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A Chat with Ron Tite About the State of Digital Marketing and His Latest Book

Sailun Tires

I recently got the chance to catch up with Ron Tite, a Toronto-Based Comedian turned CEO & Digital Marketer. Ron is the founder of Church+State, Executive Producer and Host of the podcast, “The Coup”, co-author of Everyone’s an Artist (Harper Collins, 2016) and author of his latest book Think. Do. Say: How to Seize Attention and Build Trust in a Busy, Busy World which hits the bookshelves. In our chat, he provided some great insight on marketing and entrepreneurship to help guide you through all the noise in a cluttered digital world.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been in the Advertising/Marketing space?

I’ve been working in advertising since the beginning of the Internet and I’ve seen all the highs and lows in between then and now. Through it all, I think I’ve been most interested in the crossover space between art and commerce. I spent 20 years as a stand-up comedian, many years as a writer and Creative Director, and the last 10 as an entrepreneur. I’ve often looked to the arts for cues on how business should behave. People used to vote with their wallets but now they vote with their time. I’ve always been intrigued by the interesting stuff that wins that battle.

With so much abundance and access to information, how does someone decide what advice to take and who to listen to?

Great question. On one hand, we all had a hand in overthrowing established gatekeepers who used to decide what we read, what music we listened to, and what shows and movies we watched. Now, more people are creating more stuff in more places and we can’t separate the crap from the gold. We went from thinking, “I don’t want ‘the man’ telling me what to listen to” to “Can someone just tell me what to listen to?”

The difference is that now, gatekeepers aren’t just some corporate default who inherited the right to recommend. They’re people or organizations who gain that right over time.

The truth is, we need gatekeepers in our lives. The difference is that now, gatekeepers aren’t just some corporate default who inherited the right to recommend. They’re people or organizations who gain that right over time. They build trust through their transparent and consistent actions of putting purpose before profit.

Why did you decide to write this book and why now?

There are 2 main reasons why I wanted to write it: 1. I thought business was at an inflection point and needed to get back to the basics. It’s a really exciting time to be at the forefront of so much rapid change and progress but it blows me away that people are leading that excitement with outdated approaches and empty phrases like “We’re going to lean into this initiative in Q3”. More than that though, I hate that there are too many companies and individuals focused on trying to game the system in their favour opposed to patiently and deliberately building a business. People are chasing tactics and ignoring business fundamentals.

Ron Tite, author of Think. Do. Say: How To Seize Attention and Build Trust in a Busy, Busy World
Ron Tite, author of Think. Do. Say: How To Seize Attention and Build Trust in a Busy, Busy World

Who should pick up this book and what will they get out of it?

Anyone over the age of 18 – there’s a F-bomb or two in there. Actually, if you are a person who is unhappy or frustrated with your role or your organization’s performance and overwhelmed by what you should do to make progress, this book is for you. You’ll get a very simple approach that can be applied to any person or business and you’ll get refreshing and inspiring examples of those who have done it. We’ve all seen enough mentions of Apple so I consciously didn’t mention Apple once in the whole book.

How would you describe the digital marketing world in Canada versus the US? Is Canada behind on this? Do you feel Canadian companies are too conservative with their marketing dollars?

We are behind but it’s no surprise why. A lot of the brand dollars in Canada come from global organizations. Instead of leading the way, we spent many years changing “.com” to “.ca” and that was the extent of our digital work. On the e-commerce side of things, once American brands figured out fulfillment, they just had to “turn on Canada” on their e-commerce engines and they were good to go with minimal additional digital expense. Marketers for Canadian brands were investing in engines for a much smaller population base, so we lagged in our deployment and we lagged in gathering the skill to do it. It’s getting better. Watch out for the fine folks at Shopify. They’re making all the right choices.

Do companies have to spend on paid social media or can it get away with just organic content?

This is our belief at my agency, Church+State: Every ad can be a piece of content if it’s good enough and every piece of content can be an ad if it’s authentic enough. Whether you’re paying for media directly (amplification) or indirectly (influencer marketing), you need to pay. Spraying and praying doesn’t work anymore.

If you weren’t running a marketing agency, what else would you be doing?

Well, I spend half my year on the road speaking so maybe I’d just do that fulltime with a sprinkling of interesting projects with some comedy friends. My good friend Steve Patterson is a comedian and host of The Debaters and we’ve been trying to collaborate on something for years. We may need to retire to actually get to it.

What is your biggest challenge as an Entrepreneur?

It’s the balance between trying new stuff, breaking the rules, being creative and innovating and the reality that if that’s all you do, you go bankrupt. We call it the difference between the assembly line and the concept car. You need the concept car to stay relevant and you need the assembly line to stay profitable. I don’t do well on the assembly line and when I find myself hanging out there, I get out of the way.

Where do you think content marketing is headed?

Last year at Content Marketing World in Cleveland, I delivered a keynote called, “The Death of Content Marketing. The Rise of Content Marketers”. Content Marketing took its cues from content companies and these days, I wouldn’t be looking to them for guidance and inspiration. Many of them are losing their shirts.

 Simply put, “Content Marketing” just needs to become “Marketing”.

The lines between content and advertising are really blurry. Instead of trying to define what a certain tactic is, we should be making relevant, interesting, inspiring, and informative marketing whether the form it takes is a big box banner or a documentary film. Simply put, “Content Marketing” just needs to become “Marketing”.

How important is it for brands to act like media companies and how much resources should a company invest into their content strategy.

Brands need to add value to their consumers and prospects at every stage of the customer journey (or whatever proprietary name they’ve given it internally). And that content (or as Bob Knorpp said, that “ad-like object”), should be as credible and as transparent as an article a journalist would write or a documentary filmmaker would produce. But there are so many needs across so many specific customers that brands need to build content production into their internal capabilities. In terms of investment, a sample breakdown is 70% of their budget should go to activities that drive an expected level of performance. 20% should go to making that 70% more efficient through innovation, training, or data and 10% should go to stuff they’ve never done before (concept cars). Obviously, it’ll be different for every industry and company, but those numbers are a good place to start.

You mention brands should have people experience their values versus reading or hearing. How does a company do that?

The first thing they can do is not dictate the values they claim to have or want to have. Too many values have been driven by a team of 5 executives huddled around a flipchart at a lakeside resort opposed to the actual values that are shared across the organization. More importantly, they need to inspire, inform, and empower their people to live the values through specific and repeatable actions. Lose the acronyms that look great on a poster and focus on real values that people can bring to life.

What is a ‘pitch slap’ and why should companies avoid it?

A pitch slap is when a company or person attempts to disguise a blatant pitch. If your sole objective is to sell something, just say so. But blowing smoke up someone’s butt just so you can pivot into a total sell-job leaves people on the receiving end feel dirty. That icky feeling clings to the person like a bar of hotel soap.

What’s next for Ron Tite?

Another baby! My wife and I are expecting our second child in March. We’re thrilled. Beyond that, we just launched season 1 of the podcast “The Coup” with Rogers Frequency Podcast Network and we’re about to begin development on Season 2. I’ve also invested in a couple of companies and I’m helping them go to the next level.


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