Ethical Marketing – some examples in Aviation

ethics 300x225 Marketing & Sales Ethics   The Rotary 4 Way Test

When we tell people we’re in marketing at a social or networking event, sometimes we notice that people back up a step. Or look away. Or find some reason to excuse themselves. Marketing and sales ethics are not always a top priority.

I totally understand.

My Dad was particularly disgusted by sales and marketing people.  When we received a call at the house from a salesperson, he would simply hang up.  He explained that rules of polite society (saying please, thank you, excuse me, no thank you, avoiding interrupting, keeping appointments, being on time, etc.) simply didn’t apply when one was dealing with a salesperson.

If you look up “marketing ethics” on Wikipedia, you’ll see this:

Is marketing inherently evil?

A popularist anti-marketing stance commonly discussed on the blogosphere[3] and popular literature[4] is that any kind of marketing is inherently evil. The position is based on the argument that marketing necessarily commits at least one of three wrongs:

  • Damaging personal autonomy. The victim of marketing in this case is the intended buyer whose right to self-determination is infringed.

  • Causing harm to competitors. Excessively fierce competition and unethical marketing tactics are especially associated with saturated markets.

  • Manipulating social values. The victim in this case is society as a whole, or the environment as well. The argument is that marketing promotes consumerism and waste. See also: affluenza, ethical consumerism, anti-consumerism.

It took me a long time to realize that sales is as noble a profession as any other. There are good, bad, and ugly practitioners, but marketing in and of itself is simply connecting manufacturers or service providers with consumers that need the product. It includes market research, product development, advertising, elements of customer service, referral marketing and more.

From a practical perspective, a sales or marketing professional simply can’t afford to be unethical.   Particularly in the business to business environment and highly specialized fields like aviation, trust is our stock in trade.   Word gets around quickly and a person who isn’t trusted can’t adequately represent any product, or even himself.

Since ethics can be a subjective area, how do we guide our decisions?  There are always sticky situations that could go either way, depending on which definitions or guidelines a marketing professional adheres to. Some firms will err on the side of making a profit. Some will err on the side of always representing their client or his product in the best possible light.  We prefer something more objective.

The best test we’ve found is actually used by Rotary International, and it’s called the Four Way Test:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to All Concerned?
  3. Will it Build GOODWILL and Better Friendships?
  4. Will it Be BENEFICIAL to All Concerned?

This might seem simplistic. In fact, even children’s groups use it.  But strange as it may seem in this cynical world, this test is recited (along with the Pledge of Allegiance) at every Rotary function.  We have very intelligent, sophisticated people in our Rotary group, including doctors, lawyers, and business owners.  None of them takes this test lightly. They carefully and deliberately apply it when a question comes up about the priority between different service projects, or when the group is asked to take an action or make a donation.

We use this test also when we have a decision to make about a marketing campaign or a sales activity.

Is it the TRUTH?

This is a question of legality as well as ethics.  All marketing companies are careful not to include outright lies, but half-truths and implications abound in advertising. It’s important to “read between the lines.”

We tell our clients “the truth has to be good enough” without embellishment or exaggeration. If it’s not, the product needs to be improved before we launch a campaign.  We emphasize the positive points in our headlines, but ensure that we’re being accurate in our representations.

Is it FAIR to all concerned?

Competition is a part of marketing, of course. We do a lot of research on our clients’ competitors – we know how much traffic their websites receive, what keywords they are optimized for, often what trade shows they attend, and what magazines they advertise in.  We consider this simply being informed.  This plays into our recommendations to our clients, but we don’t do anything that doesn’t include publicly-available information.   It’s our intention to make SURE customers know what choices are available, and we sometimes even advise our clients to refer customers whose needs would be better suited by a competitors’ product. It’s better to build the goodwill in the industry and have a satisfied customer than to try to fit a round peg in a square hole.

The best product with the smartest marketing usually wins.  This is the reality of a competitive marketplace, but it’s also fair.

Will it build GOODWILL and better friendships?

There are many companies in the aviation industry that seem like competitors, but their product offerings have slight differences that make them better suited to a particular subset of the market. In these cases, rather than competing head-on and trying to outspend the competition on marketing, or undercut their prices slightly (engaging in a destructive “race to the bottom,”) it’s our philosophy to focus on the factors that differentiate our client from his competitors and focus on the particular customers who would benefit most from the differences.

As an example – Two Part 142 flight schools provide training to aspiring professional pilots.   Both have very short, cost-effective programs that prepare students for jobs as professional pilots as quickly as possible. The market for both includes pilots who already have their instrument and multi-engine ratings.

But there is a difference in demographics of prospective students – Global Flight Training provides type ratings in Citations. AeroStar provides type ratings in A320s and B737s.

By emphasizing the differences between the programs, we can serve the population of aspiring pilots by providing them with great information about both programs and letting them choose the one that serves them best.

Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

If buying a product is NOT the best way to solve a problem, we tell a prospective client so.

We use our Marketing Flight Plan process, with our New Client Questionnaire, to determine if a prospective consulting client will be a good fit. If there is anything that puts them outside of our realm of expertise, we a recommend they pursue a different course of action. Perhaps they only need our Marketing Master Class. Perhaps all they need is a graphic artist to improve their branding.  In either case, they are better served if we don’t waste our time and their money on a program that doesn’t serve their current needs.

So, the simple four-way test has some great applications. The simpler, the better for our purposes. It helps us explain our decisions to clients – they share our desire to be as ethical as possible and this gives us a simple way to collaborate on decisions.

Manners in Atlas Shrugged

Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden from Atlas Shrugged
Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden from Atlas Shrugged


I’m re-reading Atlas Shrugged, as is half the planet, since the movie came out.

One thing I remember discussing in college is the opinion that Ayn Rand’s ideas would be much more popular and accepted if her style were not so abrasive.  I tend to agree, but re-reading the book, I’m having a hard time putting my finger on the problem.

So, in a business etiquette blog, I have to ask- what is it that people find so abrasive?

Here’s an excerpt of an exchange between Hank Rearden and Dr. Potter of the State Science Institute.

I’d like to know – what is it about this exchange, for example, that crosses the line from “direct” to “abrasive?”


“The State Science Institute is a scientific establishment, not a commercial one,” said Rearden. “What is it that they’re so afraid of?”

“You’re using ugly, unnecessary words, Mr. Rearden. I am endeavoring to suggest that we keep the discussion on a friendly plane. The matter is serious.”

“I am beginning to see that.”

“We are offering you a blank check on what is, as you realize, an unlimited account. What else can you want? Name your price.”

“The sale of the rights to Rearden Metal is not open to discussion. If you have anything else to say, please say it and leave.”

The man leaned back, looked at Rearden incredulously and asked, “What are you after?”

“I? What do you mean?”

“You’re in business to make money, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“You want to make as big a profit as possible, don’t you?”

“I do.”

“Then why do you want to struggle for years, squeezing out your gains in the form of pennies per ton – rather than accept a fortune for Rearden Metal? Why?”

“Because it’s mine. Do you understsand the word?”

The man sighed and rose to his feet. “I hope you will not have cause to regret your decision, Mr. Rearden,” he said; the tone of his voice was suggesting the opposite.

“Good day,” said Rearden





Dress for a Tie?

The conventional wisdom (as in Jeffrey Fox of How to Become CEO: The Rules for Rising to the Top of Any Organization, or in  John T. Molloy’s New Dress for Success, etc.) is that one should show respect for ones coworkers and clients by striving to be the best-dressed person in the room.

Guy Kawasaki advises us in his book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions to “dress for a tie,” meaning to dress as you think your coworkers or clients will dress to show a spirit of equality.

Personally, I think that showing up for a meeting in a nice business suit sets the tone. I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to get attention without raising my voice, I’m more likely to have my suggestions taken seriously without having to verbally emphasize my point, and we get more done when I dress more carefully.

I’m also concerned that morale in a workplace slips when people come to work dressed in very casual clothes.  It won’t be long before we show up to work in our pajamas and flip flops with uncombed hair.

What do you think?



Manners and Men

Cairo Time
While Tareq has the impeccable manners of someone who was brought up by strong women in Europe and the Middle East, Mark has the more casual manners of a modern American. It's a great film, besides being a very instructive comparison!

I saw the movie Cairo Time on cable last night, and one thing that really stood out in the movie was the difference in manners between the characters Tareq and Mark.

While Tareq has the impeccable manners of someone who was brought up by strong women in Europe and the Middle East, Mark has the more casual manners of a modern American.  It’s a great film, besides being a very instructive comparison!

Written and directed by the Oscar nominated Ruba Nadda, and starring Patricia Clarkson (Shutter Island, Vicky Christina Barcelona) and Alexander Siddig (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Cairo Time tells the story of marriage, romance, culture and far-flung travel. Set against the magical Egyptian landscape, Cairo Time is a film of beautiful cinematography, which contributed to its 2009 Canadian Film Circuits’ People’s Choice Award, and shared in its stand-out success at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Juliette (Clarkson) is married to Mark who works as a government diplomat abroad. Their adult children have moved on and Juliette is wishing for more time with her husband, which was the reason for their trip to Cairo. In the Egyptian city on her own as she waits for her husband’s delayed arrival, Juliette finds herself caught in a whirlwind romance with his friend Tareq.

I should say that many American men have impeccable manners as well. I am lucky enough to be married to a man who was raised in the South and opens doors, helps me off with my coat, and so on.

Seeing the movie made me remember an incident my son had in college.   He was in a class where they were discussing ethics and manners and the topic came up of opening doors for women.

Some of the young women in the class felt that opening a woman’s car door, or holding open the door of a building, was somehow anti-feminist, that it was a statement that “women are weak.”

My son, (who was, of course, raised to be an opener of doors) made the point that we also open doors for presidents and ambassadors.  He advocated the thought that it was a gesture of respect. His opinion wasn’t popular.  But I was proud of him for speaking up.

What do you think?  If you’re a woman do you find old-fashioned manners attractive?  If you’re a man, have you been discouraged from using traditional “manly” manners?

Business Etiquette – Touchy About Handshakes

In sales and marketing, shaking hands is a vital skill.   A mentor taught me that a woman always offers a handshake first, because men in some parts of the U.S. are taught to wait until a lady makes the first move to shake hands.

I once went to shake the hand of a gentleman I was being introduced to at a wedding in Lahore.

“I am not permitted”  he said, backing away.

I took the hint, and we continued to have a fascinating conversation about how we knew the bride.  The gentleman was just that – very civilized, polished and friendly; and I knew that some devout Muslim men don’t shake hands with women.

There are less-religious reasons that people avoid handshakes –

Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel prefers “knuckle bumps” to handshakes, he reportedly adopted the gesture as a friendly way to avoid his contestants’ germs.

And this week, Indonesia’s pious information minister, Tifatul Sembiring, is reportedly in hot water for touching the hand of First Lady Michelle Obama, in what he describes as forced contact.  From the video of the reception line, it didn’t appear that Mrs. Obama was forcing herself on anyone.

Apparently, the handshake is not as ubiquitous as it once was.  What are your thoughts?

Keeping in Touch with Clients, Customers and Contacts During the Holidays

Simplify the Holidays

It might seem early, but as crazy as last year’s holiday season was, I’ve resolved to get a jump on it.

Here are some ideas for keeping in touch with clients, customers and contacts during the holidays:

  • Send Thanksgiving cards. Christmas cards come in a pile with everyone else’s, so Thanksgiving cards stand out and get noticed. It’s a great opportunity to tell your customers you’re thankful they did business with you this year and you’re looking forward to next year.
  • Import your lists from your customer database into your SendOutCards account to make holiday greetings easier.
  • Use your own handwriting. SendOutCards has a great program for importing your handwriting. It works better than I expected.
  • You can set up your cards any time you like, and they’ll go out when you specify. This makes it easier to enjoy the holidays NOT at your computer!

If you don’t have a SendOutCards account, you can a free trial account by clicking this link.

Attention to Detail vs. Micromanagement

When does “attention to detail” become “micromanagement?”

A friend of mine is a perfectionist and runs a tight ship in his department at a large company. He has a great reputation and his team thinks he’s great.  Except for one guy, who uses the “M” word every time he has a disagreement with my friend.

Now, I’m a person that hates being managed at all, and micromanagement in particular has a connotation of a nosy boss looking over your shoulder all the time critiquing everything you do and the way that you do it.  I think people need to be trusted and given latitude to do their job their own way so that it’s satisfying to them and takes advantage of their unique skills and preferences.

On the other hand, it IS necessary for bosses to define objectives and make sure that quality standards are met. In competitive industries, it’s absolutely vital to the company’s success (and even survival) to ensure that employees produce top-notch products and services.

Where do YOU draw the line between attention to detail and micromanagement?

Bonehead Management Tactic – Forced Ranking

Found an article in – number one on their list of 10 Management Practices to Axe is a good one –

Forced Ranking

The idea behind forced ranking is that when you evaluate your employees against one another, you’ll see who’s most critical on the team and who’s most expendable. This theory rests on the notion that we can exhort our reports to work together for the sake of the team 364 days a year and then, when it really counts, pit them against one another in a zero-sum competitive exercise. That’s a decent strategy for TV shows such as Survivor but disastrous for organizations that intend to stay in business for the long term. What to do instead: Evaluate employees against written goals and move quickly to remove poor performers all the time (not just once a year).

Forced ranking is something most managers are  asked to do if they’re in the game long enough, and it’s so ingrained in many corporate cultures that it takes some backbone to resist. When John was managing a technology group several years ago, he had the opportunity to supervise a fantastic group of people. He ranked them all “outstanding” and was told by his manager that he couldn’t do that.  It took quite some doing to convince the heirarchy that they really WERE all outstanding, and to play silly games with HR to make it everyone’s evaluations come out accurate and fair.

The only possible result from people who actually DO forced rankings are these:

Option One – Your people step on each other climbing the “ladder” and currying favor.

Option Two – Decent employees who refuse to participate in Option One start devoting their energy to looking for work in a more cooperative environment.

A Quick and Powerful Way to Meet Your Objectives – Public Speaking

Public SpeakingBeing able to give a presentation to a chamber of commerce, business group, or even a group of coworkers can be daunting. Most people are more nervous about public speaking than they should be. The great thing about that is that if you can summon the courage, you will find several advantages:

  • Speaking gives you the opportunity to become known in the community
  • You are seen as an expert on the topic of your presentation
  • It’s a great platform for sales or conveying your ideas

Since so few people consider public speaking, you’ll have relatively little competition, and most groups that meet regularly are looking for speakers.   You can add your speaking availability to your website and you may be surprised to be invited to speak for groups you may not have known about it.

Some tips for doing it well:

  • Find out as much as you can about the audience. If you know something about the area or about the group of people you’re talking about, you can make relevant comments and use relevant humor.
  • Know your topic very very well.  Whether you take questions or not, being knowledgeable about history, recent developments, and everything in between about your topic will make you feel more comfortable.
  • Dress up.  Wearing an outfit that makes you feel great and confident will help your presentation.   Preferably, wear something you’ve worn before so you know it’s going to be comfortable and appropriate and won’t surprise you with a sleeve that’s too tight while you’re making a hand gesture!
  • Don’t try to convey too much at a time.  One to three key ideas with supporting information and facts is plenty for most 20-30 minute speaking engagements.
  • Enjoy it!  People can tell that you enjoy your audience and your topic.

Have a great time!  And let us know if you have any other tips for aspiring speakers.

Business Etiquette Quiz

A business etiquette quiz that was quite good –

This one had me stumped:

16-  You’re scheduled to meet a business associate for working lunch and you arrive a few minutes early to find a suitable table. 30 minutes later your associate still hasn’t arrived. Do you:

  1. order your lunch and eat?
  2. continue waiting and fuming that your associate isn’t there?
  3. tell the head waiter you’re not staying and give him our card with instructions to present it to your associate to prove you were there?
  4. after 15 minutes call your associate?

Their answer:

A. You’ve waited 30 minutes. Expect an apology later, though.

Do you agree?    I think they’re right other than that it’s rarely productive to “expect an apology.”  And if it was a friend or client you have a relationship with, I would call after 15 minutes.  It’s possible they’re stuck in traffic. (Although THEY should be doing the calling if that’s the case.)

Take the quiz –