Ethical consumerism is the gateway to a better, fairer and more sustainable society. Increasingly, people are turning to brands with a social purpose. But, with global catastrophes looming, we need to quicken the pace. Here are 11 ways that ethical businesses can work together to accelerate the change.
The rise of ethical consumerism
Have you noticed? The old systems of business-as-usual are broken.
Consumerism is evolving to the demands of our times. As a business, it’s no longer good enough to be better or faster or newer or cheaper or first. People want more. But it’s not just about the products, it’s about the way they’re made, what they do and who they help.
In a world where people are increasingly aware of social injustices, inequality and the climate catastrophe (let’s call it what it is), care is a valuable commodity. Many people want to buy from businesses that do things differently. Businesses that put sustainability first, treat employees and their supply chain fairly and have a purpose beyond profit.
We call this ethical consumerism and it just might change the world. The good news is—little by little—the trend is growing.
According to the Ethical Consumers Markets Report, the size of ethical consumer markets in the UK has grown four-fold in the last 20 years, from £11.2bn in 2009 to £41.1bn in 2019.
The bad news is, inequality and carbon emissions are growing too. What we need is a way to accelerate the change to ethical consumerism. One solution is a cooperative effort between ethical businesses, social enterprises and conscientious organisations.
Working together for ethical consumerism
Ethical brands that are serious about doing social good should take a wider viewpoint. By working together, they can promote ethical consumerism as a whole. Ultimately, this could be a more effective use of their marketing efforts. Not just for driving change, but also for increasing their own market share.
You can start by reaching out to local businesses and creating an ethical business network. You will need to set some ground rules and agree to promote each other through your combined networks. For instance, a shop that sells organic food may promote a nearby sustainable fashion retailer and vice-versa. Make sure you join forces with businesses that share your brand values. And try not to pick those that compete in your own market.
Of course, you don’t have to create your own group. It could be there’s already one that’s tailor-made for you. Check out Sheffield Sustainability Network, Sheffield Makers and (ahem) Your Turn of course.
Once your community is ready, consider these eleven cross-pollination marketing tactics to counter challenges and drive positive change.
Newsletters are one of the best marketing channels a business owns. And not just because they’re super cheap. The recipients are people who have not just shown an interest in your brand, but taken the effort to opt into communications. They share your values. That means they’re likely to share the value of other ethical businesses too.
Support your community by agreeing to mention each other in your company newsletter. This could be the equivalent of a small ad, or a few lines about what they do and why you recommend them. You could use the heading ‘Our ethical partners’, or ‘Nearby ethical shops’ and add a clear link. An incentive will help to get people clicking.
Again, you can help to spread the word of your partners through your social media channels. They’ve followed you for your ethical credentials, so it makes sense that they would be happy to hear about your ethical collaborations too.
You may all agree to send three promotional posts a week on each other’s behalf. Posts should include a handle and a link to their website for more information.
Partner web pages
For extra exposure, feature your ethical partners on your website. This could be a small banner at the bottom of your ‘about us’ page, with a couple of descriptive sentences and a link to their website.
This isn’t just a great promotional tool, it also shows your customers that you are part of a wider ethical business movement. Better yet, all those inbound and outbound links to highly relevant businesses will provide a hefty boost to your SEO (search engine optimisation). That means your websites will become more visible on organic searches too.
Keen to keep boosting that SEO? One of the best tactics is to write great web content like blogs. Here you can feature guest blogs from your ethical business network. This could be an interview piece, a news item or a straight-up success story.
This is ideal because it allows you to gain exposure, create easy content (they’ll write if for you!), show your wider credentials and become an authority in your field. Bolstering your credentials will help to develop a loyal, wide-reaching audience. You can use this platform to enhance awareness and perceptions of ethical consumerism as a whole.
Another low-cost, simple tactic is to hand out coupons to your customers. Say they’ve just made a purchase and you’re handing them the receipt. As an extra thank you for being such a loyal customer, give them a 20% off voucher at your ethical partner’s shop. They’ll love you all the more for the gift.
Don’t have a physical store? Not to worry. This could look like a ‘confirmation of purchase’ email. Just add: ‘As a thank you, here are a few local e-vouchers we think you might like.’
Together, a larger ethical business network could pool resources to create an ‘ethical products catalogue’. This would feature products from all of the different brands. So rather than paying for multiple print runs and deliveries, costs would be shared.
By joining forces like this you will also be able to extend your mailing lists, so your promotions get far more reach than if you were to promote them independently. Better yet, by making a full suite of everyday products readily available you could help people switch to a 100% ethical shopping list. Why not add a lifestyle section with additional tips for our conscientious readers.
Aside: print catalogues aren’t eco-friendly. Offset the environmental costs by using recycled stock from renewable sources and planting trees.
A more eco-friendly option to the print catalogue is a joint e-commerce site. Again, this will help you share costs on hosting, design, development and maintenance.
Sharing resources means you can invest more time and money into building a website that offers quality content and great customer experience. All while focusing on organic and PPC SEO. Think of it as your very own Not on the High Street, eBay or Amazon. Only here, you each get to take 100% of the profit.
Joint retail space
Similarly, if you don’t have enough products or funds to own a high street shop, you might decide to work together and share retail space. The more people that join in, the lower the individual costs will be.
This would also give your customers a single point of purchase when shopping for ethical products, making them highly visible and readily available. For the innovative group, this is a great opportunity to strengthen the brand image of ethical businesses and lead the way in a growing market.
Working together isn’t only beneficial when it comes to promoting your businesses, it can also help you streamline your business model and make more informed decisions.
By creating an engaged community, you will be able to work together by sharing best practices, asking for guidance when needed and helping new social entrepreneurs find their feet when they first get started.
This would help to highlight ethical products for the conscious consumer. Better yet, it would also help to separate such products from the greenwashing practices of less ethically-minded businesses. An ethical label wouldn’t only help customers identify products in shops, it will increase visibility to the wider public. Imagine a clothing range that features a small tag or emblem—a little badge of honour that the customer can wear with pride.
Sure—customer reward points are great for marketing. They can also be complicated, expensive and resource-hungry. Working together (using a shared e-commerce site or stamped cards), makes the whole process that much simpler.
An ideal gift would be something like a bright wristband, a cap or a T-shirt. Not only would this provide a low-cost gift that many would love to wear, but it also helps to spread word of mouth.
The last word
In summary, collaborative marketing efforts are ideal for ethical businesses. Not only will they balloon the reach of your message, but they’ll also generate greater awareness of the wider social issues. Win-win!
In this article, I set out to present a few mutually beneficial ways that you can work together. But by no means is this a definitive list. Hopefully, this article has fired up your imagination and got you thinking about some collaborative opportunities you can explore.
If you’re interested in connecting with like-minded businesses and discovering further marketing resources, we’d love to hear from you.
We’re here to speak up for ethical businesses, social enterprises and everyday changemakers in Yorkshire. You can access free promotional support, marketing resources and guidance on our website.
Just say hello. It’s Your Turn.