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Brian Richards
Soul lives in the community of consumers and is not controlled at the centre.
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Soul Branding

Cover image is by Liu Bolin. Liu Bolin is a Chinese performance artist who has earned himself the nickname 'The Invisible Man'. His Hiding in the City series is a form of 'silent protest' against the Chinese government's policies in the years since the Cultural Revolution.

Brands that have soul share a passion and motivation with their customers and require relentless efforts to nurture. Instead of simply creating a corporate identity, brands with soul find ways to truly connect with customers. They have a clear reason for being. 

More than simply a mission or a charitable cause, they are usually well-rooted in values and ethics. The brand becomes a champion of those values, capturing both heart and mind, usually in that order. Brands with soul share passion and motivations with their consumers; they have a clear reason for being.


Soul branding is at its best when integrated in the community it belongs in, enabling it to cultivate these soulful connections. A brand with soul has a fan base of peers; not just leaders and followers. In other words, it is not “this is who we are, now buy from us.” Rather, they deliver mini experiences and actions as unsolicited extras which have serendipitous quality to endear the devotee and further embed their support.

A brand with real soul is Everlane. They are an affordable 'slow' fashion brand. Their brand essence is 'Radical Transparency'. They give a full overview of their supply chain and the associated costs, hence the low prices. This gives them a real edge over competitors. Everlane also gives customers information on where each garment is produced, right down to the maker at the particular factory.


Brands with soul jump off the curve and have higher levels of loyalty than expected for their size. Most retail beauty brands, for instance, show a set conversion of traffic. But retail beauty brands with soul have a higher number of planned trips and show higher conversion rates. Brand soul also steers employees’ activity in the areas of customer service, sales, product development and innovation.

The soul of skincare brand Aesop is expressed in the beautiful designs of their stores. Their stores, much like their products, reflect meticulous attention to detail, with efficacy and sensory pleasure front of mind.

What are the biggest threats to brand soul?

Radical changes in personnel or in a parent corporation can disrupt a strong set of guiding principles. Another big risk is becoming too obnoxious. The classic example is an entrepreneur who believes too much in his own success and fails to understand that you can only nurture brand soul within your consumer base. 

Soul lives in the community of consumers and is not controlled at the centre.


Makers, entrepreneurs, creatives, activists — we live in a culture of doers and hustlers which plays a part in how consumers relate to brands. Consumers value brands who take a stand, live up to their words, and show an understanding of their cultural surroundings. In other words, they love brands that play up their practical and emotional IQ beyond their analytical and rational skills.


Eat My Lunch is a New Zealand-based social enterprise that operates on a ‘buy one, give one’ business model. It has inspired loyal customers by addressing a pressing local issue, giving consumers a way to ‘give back’ to communities without affecting their lifestyle or daily routine. As of June 2019, Eat My Lunch has given 1.26 million lunches to Kiwi kids.

Defining who your consumer is, your brand’s positioning and personality are the first steps to establishing your brand’s strategy and to helping guide marketing initiatives. The starting point to any successful brand strategy is to avoid using generic marketing verbiage. Your words must translate the passion that originated the brand and inspire bold actions for consumers to take notice.

Keep it Real

Use everyday language when writing down your brand’s strategy to help you stay true to the essence of your brand. It’s important to capture—in your own way—what it is about your brand that moves you and why it is here in the first place. This will help you approach your future campaigns more intuitively. 

It is about bringing forward ‘that thing’—the intangible—that gives substance, emotion and singularity to your brand.


Dennis Paphitis, the Founder of Aesop shared with me once, “I was horrified at the thought of Aesop evolving into a soulless chain,” he says. “I’ve always imagined what we do as the equivalent of a weighty, gold charm bracelet on the tanned wrist of a glamorous, well-read European woman who has travelled and collected interesting experiences.” 

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