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.
MARKETERS CAN BE TRUTHFUL
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.
MAVENS, SALESMEN AND CONNECTORS
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.
A SENSE FOR GOOD STORIES
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.)
GREAT MARKETER, GREAT RESPONSIBILITY
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.