How to Market with Integrity

Oct 14, 2007

IN his new book, Truth: The New Rules for Marketing in a Skeptical World, long-time marketing consultant Lynn Upshaw makes the case that it is neither naïve nor idealistic to employ marketing programs motivated by integrity and truth. Instead, integrity is a practical and proven way of achieving a competitive advantage—the only way for a company to gain success in this age of multiple marketing options and engaged consumers.

Integrity rings true for a brand, which is no small thing at a time when a savvy 10-year-old can spot a phony sneaker campaign in a second.

Truth marketing, however, is not something you can just tack on to a plan. It has to be an integral part of the marketing strategy and its execution. It also has to be an outgrowth of a company's internal culture. The company has to live its brand.

Upshaw's book is both strategic and practical. He begins by asking a slew of penetrating questions, such as: Do you treat your customers as partners, or as nameless sources of revenue? Is your marketing message technically legal, but inherently misleading? Are you focused on building your share of credibility? He then goes on to offer advice and hard-core solutions for marketing with integrity.

From a selfish point of view, the only problem with Upshaw's book is that pharma is not included in his discussion of different industries. Which raises the question: Can his solutions for marketing with integrity be applied to pharmaceutical companies at a time when the industry's reputation is so low it's equated with the tobacco industry?

Curious as to his opinion, Pharmaceutical Executive recently contacted him to find out:

You covered a number of industries in your book, but not the pharmaceutical industry. Why was that?

I could have written a whole chapter, or even three, about the pharmaceutical industry. I was trying to make the book about as many different kinds of industries as possible.

What would you have said in those missing chapters?

Trust is critical for pharma. It deals with products that, obviously, impact human beings' health and, frankly, their lives. Already, you're involved in something critically important to people. Consequently, if you promise a product will help my heart and it turns out to hurt my heart, the trust is broken to the point of almost betrayal: I've trusted you, and I've trusted my doctor, and suddenly things have gone sour. It tends to escalate. You now have people saying: "I don't know or care about your cost recovery. Why are these drugs so expensive? Why isn't everything generic? Why can't I go to Canada to get my drugs?"

These things are happening at a time when the industry is paying enormous fines for alleged malfeasance. It's really kind of coming to a vortex. If I had to pick a single industry that needs to operationalize integrity in its marketing, it would be this industry.

Given pharma's regulatory climate, can the marketing strategies for trust still be applied?

When you deal with the government, you always have to worry. Still, I believe the strategies can be applied. But think of where the problems have been: Think of a company that has taken outstanding corporate social-responsibility actions. They've invested in communities and done a lot of other good things. But that meritorious approach may not be ingested by, say, sales people. So, if the sales people are doing things that are marginal or questionable at the same time someone in another department is doing a wonderful work for the communities, that community work can be overshadowed in an instant by a scandal regarding sales practices.

Is that what you mean when you talk about the quality of a company's internal culture?

Yes, and it is really the point of the book. It is about how to incorporate strategies into your marketing plan so that issues of ethics and honesty are built in and people basically police themselves.