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Ethical Branding Criteria

Excerpts from a speech by John Dalla Costa to the American Marketing Association, May 2003.

Redefining Excellence for a Time of Suspicion

The State of the Branding Situation

  1. For people supposedly wired into the future and as the supposed trendsetters in business, brand managers and marketers are late to the ethics challenge. It seems paradoxical that brands seem to be losing their importance in almost direct relation to the expansion and deepening of our consumer culture. The breach of trust is actually related to chronic disproportion, and many companies are stuck using ?high trust? remedies for an evolving and brittle "low trust" culture.
  2. Having promised relationship, too many brands disappoint not on the basis of benefit or value but on that of experience.
  3. Most brands and companies jumping on the reputation or trust bandwagon are subscribing to the "thin" model for ethics that has been pioneered, polished and ultimately discredited by Boeing and Enron.

The State of the Art for Credibility

  1. To get to "thick ethics" we must pay attention to the continuity of defining variables — from core beliefs, to consequential obligations, to aligning values, to enabling ethics.
  2. To infuse ethical substance in brands we must reorient our anthropology, recalibrate the definition of value, and provide the extravagant, extraordinary generosity commensurate with our license to operate.
  3. To achieve ethical rigor we need to practice aggressive outreach — triangulating aggressive performance norms with aggressive professional standards with the aggressive demands of critics, stakeholders, and the emerging principles of sustainability.
  4. To fulfill expectations for ethical excellence we must practice relationships in surround-sound — attending to balance in pre-interaction, delivering respectful interaction, and managing outcomes, implications and unintended consequences post-interaction.
  5. Regaining credibility requires ethics not as a restraint for not violating trust but ethics as contributing to the internal and external social capital to achieve great things.

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