Why a 1000+ year old concept could be the future of modern marketing

Ok let’s be honest, keeping up with an ever-changing world is impossible. The outward view we have of our world is not making us happy. The pressures and deadlines are immense.

It raises the question of how are we ever to make sense of who we are, let alone effectively communicate, in a world that is permanently on broadcast?

The answer may be simpler than marketers initially think and it lies within a concept originating from Zen Buddhism – The Original Face.

It is often overlooked and rarely discussed, but it affects your brand, your strategy, in fact every way you communicate. It is more influential than any technology, it fundamentally effects your ultimate success.

What is the original face?

We are all born with our own original ‘face’.

It is our unique self. You could say it is your soul/spirit prior to being influenced by parents, teachers, friends and life itself.

If you imagine looking at Japanese lacquerware on a box or on a piece of pottery, its rich depth of complex colour and decoration is both unique and beautiful. Lacquer is applied in thin layers that can ultimately mask the base surface. This is the same as the concept of the original face - the multiple layers of influence we are exposed to can mask who we really are.

Ultimately, the original face is you without fear, without hesitation. It is you before influence. A world before creativity and optimism, just the inner peace from where all good ideas come from.

“When your mind is not dwelling on the dualism of good and evil, what is your original face before you were born?”

Fundamentally it is you, before your adult personality was formed.

Where did the concept of the original face come from?

The original face is a Zen Buddhism and philosophical concept used to find inner focus and to find the calm from within.

The concept can be found in several books and references. I have found the Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki very useful, being influenced by The Sword of No-Sword, Life of the Master Warrior Tesshu by John Stevens and The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, within which the five core elements ‘books’ on Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and the Void are discussed.

The original face is referenced throughout the multiple writings and texts on Zen. I do not wish to portray myself as an expert on Zen, as certainly I am not. I have however found inspiration from exploring the concept and its relevance within the marketing and creative sector.

When exploring how society, education and technology influences decision making, we should consider the impact this layering has. Re-connecting with the original face might just change the way we find creative solutions and engage with our chosen audiences.

The original face allows your creativity and natural self to be expressed, stripping away preconceived and overly influenced ideas.

Creating authentic connections

The societies and cultures in which we all live are putting evermore choice and pressure on our ability to process information and find balance. We are being exposed to influence (good and bad) in far greater volume. Where does that leave us and our audiences?

Stereotypes are cruel and superficial. They can create confusion, not only with your audiences but also the understanding of our true self. Breaking through these layers by being honest with who you really are impacts how effectively we can connect with others.

As communicators we must ensure that we can break down confusion and create cleaner, stronger, more authentic connections.

When used correctly, applying complex multi-layered stereotypes can develop intrigue, build closer connections, and fuel storytelling.

To be effective we must reach out beyond the logical, allowing our audiences to make a spiritual instinctive connection, without fear - one that empowers ‘The Original Face’.

Affecting your brand

One question would be: can a brand have an original face?

Although this would stretch the concept beyond its first meaning, an authentic brand should appeal to their audience's unfiltered, instinctive and subconscious nature.

There are too many examples of businesses losing focus and customers not being able to connect to list here, but one thing is very clear: a brand can be affected by layering or clouding of the original concept and/or spirit of the business.

We need to set aside time to remove the excuses and let clarity of thought filter through. Find courage to know yourself and your audience, without distraction.

Champion authenticity

It is so important to manage the customer experience and the layering of messages within the brand, to ensure that we champion authenticity.

Can you remember what your business was at the start, beyond the story?

Can you remember its values, its energy?

Being true to your roots and original ideals is a refreshing way to start.

Using the Original Face to find Creativity and Innovation

First, discard preconceptions and trust your inner voice.

From the point of peace and no mind, “your very existence has been delivered from all limitations; you have become open, light and transparent. You gain an illuminating insight into the very nature of things… here is manifested the unsophisticated self which is the original face of your being.” From this we can find the simplest and most empoweringly effective solutions.

Sometimes the answer can look too simple, but it is so effective that it communicates directly to and from the original face. An inspired concept can become a brand builder by creating unity across multiple audiences.

A word of caution though: often a moment of clarity or concept can be clouded by doubt or political pressure within an organisation.

Identify the layers that should be used as filters to ensure the robustness of the solution and discard the ones that affect the idea by suffocating the original concept.

Using the original face to set priorities and strategy

Creating personalised content marketing experiences gives the opportunity to define marketing priorities.

If we can understand truly what we are and what our target audience wants, then we have clarity. We can then control the layering of any communication to ensure that we remain on target and effective.

When undertaking a task like this, as each element is complete you can review and if necessary reorder the layer stack, ensuring that you do not lose sight of The original face.

A working example of this is our TMC ‘Five Cs’ concept – where at the centre sits ‘Creating personalised content marketing experiences’ and the layers around are; Curation, Change, Collaboration, Context and Capture.

Utilised at roundtable events and our professional development workshops, the interactive activity encourages clients to make a choice regarding their brand priorities.

By making choices and setting priorities unique to your position, this creates a controlled and optimised marketing strategy.


Using the concept of the original face within the context of ‘creativity’ and ‘problem solving’ opens up opportunity to refocus and find the truth within how effective our communications are.

Specifically, within the digital and marketing communication sectors it creates a powerful, focused and innovative way to solve complex and abstract problems.

It allows your creativity and natural self to be expressed, stripping away preconceived and overly influenced ideas. It can build strong brands, effective connections and most of all gives you permission to be brave.

Fundamentally it lets you remember who you are and define what you really want.

Tim McCloud is managing director of TMC Strategic Communications

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