5 Ways Associations Can Engage in Ethical Marketing

Amy Thomasson
January 12, 2021

Even in the best of times, executing an effective marketing campaign isn’t easy. From research, to content development, to reporting and analytics, each component must be measured with multiple stakeholders and constituents in mind. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice at the forefront of our everyday lives, marketing—especially taking an ethical approach to marketing, has become even more complicated. How do we balance the need to produce and promote programs, products, and services to our members with the need to cover the operating costs for these efforts and ensure the survival of our organizations? How do we market to people who are facing real challenges to their health and safety? It starts with ethical marketing.

Through ethics, individuals, and by extension, organizations, draw a line between right and wrong. Ethical marketing allows organizations to communicate with their constituents, but in a transparent, fact-based, socially, and environmentally responsible manner. Now, more than ever, it is critical that associations act as trustworthy representatives of our members and the association industry at large, by engaging in ethical marketing practices. Here are five key ways you can implement more ethical marketing communication practices.

Tighten Up Data Collection
Before you can even begin to communicate, you and your organization must engage in continual data collection and refreshment efforts. At a minimum, every association needs to understand how it collects, uses, analyzes, and stores data on its members and prospects. Maintaining GDPR compliance is not enough. Think about ways your association can let members ‘under the hood’ of your data collection efforts, sharing with them how, why, and in what applications you’ll be using the data they provide. Ethical associations collect only the data they absolutely need and have plans to utilize in the short-term.

Lead with Information
Our members are facing a delicate balancing act including family responsibilities, economic challenges, and concerns about health and safety. Associations need to act as a simplifier. We must create and curate relevant content for the here and now and cut through the clutter. Many associations, especially medical societies, were quick to create online COVID-19 resource centers to serve as hubs for the latest health and safety information. PCMA is another example of an organization that is providing the information members need in an easily accessible format, through its Digital Experience Institute. Offerings range from long-form whitepapers to bite-sized tips and quick reference guides, ensuring a variety of resources for varying member needs, all packaged in a clear, visually appealing online format. 

Address Current Challenges
Associations exist to address the needs of the members and amplify the voices of the members we serve. Ethical associations understand the need to pivot their messaging and their offerings to address our current reality. For example, the American Bar Association recently announced the launch of the ABA Racial Equity in the Justice website, which is “a central clearinghouse of ABA-related information and resources for attorneys, the legal professional, and the public on a wealth of issues addressing bias, racism, and prejudge in the justice system and society.” Rather than a great deal of marketing fanfare, the announcement was made via a brief, straight to camera video from ABA President, Judy Perry Martinez, displaying emotion, authenticity, and clearly and directly calling out the special duty lawyers have to address racial injustices done in the name of the law. 

Promote Safe Practices
From restaurants promoting contactless delivery to US Soccer’s “Bend the Curve. Stay at Home Campaign,” promoting responsible social distancing practices is the new norm for major brands. However, your organization doesn’t have to be in the Fortune 500 to effectively spread the word about health and safety. Ethical associations model safe practices in both the language and the images we use when promoting events. Although most in-person events for 2020 have been canceled, many of us are still using imagery from previous years’ events when communicating about future programming. Consider removing photos featuring handshakes, hugging, and large groups closely congregating, and select photos that convey socially distanced interaction. 

Think Big Picture
In times of major upheaval like we’re facing today, it’s important for associations to think not only about how we can help our members but about what we can do as stewards of a given industry or profession. Ethical associations think about the greater good. They’re concerned with more than just their own survival. During the onset of the pandemic, ASAE extended existing memberships for an additional three months. As an organization made up of professionals who are also facing challenges collecting dues within their own organizations, ASAE understood the true meaning behind ‘grace’ in a grace period. While some may worry that these communications and the policies behind them could hurt the bottom line, ethical associations are more concerned with the big picture.