Marketing meets Philosophy

Creating Purpose-Driven Brands — A Philosophical Framework

Which comes first, the who or the why?

Akasha Rose Indream
Jun 30 · 7 min read

Knowing your purpose isn’t enough writes branding and CMX strategist Akasha Rose Indream. Knowing your “who” — and having integrity — is where authenticity and purpose have to start.

A few years back, I sat in a startup accelerator workshop as the presenter showed us the TED talk by Simon Senek, author of the book Start With Why.

Senek has a lot of great things to say, yet something struck me as I watched — how can you know your why if you don’t know your who?

In our collection of handouts was an illustration of the “golden circle” Senek uses to demonstrate his ideas — inside is the why, then the how then the what.

When the video finished, I told it to my fellow students straight — “Senek’s missing a fundamental piece of the puzzle,” I said. “At the centre of the ‘why’ circle should be your ‘who’.” The people around me put a dot and wrote “who” pointing to it on their handout sheets.

So you don’t miss that essential design piece in crafting your business or your startup, here is what it means to know your who, as well as your why.

This model by Senek is a start but is incomplete.


In Hindu philosophy, there are energetic principles that humanity must live by called the tattvas. Each tattvas corresponds to a chakra, and they build on each other consecutively. If one is incomplete, the others are on shaky ground.

First, is Identity — your who — your sacral chakra. Second is Authenticity — your why — which is your emotional chakra. Third is Responsibility — your how — your mental chakra.

And fourth is what I call “Synergy” — which is your connection to all that is, whereby you draw the resources that you need to complete your mission to yourself.

How is this relevant?

When modern a Western marketing guru- cum-philosopher wants to talk about purpose driven branding models, they need to realise that being purpose driven isn’t a new invention.

Cultures who were never restricted by the scientific empirical materialist Western model of civilisation have been considering these ideas for generations. e.g. the Buddhist concept of “dharma” or the Japanese “hara”.

So please indulge me as I am going to redraw Senek’s model with a “who” in the middle as my fellow students did that day:

How the circles build on each other

Identity — you know who you are internally. Internal. (WHO)

Authenticity — because you know who you are, you can represent what you embody to the world honestly. Internal — External. (WHY)

Responsibility — you understand that how others see you is your responsibility, and if they have expectations of you, you need to do you best to meet these, or else educate them to see you differently. External — Internal — External (HOW)

Synergy — because you have confidence in yourself, in your ability to represent yourself, and meet the expectations of others, you draw to you what you need to complete your mission. Internal — External — Internal — External. (WHAT)

Maslow’s Being Values

When you learn CMX design thinking, you learn that knowing the values held by your customer is essential to designing products, services, and CMX touch-points that meet their expectations.

(If you’ve seen the Disney film Inside Out, the Islands created by the main character’s “core memories” obtained in early childhood (in the case of the film “family”, “friendship”, “humour” and so on) are a fair 1 to 1 representation of the kinds of values your customers will hold dear and identify with in their psyche.)

If you don’t know what your customer values, you won’t know how to please them — which means, in all probability, you will turn the away without any chance to please them or generate a desire to learn about your product or the intention to engage with you.

Maslow determined a list of “being” values, which I refer to repeatedly when designing customer experience principles for clients.

Wikipedia states: “Abraham Maslow identified a manner of thought he called “Being-cognition” (or “B-cognition”) which is holistic and accepting.”

Being values are the values we resonate with us at our core when we are feeling complete, natural, and unaffected.

  • Wholeness
  • Perfection
  • Completion
  • Justice
  • Aliveness
  • Richness
  • Simplicity
  • Beauty
  • Goodness
  • Uniqueness Effortlessness
  • Playfulness
  • Truth
  • Self-sufficiency

Transcendent Branding

The task that companies are taking over today, in branding and content marketing touch points, is, I feel, a growing one of spiritual leadership of society. I don’t think companies necessarily know this yet, with their archaic, materialistic, profit driven mindset of shareholder first before anything else including Earth herself; but it is what the consumer is increasingly growing to expect from them. wrote in 2019: “Last year, we predicted [brand purpose] would become mainstream, and we were right. Now, it’s exerting even more pull. ‘Meaningful Brands’ by the Havas Group, reported that over the last ten years the most meaningful brands outperformed the stock market by 206%. Of the 300,000 people interviewed, 75% expected brands to make more of a contribution to their wellbeing and quality of life. Brand purpose doesn’t have to be linked to broader social missions. But it must be something people believe in, understand and find relevant.”

Brands have become, if not a religion, then the temples that house society’s aspirations and hopes — all bound up in an experience that marketing of a company provide to us.

Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs

If you are in startups or branding, it’s likely you know Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

You will have come across it in mapping your customer’s pain points.


For your business to have a product-market fit, somehow you will be helping your customers fulfil one of these needs.

In my own model, I believe that this model also corresponds to the Who-Why-How-What circle.

The lower two layers — Physiological and Security, combine into one: safety. When we are not feeling safe, our fight-flight system triggers, and we are likely to act erratically. When we have a our basic safety needs met, we are able fulfill the Integrity principle of the tattvas by being internally faithful to the knowledge of who we are and staying grounded in this knowledge through our sacral chakra.

When we feel as if our need to be Loved and Belong socially met, then our emotions are balanced and not seeking out acceptance from others at any cost, and we are capable of being Authentic — the second tattva.

When the expectations that others have of us (because we have had integry and been authentic with them over time) and our own expectations for how we want to interact with them based our self knowledge align, we are able to complete the level of Esteem — and be Responsible, the third tattva.

And when all three others are in place, like a tower of blocks that provide the foundation, then we can commit to a path of unfettered Self-Actualisation — expressed as Maslow’s “Being Values” and held deep inside each of us as the order of our core memories adopted in childhood — through our connection to all that is and Synergy with the energy of the Universe.

The Purpose of Purpose Driven Brands

What are customers asking of us when they demand that our brands add meaning to their life and meet their values?

They want us to help them be who they are. i.e. self-actualize, and feel connected to the all that is with Synergy, so that they can call what they want to them when they want it. This is the complete opposite of the sense of lack (i.e. Integrity undermining) tactics adopted by marketing agencies in the past.

Where our values as a company, and their values as a person, overlap — that is the meeting place where our products and brand add meaning to their life.

They are asking that we help them, as unique individuals operating in a mass consumer framework, self-actualize and have the opportunity to express themselves moment to moment as the being values that they represent as who they are at their core, brought forward from the positive experiences of their childhood.

How as a business do you do that?

You need to follow the tattvas for yourself as an entrepreneur. Have integrity. Be authentic. Take responsibility. And draw what you need from the universe.

Know that the being values you embody will transpose themselves — consciously or not — into the company you build. So make them conscious, and use these values as the core of the story that you tell to draw your audience, your investors, your employees and customers along with you.

The company should be an extension of yourself and your mission. Customers want to know your “who”. Think Richard Branson or Elon Musk. They aren’t known for their why so much as for their who — and their companies, and all their different offerings, are seen as extensions of them and their mission.

It doesn’t matter what new venture figures who are known for their consistency and integrity go on to start — their prospective audiences are already drawn to learning more about it, because of their relationship with the fundamental identity of the brand name behind it.

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The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

Akasha Rose Indream

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Crypto, blockchain, mobility, sustainability, radical feminism, future tech, natural parenting. Editor, writer & publisher since last century.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.