and its marketing efforts is becoming more dependent on how vocal it is about social values, then the relationship between business and a marketing agency also is becoming dominated by the need to be socially responsible.

With an influx of companies incorporating socially responsible elements into their marketing practices, then it follows that the marketing agencies – for SMEs in particular – must account for how a prospective or existing client might sit amongst an unequivocally more conscious audience pool.  

Accountability

When social media is rife with cancel culture, and numerous brands are being held under a closer microscope than ever, companies are being exposed for malpractice or misleading CSR. 

Individuals, as well as corporations, are being held accountable for either their silence on social matters or being perceived to be ‘opportunistic’ by running socially invested campaigns. 

In 2020 there was a notable mainstream shift where consumers adopted a sense of responsibility, educating themselves on the brands they were supporting financially, and holding them accountable to change practices that actively worked against social or environmental progress.

Bad press online is now a brand’s largest challenge, with consumers shifting from passive to active. This has the ability to harm the success of a brand that doesn’t proactively support social issues, or climate issues. 

This is also the case for brands that are ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ of running campaigns that are perceived to be superficial, with many being accused recently of profiting off such campaigns and celebrations like pride, for example – and also those that remain silent on social issues. As it’s suggested that 49% of consumers believe those companies that don’t speak out on their values, or current matters, don’t care. 

In this case, it could be argued that it’s the responsibility of the digital marketing agency to consider the impact of creating a marketing strategy for a client that is not socially responsible. And how this does not just have a negative impact on the clients’ business, but their own for being associated with it.

If consumers are holding brands and businesses to a higher standard, then should digital marketing agencies do the same for the clients they represent? 

Should agencies similarly be held accountable, for the brands they choose to partner with?

In terms of being held accountable, while any ‘backlash that is hypothetically faced by a brand is not directly reflected upon the digital marketing agency itself, there is an element of reputation that feeds into this situation…

Do Give A Damn About Reputation

Social proof is one of the focal ways that any business attracts more customers – and this still remains the case for digital marketing agencies. 

Testimonials and reviews are one of the most key ways to attract business, for brands and agencies alike. Within the world of B2B marketing, one business will see that another is supported by a respectable brand through the testimonials received from existing and previous partnerships. 

Therefore, an agency with social proof may convince a potential brand that it offers more growth potential over an agency that does not utilise social proof methods – such as reviews, testimonials or simply showcasing previous and existing partnerships. 

However, this comes as a double-edged sword. 

If an agency has a demonstrable history of partnerships with brands that are well known, or quickly understood, to work actively against social or climate issues then this may begin to impact the likelihood of brands wanting to be associated with that agency. 

Because of the increasing impact that individual consumer responsibility is having on the performance of businesses themselves, a pattern may follow that these brands will want to partner – where necessary – with a digital marketing agency that also aligns with forward-thinking values. 

One that actively demonstrates an understanding that being increasingly socially aware within marketing is vital to remaining relevant to audiences. 

Conclusion

Customers are actively making rapid social and cultural change and using their money to do so; meaning it is essential that businesses must follow suit. 

An agency that therefore doesn’t consider the CSR of a client may fall behind in an era of increasing customer responsibility, brand accountability and online activism.

Around one third of customers have suggested that they would stop purchasing from even long-term favourite brands since 2019, if they have lost trust in those products or services. Customer loyalty is no longer something that brands can rely on.

Customer buying behaviour is forcing brands, companies and their marketing agencies to either uphold forward-thinking, inclusive, and socially responsible practices – or face a sharp decline in success.

While this is an incredibly broad topic that needs to be unpacked, it’s certainly an interesting consideration for digital marketing agencies, and the future of marketing practices.

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