Why Be Fair

We've discussed in the past about how our brand is "everything we do".

As an SEO provider, business owner, or service provider, your brand is more than your logo, website and advertising. It's also what you say, what you do, how you act, and how you treat people.

Today, let's look at the benefits of using fairness as a way to add value to your brand.

The Importance Of Reciprocation

We all know about "win-win" deals.

The best deals leave enough on both sides of the deal so both parties can prosper. A deal where one party takes all and the other party gets very little isn't desirable for many reasons, one being it just isn't fair.

Rational business theory often overlooks this point. If a client "wins" by screwing you down to the very last cent, and concludes the deal, then supposedly everything should now proceed through to delivery and conclusion. But humans are emotional. The aggrieved SEO is hardly going to act like a true partner. More likely, they'll look to reciprocate the treatment they've received.

What is the cost of negative reciprocation?

We are social animals. If someone treats us well, and is fair, we feel we should treat them likewise. If someone screws us over - well - they can't expect us to give 110%. What they can likely expect is negative reciprocation, which can manifest itself in many different ways. It's not quite "revenge", but such ill-feeling can end up costing a lot more than any savings the customer made on the deal.

The same is true of your customers.

The Process Of Fairness

It is important that your dealings with customers be:

  • Fair
  • Transparent
  • Honest

If you commit to being fair, and be seen to be fair, you can still get more out of the deal than the other party - win-win deals don't need to be, and most often aren't, 50/50 - but the other party is unlikely to resent you for it if they feel the process by which the deal was arrived at was a fair one. Psychological studies have shown people often care more about how a decision was arrived at, rather than what the final decision actually was.

Fairness of the process colors people's perception of the outcome.

What Does It Mean To "Be Fair"?

Be seen to be fair in the eyes of the person you're dealing with. This can be difficult to make concrete, but if you don't have a genuine intention to be be fair, you almost certainly won't achieve it.

In practice, it means not making arbitrary decisions, listening to all parties and considering their view. It also means making making the rules transparent. A game where only one party knows the rules breeds resentment.

An outcome should be reached where each party can see each step taken, and why it was taken. People may not even like the outcome, but they are much less likely to reciprocate in a negative manner if they feel they have been treated fairly, in a fair process. A sense of fairness runs very deep in our psyche- it's tied up with ego, self-respect, status and recognition.

This attitude of fairness can run across all aspects of business, not just in deal making and sales. It also applies to customer service. If a customer highlights a problem, how do you react? Do you see it as an opportunity to build brand? Do you seek an outcome that will advantage only you, or do you aim to arrive at a fair outcome for all? I'd wager aiming for the fair outcome is the better long-term bet.

But what happens if a customer is being unfair to you?

Of course, this can and does happen. Some people will take advantage. Again, seek to make the process fair and transparent, even though they might not like the outcome you seek.

Hard But Fair

Yes, yes - this all sounds very nice, but it's a shark-fest out there! That may be so, but you can still play hard whilst also using fair process. You've heard the phrase "hard but fair". The fairness makes the "hardness" acceptable. "Hard and unfair" tends to result in lawyers. In this respect, a fair process itself can add value, rather than destroying it by incurring extra costs.

Brand And Fairness

Proctor & Gamble have an internal set of "Ten Commandments" and the very first commandment is "Do The Right Thing". Their employees must demonstrate" rectitude, integrity and fairness". Sure, all companies say that, but the companies that actually do it build stronger on-going relationships, and strong brands. Do you return to companies who you felt treat you unfairly?

Your brand incorporates relationships with all those who you deal with, and may of those people you'll deal with over and over again. Great brands aren't just about the outcomes they achieve. They are also about how the process by which they achieve those outcomes, and if that process adds emotional value, as opposed to destroying it - by being seen to be fair - then your brand becomes stronger.

Published: February 10, 2010 by A Reader in marketing


February 10, 2010 - 12:48pm

As a company, we have only recently ventured into the SEO services market and our ethos is very much one of fairness and equality towards our clients with an emphasis on treating our clients how we as a business would wish to be treated.

The one thing that has really shocked me is the sheer number of small businesses out there who have been misled and treated wholly "unfairly" by their previous SEO or web design company. The amount of money these businesses are parting with to pay these unskilled and unethical SEO companies is staggering. Providing a basic SEO health-check of these sites reveals the lack of even the most basic on-page SEO techniques, let alone any attempt to build the companies internet presence and rankings through off-page techniques.

Should these small businesses have been proactive and done their own research into what they were actually paying for in terms of SEO? Probably they should, but at the same time I feel providing SEO services is as much about educating and enabling your clients with respect to SEO as it is to actually implemting their SEO campaign.

Do any of these companies ever get repeat business or build long term relationships with their clients? I think not, and you simply cannot put a price on the importance of word-of-mouth, especially in a niche market sector.

Great article as always...

February 11, 2010 - 1:08pm

It's very hard to listen to the sad stories from customers day in and day out. Most I feel really bad for... They have little understanding and have been screwed. But, I have decided, you can't save everyone.

We try to be transparent, fair and honest with all... But I will not be punished, nor held responsible for the actions of other companies. If the customer can't get over it, they will have to move on. Most times if we continue to try to help them, the project turns out to be a nightmare... No trust in a business relationship will only yield failure.


February 13, 2010 - 12:40pm

Sadly the majority of businesses these days, large and small (although large to more of a degree), are more about deception and lying than offering a good service. Basically they'll say anything to make the sale.

But then it's laughable how many of the big firms go on about their brand. But in reality most of them have zero brand value, although many of them are well known.

So never confuse being a well known brand with a good brand. Give me $100million for example and I'd make any company well known........

February 13, 2010 - 8:00pm

Never confuse being a well known brand with a good brand.

Google does :D

February 14, 2010 - 1:19pm

"Hard but fair" comes very difficult to me: That is, being hard on them and fair to myself. I'm 18 years old, just out of high school, a novice to web design, and I have no client base. It's easy to let myself get walked over in hopes of landing those first few jobs. So far, though, I'm still getting "No"s! Submitting to unreasonable demands seems to only make them see if they can get away with even more unreasonable demands!

February 14, 2010 - 11:02pm


I hear you, and we've all been there.

One way to think of it is that the first few jobs are nothing more than an apprenticeship. If you get paid, it's a bonus. What you gain is references and a track record for delivering on projects.

Then, having completed a couple of jobs, you can charge.

Other people charge from the very outset, of course.

It depends on your market. The customer is likely to have the upper hand in any market flooded with competitors, unless the provider offers something extra special, and/or has a track record.

I agree with you that the more unreasonable demands you accept, the less they tend to respect you.

Many companies walk away from their low paying customers, because a) they're not worth it and b) they take time away from developing relationships with good customers.

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