Your Company Brand and Ethical Behavior

by Thomas Fox

Last week, I was interviewed by David Banks, the Senior Content Marketing Manager at NAVEX Global, for the firm’s blog. One of the questions he posed to me struck me and it was “When it comes to contributing to a greater good, is there a distinction between ethics and brand building?” My immediate response was, “There is no distinction between ethics and brand building. Put another way, your organization’s brand is its ethical behavior.” I was therefore intrigued by a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled “Competing on Social Purpose by Omar Rodríguez Vilá and Sundar  Bharadwaj. The authors posited that companies could gain greater market share and have financial success by tying social purpose missions to growth. That seemed to me quite like tying ethics and brand building.

The reality of today is that a company doing business with ethical behavior and having an ethical culture is a market differentiator. It can not only drive customer behavior in a positive manner but equally significantly millenniums place large stock in companies which are seen to do the right thing. It has led to an expectation that companies will do the right thing. Clearly, this is not something which happens overnight but having an effective strategy can create value for an organization by building adjacencies and can be used to mitigate the risk of both negative associations and threats to an organization.

The article had several concepts which I thought gave resonance to compliance and which a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) could use going forward to advocate for ethics and compliance within an organization. The first is an ethical heritage, which can be used to identify opportunities to demonstrate the brand’s commitment. We have seen that here in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey with companies which could respond immediately garnering a huge wave of positivity and increase in brand share.

The article identified challenges which are applicable for a CCO. Obviously, a course, once set is hard to change. While most companies are aware of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and are attempting to do business in compliance, changing perceptions in an organization can still be difficult. Not only does it require steadfast support of senior management but the CCO and compliance department must accomplish the day in and day out execution of a compliance regime.

It can be difficult to gauge the effect of an ethics program on a business. Return on Investment (ROI) for an ethics and compliance program is still in many ways viewed as the Holy Grail of a compliance program. While surveys can help project out how a company is perceived, it can lead to unreliable estimates of market response and growth based upon the ethics function of an organization. Finally, all parties must not get distracted and keep their eye on the compliance ball going forward.

One example from Houston after Hurricane Harvey is that of H-E-B who demonstrated the next key asset of a robust and functioning ethics and compliance program; the ability to move into adjacent businesses. The company was the logistical leader in delivering both food and supplies. It was the logistics solution which was so powerful for the organization. An effective ethics and compliance program allows a company to manage more risk because the risk management strategies are so much stronger and work better. It is the same reason you have brakes on a car; not to slow down but so you can take more risks by driving faster. To gauge whether your ethics and compliance program can help you move into an adjacent business, consider these three questions:

  • Does the strategy reinforce existing brand attributes?
  • What new and valuable brand attributes might it create?
  • Would the strategy be difficult for competitors to imitate?

The next area is stakeholder acceptance. This is more than simply responding because the law says we must do so. There is one major driver of negative reaction for stakeholders around a company’s ethics and compliance program. It is where there is inconsistency between word and deed. Quite simply if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk. If there are inconsistencies in the two, they should be quickly addressed and resolved.

The article ends with four prescriptions which I believe translate well for the compliance practitioner going forward to help inculcate ethics and compliance into your company’s brand. The first is to generate resources for ethics and compliance. This means you should pair your compliance regime to other corporate functions to increase resources. For example, use Human Resources (HR) for touchpoints on compliance throughout the lifecycle of employee involvement with your company. But also partner with such other functions for technological solutions which benefit the company.

Second, use your ethics and compliance program as a way to do business differently. This was an original goal of the drafters of the FCPA, to provide US businesses with a reason (and excuse) not to pay bribes. Here you can take your company’s words, deeds and actions a step further by engaging in ethical and compliance behavior through all of its dealings. People will notice and it will make a difference. Next, get the word out about your ethics and compliance programs. One of the most powerful ways is to apply for Ethisphere’s World’s Most Ethical Companies designation. This can be an influential way to get the word out about your company’s program.

Finally, constantly work to upgrade your ethics and compliance program through continuous improvement. This is a by-word from the regulators but it also allows your organization to face new business opportunities in a more agile, more nimble manner going forward. Both greater opportunities and greater rewards can come through continuous improvement and innovation in your compliance regime.

Competing on your company’s ethics and compliance program requires buy-in from the company, the stakeholders, your partners and your customer base. However, the potential benefits are great and well worth the effort for your brand going forward.

There is no distinction between ethics and brand building. Your organization’s brand is its ethical behavior.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Thomas Fox

Compliance Evangelist on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.