How to bare your brand’s soul in a world of cynics


It’s no secret to marketers: the expectations that consumers and business decision-makers have of brands continue to increase exponentially.

Over half (54%) of the respondents surveyed in WE Communication’s 2019 Brands in Motion research now see excellent products and services as table stakes. They also expect brands to deliver powerful purpose and activism beyond functionality.

In almost all (94%) of the situations we surveyed, most respondents said they would shame a brand if the brand stepped out of line. The world has watched that promise put into practice, with countless brands accused of "woke-washing" in this year alone.

The fear of backlash from cynical consumers leaves many brands afraid to talk about the good work they do as they live their purpose. 

It raises the question: How do brands show their soulful purpose in an age of extreme cynicism?

Commit to long-term action, not just advocacy

Frustration with governments’ inability to solve global and local issues such as inequality, climate change and immigration continues to grow. The public is looking at the private sector to pick up the slack.

Nearly three quarters (74%) of people expect brands to take a stand on issues that matter to their customers. Simply speaking up or advocating for change is the bare minimum. Over half (64%) of people now believe that brands, rather than governments, should be primarily responsible for driving change.

Three ways to shift from advocacy to action:

  • Change your products, services, and business practices even if it isn’t in the best interest of your bottom line
  • Create programs that empower customers, employees, stakeholders – even competitors – to take action
  • Contribute to legislation and policy reform

Find authenticity at the intersection of relevance and credibility

No matter how impactful your activism, you risk being labelled opportunistic if the issues you look to solve don’t connect with the soul of your business. Trying to help solve an issue du jour of your stakeholders without having an authentic reason to engage may appear self-serving, even if well intentioned.

To find authentic opportunities to turn your purpose to action, you must look deeply at the social issues that influence your business practices; that are consistent with the soul of your brand; and which hold significance to your employees, customers and community.

Three ways to discover where you may have credibility to take action:

  • Identify existing business practices that help to solve social issues
  • Identify social issues that your products, services or business practices are contributing to, or helping to solve – inadvertently or purposefully
  • Identify issues that your entire industry is contributing to, or helping to solve – inadvertently or purposefully

Constantly reinforce your commitment to purpose over profit

Savvy consumers are increasingly aware that brands with purpose tend to experience a positive impact on their bottom line. A strong majority (80%) fears that if a global economic recession were to hit, brands may abandon their purpose in favour of financial health.

Brands must earn trust every day, with actions that prove they will continue to put purpose above profit no matter what.

Three ways to reinforce purpose over profit:

  • Open source your knowledge to your competitors, other industries and governments
  • Divest from misaligned partnerships, stocks and shares, leaders and suppliers even if they are lucrative
  • Commit long-term – people know that a one-off campaign or changes to one line of products will not matter to your brand’s bottom line

By committing to long-term action, finding authenticity, and reinforcing commitment to purpose, brands can ensure they pass the test, set by a world that is increasingly wary of the companies and organisations.

For more insight into the new reality of brand loyalty, visit:, and for support with strategy that will turn your purpose to action, let’s talk.


Sophia Brockman is Creative Strategist at WE Communications Australia