In the old days, they called them “cheater packs”.  Packages of coffee, shortening, or sugar that resembled the market leader, except….upon further review, instead of five pounds of sugar you got four, instead of sixteen ounces of coffee you were purchasing 11.5 ounces.  When you really took the time to notice, how did you feel?  Usually like you were cheated.  Calling them “cheater packs” was appropriate.  When you order white tuna sushi, do you want to keep wondering if you are really eating escolar?  Is the red snapper really red snapper?  Is the profit to be made in mis-labeling seafood really worth it?

Why do companies risk their brand and reputation so wantonly?  Is profit really worth what you are gambling?  Think it’s easy to gain back a good reputation?  Ask Jack in the Box, ValuJet, Blackwater Security.  The ink was barely dry on the Tiger Woods scandal and the ads were being pulled, the endorsement money was drying up, and the phone was no longer ringing.  Was it all worth it?

I would suggest that this issue with integrity in marketing starts and ends with the people involved.  Would you rather win by cheating or lose by playing it straight?  I’ll repeat that question, because it is the premise and bedrock for the discussion: “Would you rather win by cheating or lose by playing it straight?”

I am suggesting that we need to start a movement right now that brings back and solidifies “Integrity in Marketing” as a pillar upon which all companies and individuals operate.  It needs to start now, and it needs to be un-waveringly inter-woven in the DNA of each and every company.  Even more, if you sell food or items that can kill if they operate ineffectively, then I would suggest you have absolutely no time to lose.  If a shirt rips, it’s probably okay….if a tire shreds at 65mph, then you have an issue!

So, how do we do it?  How can we implement a drive towards a higher IQ in marketing?  And by IQ, I mean “Integrity Quotient”.  How can we ensure that the marketing community as a whole raises its IQ level?  Here are some steps:

Ask Mom.  The absolute best rule to follow is to ask yourself: “If my Mom knew I was doing this, would she be proud or ashamed?”  Moms grow their kids for nine months, birth them, and never stop caring.  Would she be proud of what you are doing?  If you decided to move manufacturing to a plant where safety is last, input materials are of the worst quality, but profits would go up….would she be proud?  Ask Mom.

Build an integrity pillar.  Assuming Mom is always looking over your shoulder, build integrity in as a pillar in your organization.  I would suggest that integrity is more valuable than profit, due to its time horizon.  Profit is a short-term aspect of running the company.  Integrity is your brand.  Your brand does not just pop back up.  Integrity links to your reputation, and your reputation builds over the years….and can disappear in seconds.  Every single person in your organization needs to understand that integrity is one of the pillars of your company.  No doubts.  Build an integrity pillar.

Walk the walk.  You are the leader.  You are the one who sets the tone.  An organization does what they see is being done.  Realize how every move you make is watched and replicated by someone in your organization.  At the top, integrity is paramount to leading the company properly.  Conversely, the fish stinks from the head down….you set the tone.  If you show integrity in all dealings, your team will follow.  Walk the walk.

Install quality assurance.  You might have the most up-standing team, but sometimes things go wrong.  An ingredient might have made it into the supply chain inadvertently; your supplier may have cut corners without alerting you.  Anything can happen.  Quality assurance will monitor each step of the process, check to specification standards, and stop production before releasing anything harmful or un-worthy of trust to the public.  Install QA.

Openly dialogue with your customers.  In the day of every single person’s carrying a mobile phone or smartphone, you need an open line of communication with your customers.  Do not wait until an incident to try and start a dialogue.  You will find the receptivity has waned.  Do it now, use your social media platforms to have open and honest two-way communication with your customers.  They are going to talk about you either way, you might as well be part of the conversation.  Plus, if something does go wrong, you have a group that can help advocate for your company.  Openly dialogue with your customers.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  It cannot be stressed enough.  Your company needs to know how you stand.  You cannot be in all places at all times.  If you operate in 42 countries, you have got to count on standards and pillars to guide behavior and actions.  Hearing it from you, hearing how important integrity is to the company, will make a massive difference in compliance.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.

The above list is only meant as a beginning.  It should be used as a start to the discussion about integrity in marketing, doing what is right, and protecting the customers as well as your brand and reputation.

Lastly, I want to talk about trust.  Trust is defined as the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or strength of someone or something.”  Just like the infant trusts that you are giving him something to eat that is not going to make him sick, the public trusts that organizations are doing the right thing.  They already believe you have integrity!  It is inherent in human nature to believe that our favorite products are produced and developed with integrity and ethical behavior.  That trust explains why the mighty fall so quickly when integrity is breached.  You are not starting from neutral.  They trust you.  The delta between highly trusted and no trust is huge.  You cannot risk it.  Not for one second, and not for another penny in profit.

“Integrity in Marketing” deserves to be a pillar in your organization, and with each and every member of your team.  The public is counting on you.