Digital Transformation

'We may have over-targeted,' says Publicis’ Rishad Tobaccowala on what future companies should be and do

By Lisa Lacy | n/a

November 2, 2016 | 7 min read

Marketing is not a dying industry – just look at companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, which are, in essence, marketing companies, said Rishad Tobaccowala, the recently appointed strategy and growth officer at Publicis Groupe, in the opening keynote at Ad:Tech New York.

However, marketers don’t seem to understand how amazing the opportunity is before them when they despair about the future.

“The future is bright because of that stupid mobile phone you have,” Tobaccowala said. “That has made [marketers] David [v Goliath]. It forced companies to pay attention [to consumers].”

Companies and people alike must reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant.

Companies and people alike must reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant.

Social media, too, has connected consumers, which has created headaches for marketers, but the only way to understand and meet the needs of empowered consumers is via marketing, he added -- and yet many companies don’t have CMOs on their boards in this consumer-empowered age.

“Every company must have a CMO on its board,” Tobaccowala said.

And even though he admittedly hates change – “Change sucks,” he said – marketers will have to overcome their fear of making mistakes and looking silly because, if they don’t, they will stop growing.

“When you want to change, you have to learn new things and you don’t have a clue what’s going on,” he added. “Our ability to reinvent ourselves is the only way our industry will change. Our industry is about people. Every industry is about people…and the truth of the matter is getting the best people aligned against a common goal. When we do that, we can win.”

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Publicis Groupe is going through what Tobaccowala called “a massive self-disruption phase” because “[we] clearly understood the future isn’t where it is.”

In other words, marketing is no longer about just sending out ad messages.

“How do we change it? We recommend what clients actually want,” Tobaccowala said. “Our business is based on clients. The day we forget it’s all about clients, we lose it.”

And clients are people, too, so marketers need a solution that combines technology, marketing and strategic services with creativity.

“You have to basically do things that are expensive, painful and may not work,” Tobaccowala said. “We said we don’t want to be a communication company in the future – we want to be a marketing/business transformation company. It’s audacious [and] delusional…[but] that’s where we think our clients want us to be.”

And that’s in part why Publicis bought Sapient -- because successful companies deliver connected experiences in the platform age.

“Future companies are consumer-obsessed,” Tobaccowala said. “The only thing that matters is clients.”

Future companies are also frictionless, he said.

“No one wants to know how all the parts work, how the hot dog is made,” Tobaccowala said. “All of our companies insist on showing clients how they make the hot dog and they don’t care.”

In addition, future companies are seamless and highly modular.

In other words, in order to deliver what clients want, “Sometimes we’re an ingredient, sometimes we’re the main dish,” Tobaccowala said.

And that’s because successful companies tend to marry art and science.

“Our bet is in [technology, marketing and strategic] services,” Tobaccowala said. “You need all three…if you want to change, it’s horribly painful. It’s a very painful journey…in the end, the only way a company changes is to change mindsets.”

And the trick to changing mindsets is to start as an individual and invest five to seven hours a week learning new things. You may feel like you don’t have the time, but you’ll be obsolete otherwise, Tobaccowala said.

“Then you’re bullshitting your way through things,” he added.

Individuals must also work very hard to try to think the exact opposite of what they believe. In other words, whenever you hear a statement, Tobaccowala said to try to think, “What if the opposite is true?” and build a case for it. That, in turn, grows listening skills, which are an invaluable tool in the connected age.

Finally, individuals should build a brand.

“The one thing I’m certain about is individuals and brands will matter in the future,” he said. “Brands are the ultimate navigation device. The market value of brands keeps increasing. Brands matter. It’s hard to kill brands. [You can] try really hard with bad marketing, but they survive.”

And you can’t just read about something, you have to actually do it, he added.

“When you do it, your brand becomes real because people think you’re authentic and believe you and you can help take them into the future,” Tobaccowala said. “It’s the most amazing time. Don’t doubt yourself.”

Further, Tobaccowala noted despite the ability marketing technology gives us to get incredibly targeted, the more targeted marketers become, the more likely the wrong message will piss consumers off.

“I have to also recommend that we may be overtargeting,” Tobaccowala said. “That in effect no one wants to have a one-to-one relationship [with a brand]…you don’t want to have a one-to-one relationship with Tylenol, you want your headache to go away…I think we may have overtargeted. We have these amazing micro-targets, but we have nothing to say that is different…one of my counterintuitive things is to target less.”

In addition, to capitalize on the future, marketers should remember they are talking to complicated human beings.

“I believe most people are at least 50% mysterious,” he said. “It is impossible to get to know someone because they change.”

What’s more, Tobaccowala said the reason people exist is to tell stories.

“We are nothing but stories. We make sense of our life through stories,” he said. “We have internal narratives…and it becomes the movie of our lives. Storytelling and creativity at a higher level has been forgotten.”

And, finally, Tobaccowala said we’ve collectively lost empathy because in part we’re distracted.

“The whole idea is we’re all in this mess together, but the mess is an amazing opportunity,” he added.

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