Without human connection, brand purpose loses its meaning

Brand purpose. It seems to be everywhere at the moment. For the past year, it’s been one of the hottest marketing trends. But it seems, as more and more brands rush to identify and act upon their perceived ‘purpose’, many are misunderstanding what it is, where it should come from, and what value it has.

First, perhaps it’s useful to explore why brand purpose has become such A Big Deal. With millennials still the no.1 target for marketers, many recent studies have identified that a significant proportion of this demographic would switch brands to one that has a cause – climate change, women’s rights, fighting child poverty, etc.

The key takeout: being socially conscious is good for business. Sounds a little cynical, no? Not if it’s done right, authentically, and mirrors a core value. Because then it’s not just tacked on, it’s an integral part of the brand. When it is tacked on, it’s a car crash.

We all like to rubberneck, so here’s a couple of recent examples of brands who’ve misunderstood what their brand purpose should be…



A brand who offer handmade, fresh and ethical cosmetic products that aren’t animal tested have made their brand purpose to fighting the police about how they infiltrated activist groups between 1968-2008. Spot the link between those two ideas? Nope, me neither.


The Irish whisky and cream liqueur brand has a huge female following, and the brand wanted to help empower women. Its purpose became “Make women shine”. Sounds ok, right? But here’s the rub: customers didn’t associate Baileys with female empowerment. They associated the brand with fun. So the purpose failed, and Baileys hastily changed it to: “The Pursuit of Pleasure” which is immediately far more authentic.


The Baileys case study highlights the one key ingredient of a brand purpose you ignore at your peril: authenticity. People are more savvy than brands seem to think they are – they can spot a cynical adoption of an issue purely for marketing purposes a mile off, especially when there are clearly no ties to what the brand delivers (cough LUSH cough).

In Baileys’ case, the intentions were honourable and completely in the right ballpark. The misstep was that there was no insight to tell the brand that’s what their customers thought. It was just assumed – a female-orientated product should be seen to get behind women’s rights – of course, it’s a no brainer! But the reality, as it turns out, is a little more nuanced.

Identifying these nuances and knowing how your customers are going to react to them are key to the success of a brand’s purpose. Having that human connection with your customers from the get-go can be make or break – allowing you to hone in on that authentic brand purpose, which can be transformative.

The secret to a great brand purpose isn’t choosing the biggest social issue to get behind, it’s identifying how your audience perceives your brand and then staying true to that fundamental core value.

Picture of Alex Allston, Senior Copywriter at The Sharp Agency

Alex Allston

Senior Copywriter