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For the development and sustenance of a marketing company it is important that the company or the marketers use all the means that they can get hold of. Each and every means that provides for customer satisfaction and company's profit should be used by the marketers or the business owners. However, in today's world marketing does not only call for satisfying customer needs; in addition it becomes important that the marketers remain in touch with their customers and maintain a healthy relationship with them by providing them with surprises at times. Maybe it was for this reason that Philips Kotler defined marketing as "A social process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others."
However, in pursuing these various means the marketers should know where to draw the ethical line. The marketers should keep in mind a number of things before venturing to achieve a marketing objective. First, there should be customer satisfaction and in addition to it there should be a healthy relationship between the marketers and the customers. Second, there must be company's profit; no marketing company can function as a charitable organisation. It must have some profit to sustain in the competitive atmosphere. Moreover, the marketing company will have a number of employees who will have to be paid on a regular basis and if the company does not make enough profit and pays its employees well there is a risk that the employees might switch company because even they have to sustain themselves and their families. A company can maximise its profit by maximum and economic use of the available resources, effectual production and efficient distribution. Third, the products should be eco friendly; it should not make products which might harm the environment or cause any harm to the customers or animals. On the contrary it is important that they make environment friendly products since the customers also seek for products which are beneficial for their health and for their environment. Finally, though not least importantly, there should be a concern for the employees as well. The employees form a significant part of the company and also of business as a whole since the owners alone cannot run a business all by himself or herself. Therefore, the marketers should not use any means or technology which might hamper or treat the employees unethically. Though one might argue that marketing is solely business and in business one should try to maximise one's profit and not care for ethics, it is not so. One might even earn benefits through unethical means. But that will only be for a short period of time. This is because no unethical work will be tolerated for a long time. One day or the other the unethical means will come into focus and the company will be doomed forever. But it is often seen that most of the people involved in the marketing business at one point or the other face ethical (or moral) dilemmas in the place where they work. Such dilemmas lead to too many complications within the company since if the person having such dilemmas makes unethical decisions it will have negative consequences on people working within the same company or on other people of other groups. This problem of maintaining an ethical atmosphere within a marketing company has been the debate of recent times. Many suggest that it is not possible to maintain a fair atmosphere in a business organisation. However, many others say that though it has always been a problem to sustain an ethical ambience within the company, it is not always been totally impossible. There are many recognised business companies which have sustained long years only because they have never lost their ethical principles. An expert in the field of business expert, LaRue Hosmer who is a teacher at the University of Michigan said that it is too much of a burden when one is faced with moral problems and has to decide between the right or the wrong. However, he also asserted that people in business who are in the higher positions are more prone to arrive at a morally appropriate decision if he/she does not lose track of the basic issues of even handedness. On the other hand, those businessmen who are influenced by the concepts of profit and income are more likely to use unfair means for gaining profit in the competitive market. Nevertheless, the concept of justice or equality or even handedness or ethics in a marketing business has never been suitably described; this concept has always been subjective. Whatever be the definition, the basic thing to be kept in mind is that neither the employees nor the customers should be unethically treated. The customers have less chance to be treated unethically since they are not in directly connection with the marketers. However, the employees are often seen to be treated immorally since they are directly related to the marketers and the marketers too, find it suitable to use the employees to gain company profit. In this process of making profit for the company, the marketers often do not care about how their employees are being treated. The only thing that they remain engrossed in is the profit of the company.
The word ethics has been derived from the word ethos. Ethos means the character of a person or the manner in which a person or a society works. Therefore, by ethics, one can mean the science of rules of behaviour or conduct; morals or principles. The principles which govern a marketing organisation are known as Marketing Ethics. It has always been accepted by all those concerned in the business field that if a company abides by these ethics, it is sure to attain a prosperous reputation among the customers and also among its competitors. On the other hand it has also been known among the same people that a marketing company which does not meet the demands of the ethical standards cannot meet the demands of its customers and thus, loses its reputation in the society and also its prospective customers. If a company is said to be following the marketing ethics, it means that the company is on purpose using fair techniques and moral standards while carrying out its activities within the organization. In other words, the company is making a clear distinction between the right and the wrong, following the right path and deliberately avoiding the wrong one for the benefit of the company, its employees and the customers with whom it deals. The sole purpose of a marketing company is to create competitive advantage and a company succeeds over another competing company when it performs an activity (or activities) which is (or are) better than that of the other company. This can be done by satisfying the needs of the customers as well as the employees.
Ethics in business is not a newly found concept. It has been there since the time when man started the concept of business. In today's world, however, a conscious effort to bring in ethics is being made and the demand for a more ethical business world is in the rise. Thus, the business industry is under a pressure from the newly established laws and public initiatives. One of such laws is the higher UK road tax which is imposed on vehicles which have a higher emission level.
In modern times this issue of ethics in business has got vast attention from different people and groups. There have emerged various watchdog groups and corporate research groups which find out the number of companies which employ ethical means to acquire success and which provide training in ethics and start certain programs which are socially responsive. Such groups which deal in finding out the companies engaging in ethical means are the Council of Economic Priorities, the Ethics Resource Center among others.
Many societies in the world place quite a fair amount of emphasis on success, which is a thing to be praised of. It is totally justifiable when a person or a society wants to move ahead and do something constructive for him/herself and for his or her family. But those people who are engaged in the field of business are often faced with a dilemma of right and wrong. While in their business activities, most of the time, it happens that to gain success and to advance in their field they have to find their way by stepping over others. Thus, it is seen that the businessmen often find success by way of hurting others. Those businessmen who are in the lower order in the business world have this tendency of stepping over others more than those in the higher order. This is because the small businessmen are more autonomous than the other people. They do not have as many liabilities and rules as the others do. Therefore they are the sole owners and rule makers in their business. They do not even have to answer anyone; neither do they have to suffer because of anyone involved in their business. Whatever they do they are solely responsible for that and that makes them more prone to gaining success through unethical means. But such is not the case always. If we look carefully we will also find that some small business owners are more ethical than some of the owners of large scale businesses. This is the case in most of the advanced nations of the world where ethics is neglected as unnecessary and people resort to unfair means to get rich and lead their companies to defeat other competing companies. When some good person (businessman) makes an effort to be ethical that effort is termed as an example of increasing marketing savvy instead of sincere regards to the ethics of business. Such an evidence is present in David Korten's view which was published in Business Ethics that "all this focus on measures like recycling, cleaning up emissions, contributing to local charities, or providing day care sounds noble, but it's little more than fiddling at the margins of a deeply dysfunctional system."
It has always been a debate whether the businessmen also have a responsibility towards the society. While some believe that they do have a responsibility towards social development by clinging to the ethical principles of business, many others find it rather unnecessary and think that businessmen are only to serve the processes of marketing and other responsibilities related to business and that the responsibility of uplifting or serving the society are on the shoulders of others, like those who are more precisely related to the society. But if we try to find out who these more precisely related people are we will come up with a number of people, in fact all the people who live in the society, and this group cannot be devoid of the businessmen as they are also an integral factor in the social structure since somehow or the other we all are related to the businessmen - almost every day we have to deal with the businessmen. Milton Friedman, the economist strongly criticised those who were in favour of the view that business owners and executives have, besides fulfilling the needs of the business arena, the responsibility of the social welfare. According to him such a concept demonstrates "a fundamental misconception of the character and nature of a free economy. In such an economy, there is one and only one social responsibility of business-to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits, so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud." Also the economist James McKie goes on to say that that "the primary goal and motivating force for business organizations is profit. The firm attempts to make as large a profit as it can â€¦. Profits are kept to reasonable or appropriate levels by market competition, which leads the firm pursuing its own self-interest to an end that is not part of its conscious intention: enhancement of the public welfare." But some other economists and ethicists believe that such ideas are totally capitalist and they are only means to neglect the responsibility that naturally lie on the shoulders of the business owners. These ethicists and economists are of the opinion that such views are the covers to hide from ethics and engage in every sort of cruel and unfair means to attain publicity and success. According to them such unfair means include misleading advertisements, environmental degradation through poor quality products and health hazarding products. If we observe very carefully we will come to the conclusion that each and every business organisation contributes to the society in one or the other way. This contribution may be either positive or negative. If a business organisation provides a positive role in the society the society can face a hard time easily, but if the role is negative, a small blow from outside will break down the society. In the same way the society also influences the business firms by providing for them a suitable environment where they can start and develop the business. In fact, it is for the society that the business firms are able to set up and survive well. Had the society not allowed or approved or supported the business organisation it would not have come into being in the first place and even if it would have established somehow, it would not have flourished as well as it flourished in a supportive society. Thus, on ethical grounds, it becomes important that the business organisations remain faithful to the society which had given them a shelter to grow in. They should not take up those means which would harm the society in any way; on the contrary, they should pursue those activities which would prove to be beneficial to the society as well as the environment. In recent times, the customers or consumers have also become very conscious about their society and environment. Thus, a company which promotes environment friendly products or is socially responsible gains more consumer support than a company which is only profit oriented and does nothing for the benefit of the society or the environment. Education is the most significant reason why this change in the outlook of the customers has occurred. Customers now are able to determine the benefits of the different products and have become very choosy when it comes to products related to their health and the environment. Many companies had to recall most of their products since it was found that the products did not meet the said efficiency level or because they were not safe for the health of the customers or were causing hazards to the environment. Such products cause too much damage to the companies' reputation and it takes a long time for these companies to regain the faith of the customers. It also means too much loss for the companies. The customers have this well known tendency to try to compare the products of one company with those of another company. Therefore, the companies should always stick to the ethical ground while dealing with the customers or in other words, the members of the society, and for that matter, to their employees as well. While making or developing a product the company's foremost concern should be its customers and should always keep in mind that it is for the customers they are able to survive in the society since a society is comprised of the customers who deal with the business companies. Customers prefer respect and honesty from the company they deal with and if they get what they want it will be easy for the company to please the consumers and gain profit. However, the company should not have the tendency to do good only to earn profit; it should have the natural tendency to do well, i.e. its acts of goodness should also be based on moral grounds. Most of the organisations have realised their responsibilities towards the society and the environment. Therefore, they have resorted to various means to curtail those activities which might harm or have been damaging the society or the environment. For instance, in reaction to the growing concern over global warming and ozone layer depletion, many companies have tried to use alternate means of manufacturing products which were earlier using CFC (Chloro Floro Carbon). Many others have already banned the use of CFC in their products. CFC destroys the ozone layer and makes it thin. Until late, it was used to produce compressors for refrigerators. However with the growing concern for the environment the companies have stopped manufacturing those products which needs CFC in their production.
At times the organisational pressures also complicate the matters concerning ethics in a marketing firm which may lead to more use of unfair use of technology to attain profit. Especially the employees working in a larger firm run the risk of being the victims of such unfair use of technology than those working in smaller business firms. This is because the owner of a small business firm, if he or she wants, can do a lot to improve the ethical environment where his or her employees work to earn for their living. Therefore they run a lesser risk of being mistreated by their employer. But such is not the case with the employees of a bigger business firm. The most evident reasons are two. First is that the responsibilities of larger business firms are more dispersed, i.e. the marketers responsible for imposing ethical business standards are more. Second, there are certain operating systems which are enforced by the larger firms, and at times even by the smaller firms, which make the workers tempted to use unethical means to derive benefits. For instance, at times a business firm may introduce an incentive scheme which is largely commission oriented for those in the sales force that the people in the sales department are more likely to make bribes. Another instance can be given of a corporate control system which might become extremely fixated in the matter of cost controls that it becomes impossible for managers in the production department to meet the demands of the people and finally they resort to using inferior quality objects or even cut the work timings of the workmen on a particular product so that they can produce more and more goods. In fact such operating systems or technologies become so powerful that the marketers do not even realise or do not want to realise that they are doing the wrong thing for the so-called benefit of the company. Such circumstances not only demoralises the employees along with the marketers but also makes it difficult for them to choose between morality and their career; and in a world of the survival of the fittest no employee would like to choose morality over career which, except for a guilt free conscience, provides nothing. In Industry Week the famous business executive William R. Holland said, "It is not difficult to discern right from wrong, but grasping the difference is only a first step. There must be the will, the inner discipline, the strength, and the character to do the right thing, regardless of the cost. Doing the wrong thing is to disregard the rights of others and inflict harm or grief on them."
The employees follow their employers; it is a general tendency among people. Therefore a lot rests on the employers-what they do, how they do, how they execute their duties, etc. Thus, even the issues of ethics and morality are embedded in their minds by the entrepreneurs and business owners under whom they work. Thus, if the owners are capable of creating an ethical environment, their employees will follow suit. However it is not always so; at times very dishonest and unethical employees are present in an ethical firm, whereas, really ethical employees are, at times, found in an otherwise unethical business company. Many experts in the field of business and many ethicists have suggested a number of ways through which managers and owners of business firms can bring in ethical means in their business firms and maintain that ethical code so that the firm can run without morally tainting its employees. The basic way through which a business owner can bring in and maintain an ethical code within his or her company is through self example. If the owner or the manager is capable of showing his or her subordinates that he or she is behaving in a fair way, then the employees will also follow the same path. The ones in higher positions should always make it a point to treat customers, employees and even the competitors in a fair and just manner and punish those who do not cling to the ethical codes. Thus, the owner will finally have a work force which will make him or her proud in the long run. It was in the same context that William R. Holland must have said "It is perfectly possible to make a decent living without compromising the integrity of the company or the individual. Quite apart from the issue of rightness and wrongness, the fact is that ethical behaviour in business serves the individual and the enterprise much better in the long run." It has also been argued and agreed by many business owners themselves that companies who have an ethical code and stick to it to create an ethical environment have always succeeded over other competitors. Cohen and Greenfield once said that customers buy products from a company regardless of their feelings towards the company. But, they observed, a values-led company very soon earns the loyalty of the customers in the market, whereas, many other companies can only dream of it. Greenfield and Cohen believed that the customers liked the feeling they have when they indulge in business with a values-led company.
Another important aspect that the business firms should lay stress upon is the fair means when it comes to employing people. Equal opportunities should be provided to all, regardless of the privileged or the unprivileged. Also, the companies should not be biased on the sexual ground. Man and woman should be given equal chance to stand in the same platform. The employees who are recruited by the marketers should also be treated well. By treating well one should understand that it means providing for a healthy and safe environment to work in. Along with a good environment they should also, from time to time, provided with appropriate compensation schemes; this will not only please the employees but also force them to work for the betterment of the company.
Thus, after the above discussion one can come to the conclusion that a lot depends on marketing ethics for a business company to gain competitive advantage over competing companies. A perfect marketer would always abide by these moral standards while in the market and carry out his or her duties and responsibilities towards the society since reputation is earned not by following unethical conducts and misleading the customers. A good reputation and a strong hold in the market can be achieved only by serving and satisfying the customers and looking after the employees' well being, which, in turn, can be done by way of keeping in view the basic rules and regulations of fair play.