An award-winning advertising writer, Ron has worked with some of the world’s most respected brands, including Air France, Evian, Fidelity, and Hershey. He has spoken around the world on creativity in marketing, "the Expression Economy," and the importance of living up to your brand promise, among other topics. He's also the author of Everyone's an Artist (Or at Least They Should Be): How Creativity Gives You the Edge in Everything You Do.
I invited Ron to Marketing Smarts to talk about "the Expression Economy," his take on modern business. Along the way, we discussed the continued importance of creativity (including how to cultivate it among your employees), the battle for people's attention, and business disruption—which he likened to political coups.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:
Hire creative people, and actively foster creativity in the workplace (06:32): "You need to hire for [creativity]. We're starting to see that job descriptions are changing, roles are changing. As the ecosystem around marketing changes, obviously the roles that feed that ecosystem have to change, too.
"Second, it starts at the top. It's really easy for a chief marketing officer to come in and go, 'We've gotta be more creative, we've got to learn to fail more.' It's BS because those are empty words and empty promises if those things aren't built into somebody's compensation or they're not built into their HR-mandated views of how we're evaluating that person. We have to not just say it—we have to do it.
"We have to train people how to be creative. We have to reward people for being creative. We have to share when people on our team have been creative with other people (so they know that it's OK and they have a road map for how to do it). Most importantly, we have to have a filter on all of our work that says, 'Is it good enough?'
"Because what marketers are doing is allocating budget to certain platforms and media choices, and then they're putting their creative work through this cheesecloth of eight layers, the last layer being 'Legal and Regulatory.' And the result of all of that is lowest-common-denominator language, stuff that sounds way too scripted. We lose our personality through the process, and you end up with a bunch of buzzwords in a banner ad and we wonder why they're not pulling."
Some marketing tasks belong on an "assembly line," but some are "concept cars" (09:03): "We want metrics that have been defined by previous performance so that we can estimate what the response is going to be or what sales are going to be, I totally get that. But the car manufacturers have these two parts to their business that I think marketers need to integrate.
"The first part is the assembly line. The assembly line: everybody has a very specific job description. They know exactly what they're responsible for. The metrics for their success are very clearly defined...and the reason they do it that way is because all the inefficiencies have been stripped out of the assembly line. It's delivered in the most efficient way possible, and you do that so that you can guarantee what the margin is going to be and what the quality of the product is going to be.... So that's great. We need to do that on assembly-line tasks.
"The other part to their business is they have concept cars. And when they want to do something new, there's a couple of things they do with the concept car. One, they pull it off the assembly line. They don't mess with the assembly line—they pull it off. Secondly, there's a small and dedicated team that are all working on the concept car. And the third part is, there is no hope or expectation of production performance or success. There isn't. Through that exercise, what they find is that 'maybe this gas cap could work really well and we're going to put that into the assembly line,' and over time, the assembly line innovates with these new things that have been a little bit tested or proved.
"The problem with a lot of marketing organizations is that they're trying to innovate the assembly line, and the result, of course, in doing that is chaos. Because now no one knows their roles: It's not very clear on how they're supposed to be successful. The product at the end of the assembly line is now losing money because you've disrupted the efficiency of it, and the quality has gone out the window. The result of all of that is, not surprisingly, really low morale."
Ron and I talked about much more, including how disrupting an industry is like a political coup, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.
Ron TIte, owner of content marketing agency Church+State, and author of the book Everyone's an Artist (Or at Least They Should Be): How Creativity Gives You the Edge in Everything You Do. You can follow him on Twitter @rontite.