Like a lot of long-time advertising people, Ron Tite is thinking a lot these days about the remarkable changes that have transformed the industry in recent years.
The CEO of Church + State got his start in advertising in the earliest days of the internet, but launched and built a successful ad agency (and public speaking business) based on his understanding of how digital and technology are revolutionizing marketing and advertising—creating a new world where the lines between content and advertising are being blurred beyond distinction.
Tite has a vision for how bands can thrive in this new world, but he also has strong ideas about some of the ways the industry is getting it wrong. His observations, ideas and plainspoken advice are at the core of his soon-to-be released book, Think. Do. Say: How to seize attention and build trust in a busy, busy world. He recently spoke with The Message about the book.
Why this book, and why now?
“I think people are trying to solve business problems with superficial solutions,” he says. Instead of focusing on the fundamentals of building brands for long-term growth, too many marketers are chasing the short-term metrics that have become fashionable in the digital age. “People have forgotten how to play the long game, and we’re chasing short term tactics. We’re trying to game the system… we’ve lost the organic pursuit of success.”
But lots of people will tell you data and targeting and performance marketing are incredibly effective. It helped get Donald Trump elected.
“I’m not saying that shit doesn’t work… it does. It totally does,” he says. “But you have to ask yourself, do you don’t want to be that person? Do you really want to be the business that’s gaming the system to put metrics in your favour so you can get some success? I don’t.”
Optimized digital marketing can be highly effective and it can get people to take action and boost numbers, he says.
“If you only chase and focus more of your effort on chasing the metrics, you take your [attention] away from building high-quality, relevant, problem-solving products, and service. So then you’re just in constant acquisition mode. That’s not any way to run a business.”
You describe this as the first business book not to mention Apple. Why?
“That was a very, very conscious exclusion on my part. I just feel that anytime there’s a discussion about disruption, innovation and strategy, people point to Apple and say ‘Just do that.’” That’s not a reasonable or realistic case study for virtually any businesses today, he says.
“There was only one Steve Jobs; he was one in a million. And to expect Karen, your middle manager in finance, to live up to some Steve Jobs ideal is not only a path to failure but it’s depressing as hell for Karen.”
So what does the book offer instead?
“I thought we needed to simplify models that people can use [and] apply to their business and themselves,” he says.
While there are lots of different models and ideas for how to do marketing right, most are either out of step with the modern economy or, again, so focused on the most innovative, technology-based solutions that they are irrelevant to most marketers.
“We need to simplify a model, we need to deliver it in a language that is more honest, and less buzzword-y. And it’s more realistic. So I think this is the realistic approach to business.”
About that title…
Most of his career in advertising was helping clients deliver their brand messaging to customers: the “say” aspect of marketing. “What you talked about used to be able to win you the game,” he says. “You could have amazing marketing, and that could get you loyalty, and that could get you acquisition.”
The modern businesses that are true disruptors aren’t successful because of what they say in their marketing, but because of their behaviours and actions—the things they think about and believe in, and the things they do.
“If we believe in something greater, and we behave in a way that reinforces that belief, that’s worth talking about it, that’s actually something consumers want to hear about,” he says. “And we just have to talk about it in an interesting and compelling and consistent way.”
Brands today must have a purpose, he says. Most consumers don’t care if a razor has four blades or five. “They really don’t, that’s all just noise…. If you believe in something greater that actually gives you something to talk about, that cuts through the noise.”
Where it gets tricky with Gillette, he says, is if they are going to do things that reinforce what they’ve said, or else people just won’t pay attention.
“They have to start looking inwards, at what they’re doing internally, on toxic masculinity within their organization. What a lot of brands do, sadly, is they default to the simplest and easiest thing to do, which is we’re just going to cut a check to somebody.”
So “do” is about brand purpose?
“Where it also gets tricky, I think, is that a lot of brands are thinking corporate purpose is a social issue. And it’s not,” he says.
As an example, Audi created a Super Bowl ad about gender equality; yet it’s not really about corporate purpose, because that’s not why they make cars.
Instead, he points to brands like Red Bull which, he says, believes that a life lived with lots of adrenaline is more fun. Dominos Pizza believes people should be able to get the best tasting pizza in the shortest amount of time, so it’s experimenting with drones and fixing potholes on the roads between its stores and customers.
“But those aren’t big social issue,” he says. It’s a belief in something that gives them permission to talk about things beyond the product they make, yet still possess a strong connection.
“So the way to evaluate whether a corporate purpose is truly aligned with the corporate action is the word ‘so’: we believe this, so we do this,” he says. If the product you make doesn’t support your brand belief or corporate purpose, then you’ve got it wrong. “And that’s why I think where organizations are getting confused. And that is why they’re just chasing social issues.”