Becoming a Great Marketer: Invention vs. Upgrade

By Yonatan Gordon 

For background material to this article, we encourage you to first read “Viewpoint: The ‘invention illusion’ means new rarely is new” published last week on BBC News.

This week we’ll be presenting a model for identifying and reporting on inventions, innovations and the like. What makes something new, or can anything really be considered new at all?

Maybe any talk of inventions is mere fancy. Is it really truthful to say that anything today is really an invention? Maybe it is just a modification or update on a previous version? But as we will explain, it all has to do with a company’s willingness to benefit people in some new way. The innovation is in the new ways that this “old” invention can now benefit people.


Of foremost importance is to be truthful, especially in advertising. If this product doesn’t do what the marketers claim, then this is wrong. But if it does, then all the more so, the benefits should me made known to the world. But we need to keep things in the proper context, and not presume that these are new inventions exist without some history to them.

There is a question on what to do with those marketers who don’t want to admit the past? The best marketers are those that first make an admission (e.g. that this new product is just an updated version), but then proceed to details the reasons why it is still important to buy it. They are not pretending that this smartphone or tablet didn’t exist before in another form. The distinction is with regard to the anatomy of the upgrade, and how these new features can better peoples’ lives.


We need then a revolution of good, truthful marketers. While every marketer says they have something to say, the public increasingly only wants to listen to the truthful ones. People are tired of the false claims and promises. Instead, we’d all rather listen to truthful statements from people we trust. These marketers are also some of the most connected people you’ll ever meet. Not connected in terms of having large followings, but connected in that they are a people person among marketers. They really care about steering people in the right direction. The question then is not whether there is innovation, but rather which marketers should I listen to? Which ones are saying innovations that ring true? There is a famous marketer that once titled a book “all marketers are liars.” He later recanted, and amended it to read that “all marketers tell stories.” As we will explain, the first statement was probably a better start. But instead of how it was written, we would have worded it is “all marketers either tell the truth, or the opposite… “.

Marketers that don’t acknowledge the past are also extremely forceful in their claims. Aside from being untruthful, this forcefulness also tends to push people away. Another factor that pushes people away is pride. If a marketer thinks of themselves to be the best, even if their claims are truthful, their advice is still seen as something pushy. They should never think of themselves as being these great marketers. The moment they think themselves to be great is also the moment when they think of themselves as some innovation. They, like the products they market, should focus on the benefits. How they are benefiting others. Similar to smartphones, tablets, etc… they are not the first marketer to have ever existed on the planet.



There are three things needed to become a great marketer:

The first is that they are always keeping their eyes open to good stories (like a photographer who goes around with their camera). This is what people call an intuitive marketer. Not simply that they have smarts, but they intuitively sense what’s going on in the world. This is what Malcolm Gladwell refers to in The Tipping Point as the Mavens:

“Mavens are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.” They accumulate knowledge and know how to share it with others.”(Wikipedia)

The second is that a marketer should be a happy, friendly person. Someone that people are naturally attracted to. This is what Gladwell calls the Salesmen:

“Salesmen are ‘persuaders’, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.” (ibid)

The third is that the marketer acts quickly and in a proper way. He sees a news story, and he writes or speaks about it. His take on the story should be quick because he has a readership waiting to hear and benefit from what he has to say. But his take should not be too hurried as to be inaccurate. Both speed and accuracy are needed. Gladwell calls this third quality Connectors:

“Connectors, are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. They are people who ‘link us up with the world… people with a special gift for bringing the world together.'”

What then is a great marketer? The first is be truthful. To tell the truth, and tell it with alacrity. But in order to stay great, a marketer also can’t be swayed by public opinion. If he listens to the crowd, this will affect his very ability to judge stories intuitively. Even the best marketer can be swayed by voices in the crowd.

Keeping one’s eyes open to discover stories also means seeing the right things. But being swayed can also occur when a person receives praise. Even if the entire world tells you that you are a great marketer, you should view yourself as the worst. Great marketers need to be able to withstand this test. Not to accept praise for then his intuition will be lost.


Once he looks at the particulars of the upgrade, new version, etc… the great marketer then knows how to make sense of it. While his eyes are open to this story, so are thousands of others. What makes his take on the story any different or better than everyone else? What stands him apart from the rest of his fellow marketers, journalists and pundits?

Aside from developing his own perspective over time, the great marketer has learned how to ignore a great deal as well. He has learned not to be swayed by the voiced in the crowd. By separating himself from the myriad of opinion, he also feels certain that he has the best take on the situation. From his unique vantage point, he moves forward to respond to the story.

If the story is not a good story, then he doesn’t write or speak about it at all. The reason is simply because the story was faulty in some way. A great marketer has trained himself to only respond to those stories that have real merit to them. Maybe other marketers should speak about it, or maybe no other marketer should. Either someone else should write about it, or no one else should. In either case, the great marketer passes on those stories that don’t have long-lasting merit. This is also the reason why we didn’t find “all marketers tell stories” is a compelling remake. The fact that marketers “tell stories” is not the innovation here. What makes a great marketer so unique is that they can sense which are the good stories to tell.

A good marketer has a sense about what really is an innovation or new invention worth talking about. While it’s hard to push away stories that we see, this is the test of a great marketer. Whether or not he will act on his intuition, or be swayed by some external factor. His primary motivation should be whether this story will have a lasting, beneficial impact on people; or whether this is just something fleeting. This is what Gladwell calls the Stickiness Factor: “The specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable.” (ibid.)


The main point of this discussion is that a great marketer should go about with open eyes, looking for stories to write about. While looking for stories, he should also be sensitive to those stories that try to “cheat” you into thinking that they are something new. The real test is to spot stories that really add something of new benefit; even if the actual product is just an update of the previous version.

Let’s end with a story (yes a good story) about what it means to speak honestly in a public realm We’ll call these two people Tom and Sam.

Tom stole a very great sum of money from Sam, so Sam sued Tom. As a defense, Tom claimed that he had returned the money already. They came to the courthouse, and Tom was required to make an oath that he already returned the money. Before he took the oath, he handed his staff to Sam the plaintiff. Now inside the cane, Tom had put all the money that he owed Sam. After he swore that he had returned all the money, he took the cane back. But luckily enough, Sam was so angry that Tom had lied that he took the cane and threw it down to the ground. The force of the impact caused the cane to break, and all the money spilled out. Thus it was revealed that Tom had lied all along, and made the oath while Sam was holding the money. From this we learn that it’s not enough to just make an oath. It also needs to be made free of any trickery as well.

Being a great marketer means being truthful, but it also entails being free of any trickery. Perhaps the best way to prevent trickery is by realizing that being a great marketers, entails great responsibility. They have to feel like they can respond to the story in a way that no one else can. Because of their gifts for intuition, they are obligated to share their thoughts on the matter. They have to feel like their eyes are the ones most open to it. The first step is not to be swayed by false and pretentious stories. But once worthwhile stories are recognized, he should immediately write about them. The story takes his name, he is the one who “broke” the story.

The lesson from our story of Tom and Sam is that Sam revealed the true nature of the cane. At first, we may have thought that this cane belonged to Tom. But by “breaking the story” (literally), Sam revealed that really the substantial worth of this cane belonged to his all along.

All too often we see news of new products, new developments in the world, and we think that this “cane” belongs to someone else. In reality, though, it may be that this person is just holding onto the outside. Maybe the cache inside is left hidden for the great marketers among us to reveal. Maybe the greatest discovery behind this object is just waiting for this marketer to come.

The main thing is that great marketers be sensitive to deceit and falsehood, while keeping their eyes wide open. To separate from falsehood, but also learn to take on the responsibility to write and speak about those stories worth mentioning.




“Keep far away from anything false.” [Exodus 23:7]

While the context of this statement was said with regard to the judges of Israel, perhaps no quality is as central to task of a great marketer as truthfulness. The greater marketers distance themselves from speaking words that are untrue, the more people will want to listen to what they have to say.

This sentence in the Torah continues “Do not kill an innocent righteous man, for I will not acquit a wicked person.” Then the following sentence, “Do no accept bribery, for bribery blinds the clear-sighted and perverts the words of justice.” [Exodus 23:8] In addition to the attribute of truthfulness, these two other statements also relate to marketers.

When we begin looking for metaphors to explain Torah concepts, we look for those terms and phrases that seem a close approximation to the original. While nothing will match up 100%, by translating Torah messages into common-day vernacular, we are showing a creative way to relate to the text. While technically speaking, the Torah is only speaking about judges, by broadening our discussion to include the field of marketing, it gives us an added perspective on what the judges of Israel really stood for.

The Gemara brings thirteen explanations for the statement “Keep far away from anything false,” corresponding to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. This command is a general one that includes all the particular precepts explained in the Torah. This is why we explained that when anything “new” arises (like with a new case presented to a judge), the first thing a marketer should look for is how it benefits the public. “Mercy” also means to be compassionate.


As we mentioned, judgements need to be adjudicated from a point of truth. Everything a judge does must come from truth. In addition to our statement to separate from anything false, we have another connected verse, “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” [Deuteronomy 16:20]

Let’s first start by explaining the full nature of our verse, “Keep far away from anything false. Do not kill an innocent righteous man, for I will not acquit a wicked person.” How does Rashi explain this?

“From where do we derive [that in a case] where one has left the court after having been convicted and a person says: ‘I have evidence to suggest his innocence!’ that we bring him (the defendant) back? Because the Torah states (addressing the court) “Do not kill an innocent man.”

And although he may not be a righteous man for he has not yet been acquitted in court, nevertheless he is innocent from a death verdict for you must try to vindicate him. And from where do we derive [that in a case] where one has left the court after having been found innocent, a person says: ‘I have evidence to suggest his guilt,’ that we do not bring him back to court? Because the Torah states: Do not kill a righteous person!”

What is the reason that great marketers should also be optimistic in their explorations? We based our reasoning on this discussion. The “new evidence” on the scene is like a new product announcement, or a story breaking the news. The first thing a great marketer should look at is whether this information further supports the credibility of the previous version or not.

The opposite extreme is actually as this verse states, maybe this new product is a “smartphone killer” or a “printed book killer,” etc… But if people found smartphones or printed books to be worthwhile (i.e. innocent or clean) in the past, there is no mitzvah to find them guilty now. Instead, marketers should only accept new evidence if it further develops the prior version.

What does it mean to be “righteous” in this context? It means that if people find these things worthwhile and beneficial, why should I try to come and “kill” it for them? If anything, the marketer should help to further develop the concept along. As we explained in our Apple Turnaround Series, eventually people should be able to experience “apps” without the iPad; but that still doesn’t give us the right to “kill” iPads for the millions who currently use them.

What’s most important for a tzaddik (righteous) person is that he always considers himself as if he’s a rasha (wicked). Why is this? Because once he starts thinking himself to be righteous, then he loses all that he has gained through his service. We related this to the marketers who turn themselves into products (i.e. a product of their own self-worship).

A person shouldn’t say in his heart that “Hashem has given me good because I am a tzaddik.” This is like the great marketer who thinks that he has been given this privilege for some reason. As we explained, a person’s talents need to be put into the proper context. While marketers realize that there were many marketers before them, a tzaddik should see that his merits come as a result of the merit of previous generations, or some other reason.

We can also now explain our choice of the subtitle “Invention vs. Upgrade.” When a judge first decides whether to weigh in on a case presented to him, his first question is whether this is something new. Meaning, is this really a new case at all? Maybe it’s just new evidence brought after the fact?

If the judge (or marketer) sees this story as an “upgrade,” then as we said, the consideration becomes whether this new information further establishes the innocence of the previous version. The judge is not allowed to find someone guilty after they have been freed. So too, when millions have weighed in on the iPad and now hold one in their hands, a marketer shouldn’t come and simply discredit the whole notion of iPads or tablet computing.

As we will explain later, the real question is whether the judge should weigh in on the case at all. Even though the case is something new, does it have merit enough to adjudicate on it? This is like a marketer who simply passes by new stories because they lack some merit to them. For marketers, the greatest merit a story can have is that it provides some lasting benefit to people. While for a judge, in addition to separating from falsehood, they are also instructed by the verse, “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Meaning, that if a case comes their way that could further justice, then perhaps the judge is obligated to take the case on. Especially if they are the most appropriate or fitting one to rule over the case.


What’s different about our take on “Mavens,” “Salesmen” and “Connectors”? According to the Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, these three modes of conduct prevent a person from becoming full of themselves. As mentioned in the article, it is the feeling of lowness that keeps a great marketer great.

The first level is the ability to always walk around with open eyes. While the photographer takes along a camera wherever they go, the marketers is always looking for a good story. But essential to the success at this stage is being sensitive to the needs of others. What story can the marketers write about better perhaps than anyone else? This is like the judge who agrees to take on a case because he desires to fulfill the command “justice, justice you shall pursue.” Just like a judge realizes that he is most capable to rule on a case, so too our marketer feels the same about some breaking story.

The second level is the Salesmen. The Ba’al Shem Tov explains this is a person that is always happy. Why is he happy? Because he see that what transpires during his activities is the result of Divine Providence (Hashgocha Pratis) from heaven. Because he is outside much of the day, he experiences “chance encounters” (i.e. revealed Divine Providence) more than others. It is in lieu of this that he is happy. The fact that people like to be around him is the result or effect. But the reason for the happiness is because he is always “listening” for a good story to unfold.

What is a Connector? The Ba’al Shem Tov uses the term “Deliberate Agility”. The marketer has to always be on the move doing things. He is focused, but he also doesn’t tarry when presented with some task to complete. This also relates to a judge. When a case is presented to him, and he agrees to rule on it, his ruling should be swift in coming. While the ruling needs to be precise and exacting, he also shouldn’t delay it unnecessarily. So too the quality that makes a marketer a “Connector” is their ability to respond swiftly and accurately to things they see. But in both instances, these quick rulings need to be carried out with great appropriateness and respect.


Now that we have spoken about keeping far away from anything false, we now can move to the next sentence in the Torah: “Do not accept bribery, for bribery blinds the clear-sighted, and perverts the words of justice.” [Exodus 23:8) and Rashi there “Do not accept bribery. Even if you intend to judge truthfully. And it is certainly [prohibited when you take a bribe] to pervert justice. For regarding the perversion of justice it has already been stated: “Do not distort justice!” Blinds the clear-sighted. Even if he is wise in the Torah and takes a bribe, his mind will ultimately become muddled and he will forget his learning and the light of his eyes will dim… ”


Why is it so important not to listen to the “voices in the crowd”? Because this affects one’s ability to stay clear-sighted and respond to stories appropriately. Like the judge who mustn’t accept bribes, it’s imperative for great marketers not to be swayed by public opinion, prestige, etc…

To be a “Maven” or “open-eyed” means first and foremost not to accept bribery. This can come in the form of actual money, or in many instances, from the praises and public admiration heaped upon great marketers or judges. In order to stay clear-sighted, however, it is imperative that these voices not affect one’s ability to market or judge appropriately. The Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi begins with this quote from the Talmud: “Even if the whole world says to you that you are a tzaddik (righteous), consider yourself similar to a rasha (wicked) person.” Meaning, a person should never feel themselves above the effects of bribery or other sins. In order to stay clear-sighted, to judge or market truthfully and intuitively, a person should distance themselves from any form of false flattery.

What about when a marketer does weigh in on the story? This is like a judge who senses something wrong with the case. Perhaps the witnesses are lying; or the one bringing the case is instructing the witnesses to say certain things; or the judge senses something else wrong, but the reason is hidden from him. In all these instances, the judge removes himself from ruling because of the injunction to keep far away from falseness. We explained this as a marketer who has a sense for which stories have true and lasting benefit. Every day there are hundreds of press releases and new stories coming out. The astute marketer will know which ones have real merit to them. Which are truly unique and worthwhile to weigh in on, and which seem like something worthwhile, but really are lacking in some way. As we mentioned in the article, this is what Gladwell calls the “Stickiness Factor.”


The first mitzvah, the first of the three categories we mentioned from the Ba’al Shem Tov, is to always keep your eyes open. An essential part of attaining this quality is though being sensitive to trickery, as with the judge who sense something awry in a potential case, or the marketer who senses something lacking in a breaking story. While the entire Tanya teaches us to distance ourselves from trickery, there is one thing that is good and praiseworthy to trick: our evil inclination. Every person has a good inclination and an evil inclination. Just as a person is open to seeing truth, so too should each person be open to know how to trick their evil inclination.

While it is praiseworthy to try and outmaneuver our evil inclination, usually it is the evil inclination telling us that we are a tzaddik. This is why we titled this section “Great Marketer, Great Responsibility.” Like the judge who sees the responsibility to either accept (“justice, justice you shall pursue”) or step away from (“keep far away from anything false”) a case, the marketer needs to keep this in mind as well. By seeing themselves as a public figure vested with responsibility, this will help them to counteract the claims of their evil inclination that they are a great marketer, etc…

The story that we mentioned at the end is called the “Staff of Rabba.” The Ben Ish Chai asks why should the story be called in the name of the judge who ruled on it, and not on the trickster in the story (“Tom”)? Although there is much to say about this story, the basic answer is that Rabba should have known that something was amiss. When “Tom” handed his cane to “Sam” instead of simply putting it on the ground, Rabba should have realized that there was something valuable inside this otherwise ordinary looking cane. This is why we explained that the marketer (or journalist) who first breaks the story also becomes synonymous with it. The story is known as the “Cane of Rabba” because Rabba was expected to notice the particulars of the story. So too, a marketer who first breaks a story, was perhaps most sensitive to the inner details than millions of others. This was a creative, positive spin on this episode in line with the teaching that a person shouldn’t rule on a matter of Jewish law unless he has first faltered on it in some way.

What have we seen thus far? That a person should go about with open eyes, but also be sensitive to forms of trickery. This includes most of all not being tricked oneself by one’s own evil inclination.

Excerpted and adapted from the weekly shiur given 28 Shevat 5773 from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh.

We read the news. See something interesting. Then move on to the next story. Wait a minute. There’s something missing with this. We help you get back to Point A. What drew millions to these stories to begin with, and how can companies continuously draw people back? In other words: How do you stay exciting?

There’s a reason why people like one thing over another. It comes down to concept. While the product may change many times, if people connect with the concept, then no matter what version or upgrade or service level you release-people will come back.

What does it mean to connect (Facebook), follow (Twitter) or link (LinkedIn) with someone? Why do so many people like smart phones and tablets? Bottled water companies don’t own the trademark on “pure” and smart phone makers don’t own the trademark on “communication.” But by staying true to the idea, they can show that they are vested in the pursuit of knowledge. The continual development and progression of ideas.

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