Thriving In The Expression Economy with Ron Tite

28 Nov , 2018 podcasts

Thriving In The Expression Economy with Ron Tite

CMO 11 | Expression Economy


Speaker, author, and founder and CEO of Church+State, Ron Tite gives advice on how to thrive in the expression economy. People now have become smarter with their choices. This says a lot about how businesses and/or organizations move in order to survive. It does not anymore suffice to just provide because today, people crave stories and connection. So Ron helps out as he talks about organizational alignment, getting the organizations and individuals to think, say, and do. He gives insights about having positive brand momentum and closing the integrity gap, ultimately encouraging you to resonate more with consumers.

Listen to the podcast here:

Thriving In The Expression Economy with Ron Tite

This is the full presentation of Ron Tite’s talk titled Thriving in the Expression Economy.

I was born in Montreal but I grew up in a town called Oshawa, Ontario, which is known to Canadians as the Flint, Michigan of Canada. It’s the largest General Motors plant in Canada and it goes there. I understand what the car folks do well now. There’s a lot that we can learn from them because in the manufacturing of automotive, there are two parts of that process that are important. The first part is the assembly line. The assembly line is where you make your money. The assembly line is where every single person has a very specific job. They have very specific responsibilities. They know the metrics for success. You put your head down, you do your job, you pass it on. There’s no collaboration on the assembly line. There’s no like, “Let’s stop the line. Jimmy, let’s blue sky this a bit.” No, I own an agency. In our words, we say you kill it and bill it. Get it done, get it out and you definitely make your money. You do so because, at the end of the assembly line, you have guaranteed quality. You have guaranteed price, you have guaranteed cost, you know the margin is protected and so every single time you deliver the exact same thing, that’s where you make your money.

Metaphor Of Assembly Cars And Concept Cars

You can’t just do that over and over. What the car folks do is they create concept cars. They take the concept cars and they go, “We’re pulling it over here off the assembly line, and there’s going to be a small group of people going to work on it and we’re going to do it just to do it.” There’s no hope or expectation that this crazy thing is ever going to go into production. Maybe as we develop the concept car, we find a gas cap and we go, “This is cool, we’re going to put this. I’m going to throw it into the assembly line.” Over time, the assembly line innovates in a responsible way. In my experience, the problem with most marketing organizations is that you’re trying to apply concept cars to the assembly line. The result is chaos.

No one is exactly sure who is supposed to do what. No one is exactly sure what their metrics for success are. The morale goes down, the cost goes up, your margin erodes, then it’s a race to the bottom. Your quality goes out the window and it’s no wonder people come back and go, “I told you we should’ve just did what we always did.” This is not good. This doesn’t work. As you’re going through all these random ideas, what we need to do is say, “Is this an assembly line or is this a concept car?” It’s because our approaches are two very different ways. You’ll have those ideas throughout the day. I went to meet some clients in New York, and nobody stays in Times Square but I had to stay in Times Square and this was outside my hotel, and this is a wonderful place to be. This is filled with opportunity. Your media agencies bring you these opportunities. How glorious it is to be here. Everybody wants to be there.

66,000 people live in Times Square, let alone the millions of traipse through every year and there are two times that the advertising work that I’ve created has appeared in Times Square. It’s an incredibly proud moment. Everybody wants to be there. As a consumer, Times Square doesn’t just exist in Manhattan. Times Square is in your pocket, Times Square is on your laptop because you’re standing here, you’re in the middle of Time Square and you’re completely surrounded by promotional messaging. The problem is nobody knows where to look. Everybody wants to be there. There’s no guarantee for success. Nobody knows where to look and on the street, it’s even worse because you’ve got cabbies driving by, you’ve got people on bikes, you’ve got someone hacking tickets, you’ve got somebody shouting out a window, “Get out of my way.” Not only all of you not know where to look, but you also don’t know who to trust.

People used to vote with their wallets. Now, they vote with their time. Click To Tweet

We talked about these people doing the drive by strategy, by your office going, “What’s our strategy on social selling? What’s our strategy and eCommerce?” We don’t know where to look and we don’t know who to trust. We ended up going home and just trying a bunch of stuff, doing a bunch of tactics. The notion that we have to live up to is that people used to vote with their wallets and now they vote with their time. If we can’t first win the battle for time, all of those tactics that we’ve created are a waste of money. It’s a waste of time, a waste of resources because we think that this thing only exists in pre-roll and we know how people react to this when it pops up. All of us. You said you see this Skip Ad, you’re like, “Can I do it now? How about now?” You count down three, two, one, boom and this occurs in every single piece of communication, the Skip Ad button, even in face-to-face conversations you get stuck in your office with somebody and in your brain, you’re like, “How long can I get out of this?”

Think, Do, And Say

You want to click their forehead, “Skip Ad, Skip Ad, Skip Ad.” It doesn’t work, so we need something. We need something that helps us through this. We need some simplified path to take us there and we know that great brands and the leaders who lead those brands are based on three things. They are based on what they think, what they do and what they say and you can’t just cherry pick. It’s not or, it’s and. If all you do is think as an organization, then you’re a think tank. If all you do as a person is think, then you’re a philosopher and there are decreasing opportunities for philosophers and the compensation is absolutely horrible. If all you do is do as an organization without being strategically aligned, then you’re a sweatshop and no one wants to work for you.

If as a person, all you do is do, do, do, your colleagues don’t like it because you’re defining your success by the number of hours you work, not the quality of those hours. If as an organization, all you do is say, say, say, but you never deliver, it’s a race to the bottom because your churn goes through the roof. If as a person, all you do is say, say, say, without ever actually doing anything, you’re going to be found out. It’s about thinking, doing and saying. We know this is what great organizations do and the issue that a lot of you have is it’s not just about the organization, but it’s about the individuals within the organization that when frontline employees think, do and say the same thing, what the organization does well now we have complete organizational alignment. We have positive brand momentum.

This is what drives us forward. Satya Nadella is the newest CEO of Microsoft. Full disclosure, Microsoft is a client. I used to go into Microsoft with my Mac and go, “I’m here to present,” and they’d go, “Can you put this yellow sticky over the logo?” I went in once and I go to answer my phone and they’re like, “Can you get a Windows phone?” I’m like, “No, they suck. I’m not getting a Windows. It’s horrible.” It was the time when I said, “We Googled this,” and they said, “Don’t you mean you Binged it?” I said, “No, please never say that again. That’s embarrassing for all of us.” Then Nadella came in. It’s a completely different organization. One of the first things he said, his belief was, “Here’s what we’ve got to do. We have to start supporting all Microsoft customers, not just the ones who are exclusive to the Microsoft ecosystem.” That’s what he believed. What did he do to reinforce that belief?

Symbolically, he presented from a Mac and used Google Chrome as his browser. More importantly, the first product he launched was Microsoft Office for the iPad. We thought it, he did it and he said it, and everybody within Microsoft knows Nadella’s mantra is new growth mindset. It’s a fundamentally different organization. He bought them back to $500 billion. The stock price has been higher since the mid ‘90s. He thought, he did it, he said it. Some of you are saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t have that type of power. I’m a very senior person, but I’m not the CEO of the organization.” Some of you work for family-owned businesses or founders.

I would like you meet Adrian. Adrian makes minimum wage. Adrian pumps gas for an organization called Co-Op. She pumps gas in Langley, British Columbia. I’ll never be more inspired than I met Adrian. It’s incredible because their line is, “You’re at home here,” and when we talked about activating that belief with actions, she said, “It’s tricky for me because I live in Langley, British Columbia, home to a very large East Indian population. I don’t speak the language for most of the people who come in. It’s difficult for me to welcome them.” Adrian, minimum wage Adrian, pumping gas Adrian on her own time and her own dime went out and learned Punjabi. She went out and instead of saying, “You’re at home here,” she said it in Punjabi. She thought it, she followed it up with actions and beliefs and she said it but she said in Punjabi. I’m never more inspired. This person is going places. It’s incredible. When we’re all together, we have positive brand momentum but when we’re not, we have what we call an integrity gap.

CMO 11 | Expression Economy

Expression Economy: An organization that is not strategically aligned becomes a sweatshop that no one wants to work for.


Integrity gap is when the actions of a few or select individuals contradict with the organization states that stands for and we’ve all been there. All of us have had these. I’ve heard some of them. This is when you get the call that 60 Minutes is on the phone. It’s not the call that you ever want to get. It’s when the actions of one or two individuals completely contradict with the organization states that stand for. That’s a massive integrity gap and that is negative brand momentum. This is what we should be striving for. It’s the complete organizational alignment on what we think and what we do and what we say. If we break it down from a thinking standpoint, we have to elevate this conversation of something that’s more important and the reason we have to do that is consumers are exhausted from getting pitch slapped.

Everybody has a pitch. You talk to consumers nonstop. I’m driving down the freeway and I just see a billboard. I’m pitch-slapped. I go to the washroom and I see an ad. I go on the internet, I go to look at some shoes and then the shoes follow me around the internet for months, pitch-slapped. We have to elevate that conversation or something that they actually care about and what we don’t want to do is what some organizations do. They just take, they try and gain the system and they go, “What’s the popular issue at the time?” Then we just say, “We stand behind that.” Then we show them we’re elevating this conversation to something more important.

2017’s Super Bowl, Audi came out with a spot that said they support gender equality in the workforce. Don’t get me wrong, this is an absolutely critical issue that every single one of us has to get behind, but it’s not why they make cars. We can try and gain the system and just attach ourselves to issues of the day. We have to actually believe in something greater. We have to finish the statement when we believe that. If we truly believe in it and we put actions in place, now we’re talking about winning the battle for time. We’re talking about resonating with consumers. We have to believe in it and our actions have to support those beliefs even if it costs us a lot. I’m not going to get into the political discussion about this, I’m a Canadian, I’m clearly not qualified to have that discussion. From a brand standpoint, if you’re going to stand up and say that you support athletes, you’re almost morally obligated to run this. What’s great from a marketing standpoint is the walls between the stuff in advertising that people didn’t want to see, but that’s sponsored and paid for the stuff they wanted to see. The separation of church and state, those walls are gone.

When the organization is all-together, we have positive brand momentum. But when we’re not, we only have an integrity gap. Click To Tweet

The church and state have now been unified and so we don’t even know what to call this, whether this is a print ad or whether this is a PR campaign or whether this is corporate social responsibility or what. I don’t think it matters. Either it wins the battle for time or it doesn’t. We have to believe in something that’s more important. What some people will say is, “No, we have values. In fact, if you go to our website and you click our values, you’ll see them listed there.” I know what you did. You went to some resort north of whatever city you live in, you gather your people around a flip chart and you’re like, “We need values.” Somebody is like, “I hear accountability is good,” and you’re like, “Mary, we’re writing that down. It’s amazing,” and you write it down and then you put them in a PowerPoint deck and you ship them out to the world. You go like, “We’ve got performance accountability and creativity, too bad we didn’t have an E that we can spell pace.”

It feels like just make one up with an E, let’s get the word. You’re like, “Everywhere, performance, accountability, creativity everywhere,” and you ship it out. I don’t care what your value is saying, I don’t. I shouldn’t read your values. I should experience your values. This is the do part. We have to line this up. To help us out with our dues and our actions, we need to know a couple of things. The first thing is who are you doing it for? If we want a complete organizational alignment and we’re going to consumers with a message, people internally have completely different audiences. The actions are going to be completely different. There are a lot of people who will call me and say, “Can you come in and talk about customer service?” What I find is that people don’t have customer facing roles thinking it doesn’t apply to them. Who are you doing it for? We all know that we love the sound of our own name. The whole idea of this was who would you share a coke with and what did we do? Selfie centered society? We’re like, “Screw them. I want to share a coke with myself,” and we went and hunted for a coke with our name on it.

We have the data capabilities that we can target this message to individual people. We know this is what cuts through. There’s a reason why my Netflix is different from my wife’s Netflix. We have this capability now and it’s not enough to have the data that allows us to communicate on a one to one basis. We have to actually put into action. We have to take it from a concept car to assembly line. I’m in Vancouver a lot and I stayed at a hotel called The Westin Grand. I was there and I tweeted out, “I love The Westin Grand.” They write back. They’re like, “We love you too. When are you coming to stay with us again?” “I’m here now.” They’re like, “If there’s anything we can do to make your stay better, please let us know.” I was like, “If you’re going to ask, there was no shampoo in the hotel room this morning.” Women are going, “Who cares? You bring your own.” No, I’m a guy. We don’t. Whatever’s on the counter is what we’re using and if there’s nothing on the counter, what are we using? The bar of soap. I said, “There’s no shampoo,” and they go, “Huge apologies, the shampoo is now in your room.” I was like, “Amazing. Thank you.” I go to the room and I’m working away and there was a knock at the door and a woman from the hotel is there and she has some fresh fruit and craft of ice water and some chocolate and she has this note, “Dear @RonTite, thanks for being a loyal guest and follower. We hope you enjoy the rest of your stay. Here’s a little treat from us. Sincerely, The Westin Grand.”

CMO 11 | Expression Economy

Expression Economy: If you want a complete organizational alignment, then you have to go to consumers with a message.


I love this. It’s one-person, complete organizational alignment, delivering what the organization promised, talked about all over the world. People would tweet to them, “This guy is talking about you.” The next time I go check in, there’s a note, “Dear Ron,” which is great because we started at, “Dear @RonTite, now we’re in a relationship. “Dear Ron, welcome back. It’s a pleasure that you stayed with us again. We’re truly grateful for the kind words you say about us during your speaking engagements. To show our appreciation, please enjoy these snacks. We hear they’re your favorite as well as a couple of personal touches in your suite. Stay well, The Westin Grand.” There are two things that I can completely exist on, and I’m not just saying this because of this environment. I can exist completely on two things and two things only: Diet Coke and barbecue chips. That’s all I need. I go to the room. They’ve got two Diet Cokes and three types of homemade barbecue chips. It gets better because I go into the bathroom and there are twenty shampoos. It gets better because I go into the bedroom and they’ve downloaded and printed a picture of me at our home in Toronto with our two dogs, put it in a silver frame on the bedside table and a note that says, “We hope this feels like home.” Compare this to a photocopied letter from the general manager that says, “Dear guest.”

What’s funny is that my wife works with the predominantly large homeless population in community mental health, so she’s very private and social. I am not. I came home and I was like, “Look what they got me. This is amazing.” She’s like, “Yes, sure you love it. That’s great. Good for you.” She said, “Just know that if they put a picture of me in the frame, that would have been creepy.” I went to the hotel and I asked to meet the guy who did it and I said, “My wife said if you put a picture of her, it would have been creepy.” He said, “Actually we have a policy. We’ll only put pictures of people who were staying in the room in the frame because you never know who’s bringing who to a hotel room.” I said, “I would like to hear about the incident that necessitated the need for that policy.” Here’s what’s most important. This is not a concept car, this is an assembly line.

What we say is what we do to reinforce our belief. Click To Tweet

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

They probably got a room full of frames. They’ve done it enough times. They figured out who ’s responsible for downloading and printing, who takes you to the room, everything else. They’ve got an efficient delivery in an efficient way and made me feel like I’m the only person who’s ever done for because I’m a snowflake, even though they’ve done it over and over and over again. We have to assembly line. These great ideas you have today, those hacks and put on the assembly line, they have to be delivered in an efficient way. Who would we do it for is important. The second part of this is what do they want you to do? I don’t know if there’s a better example of the consumer mindset right now than this guy, Simon Hall, when he said, “I got a job at Comcast and completed training so I could fix my own cable because it was faster than being in all the customer service.” Gil Scott-Heron had a song in the ‘70s, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. There’s not a better theme song for we’re going through right now. I own an agency. I woke up and my biggest competition was IBM, Deloitte and Accenture. When did that happen? The revolution will not be televised. Before I owned my own agency, I was a creative director, before that I was a writer. I have a long line of art director partners who could art direct out of a TV spot and a print ad. We never made the leap to UX and UI. They woke up one day and it was just gone. All of it.

The real disruptors in pretty much every category are the ones who are solving the problems the establishment can’t or won’t, or the establishment. The way out of this is to constantly solve people’s problems because we know that’s what they want us to do. The last part of this is who do you do it with. Often, who we do it with is more important than who we do it for because we’re already aligned on purpose and we know we have this interdependence. We know what’s more important than who we do it for because we’re already connected on purpose and interdependence is absolutely critical for us to survive. To believe in something greater, we have to find the people who can help us achieve it. Some of those people, even though you’re competitors, some of those people are here for you. That’s what’s great. We’ll find those people.

The last part of this is if you behave in a way, if you reinforce your broader beliefs, that’s worth talking about. We have to say it. How do we say it? What we say is what we do to reinforce our belief. That’s what we say, but how we say it gets important and how we can say it. First of all is we can say what stories because we all know the power of a story. We all know once upon a time there were some people, some stuff happened and they lived happily ever after. We get that. No one puts their kid in the bed with an Excel spreadsheet or maybe you do. We know that we can say what stories and connect with people. We understand stories. Stories can help us connect with people. We’ve all got those stories and not just the external stories that you tell your customers, but internally to get a complete organizational alignment, the stories that you tell each other within your organization.

I used to be the creative director on Dell. Every single person that organization knew the story of Michael Dell being a college student to developing and building computers in his garage. Everybody knew the story and that created the entrepreneurial foundation within that entire organization. The last part of that is the stories that we tell ourselves, that we’re either an optimist or a pessimist. A great book is Barking Up The Wrong Tree. It looks at how we define success and the notion that if we’re pessimists and we tell ourselves a story, that it’s not going to work out more often than not. If we’re optimists and we tell each other the stories, “This is going to work out,” and typically it does. This is what connects great brands. This is what connects great leaders, that we believe in, something more important than the products we sell, then we align our actions to reinforce those beliefs. We know who we do it for, we know exactly what they want us to do and more importantly, we know who we do it with. If we do all that, that’s worth talking about. We can say it with honesty, with authenticity and with great stories. You can think about it. You can do it. You can say it.

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About Ron Tite

CMO 11 | Expression Economy

Ron has been an award-winning advertising writer and Creative Director for some of the world’s most respected brands, including Air France, Evian, Fidelity, Hershey, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Intel, Microsoft, Volvo and many others.

His advertising work has been recognized by The London International Advertising Awards, The New York Festivals of Advertising, The Crystals, The Extras, The Canadian Marketing Association, The Advertising & Design Club of Canada and The Marketing Awards, to name just a few.

He is Founder and CEO of Church+State (originally The Tite Group), a Toronto-based content marketing agency and publisher of This is That Travel Guide to Canada – a best-selling, award-winning satirical book from the creators of CBC Radio’s hit show, This Is That.

His past work includes being Executive Producer & Host of the award-winning comedy show Monkey Toast, in addition to writing for a number of television series, penning a children’s book, and writing, performing, and producing the play The Canadian Baby Bonus. In demand as a speaker on innovation, branding and content marketing, Ron continues to speak to leading organizations all over the world about “The Expression Economy” – his take on modern business.

Ron’s own book, Everyone’s An Artist (Or At Least They Should Be), was published by HarperCollins in 2016.

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