Tiina Salzberg is fed up with the smoke and mirrors in the brand consultancy world. Having experienced the process from three angles - as a client, as a consultant and most recently as chief strategy officer for agency 180 Kingsday - she knows the tricks of the trade. And her plan for 180 Kingsday’s new consultancy TILT is to involve their clients in the process of the changes they make, rather than keeping their secrets locked in a “black box”. Tiina’s team like to think of themselves as coaches, teaching their clients to fish rather than feeding them once and leaving.
It seems to be working. TILT has been quietly operational since 2019, working with brands within such large global corporations as PepsiCo, Unilever and Danone to develop and guide the strategic output and evolution of their brands.
To get to know this interesting new player on the scene, LBB’s Alex Reeves jumped on a video call with Tiina.
LBB> How did TILT first come about?
Tiina> I joined 180 three years ago and from the moment I joined I said to Sander, our CEO, this is something I want to do, something I’m going to do, something you need to let me do.
Other things kept getting in the way. Then at some stage, probably at the end of the third quarter [last year] we were just getting a lot of demand from clients. So I decided now we were going to properly do this and we started working on it.
Then we got so busy just doing the work, with a constant flow of projects coming in from PepsiCo, Danone, Unilever, that I had to hire people just to be able to do the work before I could actually launch it.
But finally we’re launching, which is super exciting.
LBB> Why did you want to launch a brand consultancy rather than continuing to work on strategy from within an agency?
Tiina> I think the agency model has got to shift. We’re so mired in what we do and have this very myopic view, generally speaking. We get the brief, we touch a very small part of the business, and then we’re out again. I’d come from, at that point, six or seven years having been client side and had a much broader perspective on the small bit that we do. There’s so much up front that we could be helping with and servicing our clients so much better.
Then through the lens of knowing where [brand consultancies] need to go. I’m going to say something super rude: there are so many consultants out there and so many of them are mediocre at best. And having been client side I was so frustrated by anyone and everyone feeling like they can do it, then recognising that it genuinely just wasn’t good enough.
I also found myself hating what I think is an unnatural separation between a consultant coming in and doing brand purpose work or architecture work and then ultimately handing it back to the client or the agency and leaving. It just needs to be so much more connected and holistic than that.
We can truly see it through, right from establishing the foundations of the brand with our client, a deep empathy and understanding for our consumer and then taking it all the way through to work that is amazing, really connects and is human. It doesn’t make any sense to me not to be doing that.
LBB> So you don’t see anyone out there doing things that way already?
Tiina> There’s a huge opportunity. Too many of the briefs that we were getting from clients, or consultants that were working with them, just weren’t good enough. Or they weren’t fit for purpose in terms of being actionable, creatively inspiring and imaginative enough. A lot of it was just dull. So being able to get right in there from the beginning, collaborate, work together and really pull out the best of what our clients have to offer [was what we wanted]. There’s so much amazing stuff in their heads. It’s just being able to translate that into something actionable, creative and inspiring for the work moving forward.
And not just the work. Once you’ve established the foundation of the brand it really needs to drive everything that the business does with it then, from innovation to maybe even decisions around supply chain. It’s hugely important.
LBB> Things like decisions around supply chains are central to brands living up to the purposes they purport to uphold. Is that something that you’re focused on at TILT? What are your other priorities?
Tiina> Purpose is at the forefront and what we’ve primarily been doing thus far. We’ve done a ton of portfolio architecture work as well. We’ve also done a fair amount of marketing capability training at PepsiCo and a bit at Danone.
We’re doing capability training in every project because we collaborate. My strong belief is not to protect our product so it’s like this black box and no one understands how it works. We really bring the client into the process, collaborate with them. And if we’ve done our job well we not only end up with some output that excites the entire organisation, but also the marketeers walk away feeling like they’ve learned something and are more capable moving forward.
LBB> So would you say transparency is key to your process?
Tiina> People feel so much better about it if that’s the case. I’ve worked with consultants who come in, take over the process, use their own predetermined approaches and processes themselves. They never reveal what those are in any way that’s meaningful. Then you feel reliant on them in the future. Why shouldn’t we be helping people reach their marketing potential through the process?
LBB> Why did you decide TILT needed to be siloed off from 180 Kingsday and not just part of the agency’s offering?
Tiina> For a few reasons. One is that I think there needs to be some objectivity. One thing I learnt having gone client side from consulting and advertising is that client-side there is a fair amount of probably healthy scepticism when working with agencies and especially strategists around “are they developing this strategy just because they’re trying to back something out of creative that the agency is excited for?” So I think that separation is actually really important.
My consultants do not cross lines. They’re working on all the consulting products. Then if we get work off the back of that and it comes into the agency (and the consultancy is a great new business driver, I have to say), we really pass it on.
Preserving the integrity of the thinking in a way that it isn’t being impacted or unfairly driven by the creative process.
Also, frankly, it allows us to work with clients that we maybe wouldn’t otherwise be able to because we have either competitors or adjacencies within the agency.
LBB> How did you end up with such a great list of clients so quickly?
Tiina> PepsiCo was first. I had been working with some really awesome, very senior clients within PepsiCo. So I was lucky enough to get the floor with these people. I was also lucky to have a background in consulting where I’d done a lot of brand positioning and purpose work. So I was able to bring a lot of that thinking into the work. Agency planners don’t tend to have had that kind of experience. So the clients sunk their tentacles into that and wanted more of that thinking.
LBB> Where does what you’re doing with brands go deeper than what you could do as an agency strategist?
Tiina> We’re building brand foundations for the long term. I like to think we’re developing something that will drive consistency for the brand for decades to come. Overall that’s the brand narrative that we’re establishing.
From an agency perspective, we’re telling chapters of the story at any given time. So the brand foundations need to be timeless and those chapters need to be timely. We’re translating the brand foundations through culture, through what people are experiencing at any given time (certainly right now is an interesting one!) and making sure that we have deep empathy for our consumers and we’re telling the right story at the right time for the right audience.
LBB> How has the state of the world been a factor in TILT’s early months?
Tiina> It’s somewhat serendipitous that we’re launching at a time when the world is in crisis. I think at a macro level crisis forces us to re-evaluate what we do, how we think, and ultimately determine what’s most important.
At a micro level and bringing that down to brands and marketing, I don’t think it’s that dissimilar. Brands also have an opportunity during times of crisis to re-evaluate what they’re doing. And I’m experiencing that with my clients right now.
It’s actually really cool. The fact that we’ve all been working from home for months, that we’re not travelling and we’re more connected to our families and with ourselves, means we have more time to critically evaluate not only what we’re doing in our lives but what we’re doing with our businesses. And the consultancy actually got busier the moment that lockdown happened worldwide, interestingly. And I’m very grateful for that.
Having said that, I also have a strong belief that as human beings we don’t necessarily change. Our fundamental, timeless human needs don’t shift. Those have been the same for millennia. What drives us doesn’t shift. But some drivers have become much more important. There’s a profound awareness around those. Acceptance, belonging, connection with other human beings, in particular. We’re being forced to take another look at those.
Social media connects us to thousands, and for sure it’s entertaining and has been a saviour throughout this period, but there’s also a bit of a tightening of my social circle in terms of where the most meaningful relationships are. Where am I going to focus my energy? On what matters the most in my life.
LBB> What have been your biggest worries in starting TILT?
Tiina> I think one of my biggest worries is that people will think we’re just another consultancy. On the one hand that’s fair. Why does the world need another consultancy? But I think I’ve really curated the right kind of talent to bring into the consultancy, which is really different to the talent we have in the agency. It’s a unique concentration of various backgrounds, whether that’s consulting, agency, design sensibility or client-side experience.
That broad perspective gives us the ability to look at things in a very fresh way. I know having been client side that you can get very stuck looking at things over and over, but with the exact same tools, in the exact same way, asking the exact same questions and expecting a different answer. It’s like the definition of insanity!
Sometimes you just need someone to come in with a broad and varied background that they can leverage and look at it from many different angles through a new lens. One of the first things we do is work out if we’re even asking the right question. If the question isn’t right then we’re barking up the wrong tree and we’ve got to shift our perspective. That’s where the DNA of TILT and the DNA of 180Kingsday come together.
We’re super nimble, flexible and human. What that means is we really get in there with our clients, get our hands dirty, ask them to get their hands dirty with us. We don’t just helicopter in, provide a solution and helicopter back out. I think that is the big difference.
We really partner. There’s a lot of arrogance in the consulting world. I like to think we’re not arrogant. But that doesn’t mean we’re not good. If I say so myself I think we’re really good. But arrogance gets in the way. It’s unnecessary and it makes things unpleasant for our clients. So just get rid of the bullshit and do great work.