Trendsetter Masthead

Rishad Tobaccowala

Rishad Tobaccowala

Like us on Facebook

See the current issue
of The Internationalist magazine

Find out how to sponsor an issue of Trendsetters

Trendsetters: Rishad Tobaccowala Outlines 6 Trends to Shape the Future of Marketing

Rishad Tobaccowala possesses the rare gift of making the complex seem simple. He also knows how to make an audience comfortable by acknowledging that transformation isn’t easy—not even for him. As Chair of both DigitasLBi and Razorfish, two global digital agency networks that are part of the Publicis Groupe, he is both a pioneer in digital marketing and a generalist who has worked for 31 years across almost every marketing discipline-- from brand advertising to media, from database and direct to interactive.

Last week at the ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference in Naples Florida, he addressed how the world of marketing is changing and how each of us needs to reinvent ourselves to be relevant in this new world. And to the delight of the ANA audience, he suggested a rebranding of marketing procurement. “I’d start with the actual word ‘procurement,’” he said. “It should be changed to better describe the value provided by marketing’s financial talent beyond simply buying services.”

He shared six sweeping trends that will, no doubt, continue to transform our ideas about the future of marketing.

Analog and Digital are Merging

Rishad Tobaccowala’s definition of the interaction of analog and digital is best summed up as digital technology blended with analog humanity. He believes that a digital world comprised of “zeros” and “ones” or “yeses” and “noes” is increasingly merging with the feelings of people—rarely as straightforward as “yes” or “no,” but more along the lines of “maybe” or “it depends.” He cites how one of the most popular uses of mobile technology is sharing pictures of food, people and places—an example of the merging of analog and digital. “People,” he says, “choose with heart and justify with numbers. If marketing were only numerical, why pay a premium for the work we produce? Storytelling is our business and it only works with analog.”

The Future is Increasingly about Video

The future of video is across screens, and all of it will be internet protocol. This means we will aggregate one individual at a time to get to mass media. He colorfully described this transition: “Traditional media started with a cow and got a steak. In the future, we’ll start with mincemeat and build to a hamburger.”

Less about Advertising and More about Utilities and Services

Rishad is keenly aware that more people are spending less time watching ads. He feels that as an industry we often forget to value the time of consumers. People are now willing to pay for content—such as HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Pandora, Spotify—to avoid advertising. Sixty-six percent of most content today is not commercially underwritten. Key apps and services that make life easier are now critical to new notions of marketing. For example, an app from a drug chain like Walgreen’s that helps to fulfill prescriptions automatically, enables a customer to navigate any store to find favorite items, or point out special savings on regular purchases has great consumer value.

The Future is Less about Ownership and More about Access

He reminds us that the half-life of data is short. (Today, the half-life of a tweet is 5 minutes.) According to Rishad Tobaccowala, the answer is not to own data, which becomes quickly obsolete, but to understand how to access it and how to combine it. He also talks of another trend that reflects shifts in ownership versus access. “Today young people don’t want to be tied down with the traditional sacrifices of owning a home; they prefer to rent. Many don’t want to own a car, and in urban areas in particular, there are ways around it that allow for anytime access—Zipcar, Airbnb, Uber. It’s a new mindset. That doesn’t mean that ownership no longer matters, but there’s no question there is a rise in access.

Marketing as We Know It Has Changed, But We Refuse to Acknowledge It

Rishad Tobaccowala is well known for his anthem that “the future of marketing will not fit in the containers of the past.” He believes that we have moved to an Age of Self-Marketing. He points out that when we buy a car, have an illness or take a trip, we search out answers ourselves and rely on Orbitz, for example, not travel agents. As a result, he suggests that a CMO’s role should shift to Chief Facilitation Officer to insure that products and services are more available to facilitate self-marketing. He recommends that today’s organizations align with this new human behavior instead of seeing contemporary marketing as doing PR about a deal with Facebook.

We are in a Massive Growth Industry

According to Tobaccowala, “Marketing is the future. All of us, as customers and consumers, are more empowered than ever before, so companies must embrace marketing.” He adds that technology now provides better ways of targeting and measuring advertising, while also enabling new ways of telling stories or, more importantly, allowing people to tell stories. Advertising and Marketing are growth industries-- much more than other sectors where the machines are automating high value work. In our industry, machines may be replacing low level work, but they are allowing for more opportunities for talented people. “It’s a growth industry. Everyone thinks it’s the Hunger Games. It’s not true. Many will prosper.”

So how do we embrace the future of marketing?

According to Rishad Tobaccowala, our industry needs reinvention. Three elements are critical:

  1. Talent. Today’s generation wants to be inspired; they want to learn and have opportunities. And they’re impatient. Let’s not forget that talented people also want to be part of amazing brands. There’s no reason why we can’t provide these opportunities.
  2. Personal Reinvention. We talk of transformation, but we don’t transform ourselves; everyone has to change and learn. We think we are stuck with legacy thinking. However, everyone has the opportunity to stop thinking about what they do, and start with a fresh sheet of paper to determine about what could be done or what could be built.
  3. Know what you don’t know. Learning is important. Figure out what you don’t know, and learn it. It may not be easy, but it’s not impossible. Turn to the young and reverse mentor. (It’s free education and younger people in your organization will tell everyone you’re cool.)

Talk to people, talk to clients. (Clients are people too.) This industry has to be reinvented by everyone together-- services, clients, agencies, media. The future is bright as long as we reinvent ourselves.