Tobaccowala on how marketers waste their money

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To succeed in today's digital marketplace, organizations must be fearless, fluid and forward-thinking. Those are the fundamental principles that Denuo CEO Rishad Tobaccowala tries to instill in his client companies. And in terms of staying nimble and constantly reassessing one's role within the marketing landscape, Tobaccowala practices what he preaches.

Rishad Tobaccowala is CEO, Denuo.

Despite the fact that Denuo was launched less than three years ago, the agency's mission has already evolved significantly. When Denuo launched in 2006, it was envisioned as a crystal ball for the digital marketing industry -- an agency dedicated exclusively to anticipating the rapidly changing digital, interactive and mobile communications environment. But, according to Tobaccowala, the needs of the firm's clients have changed. And thus, so has Denuo's business model.

"Clients' No. 1 question is no longer, 'What is happening and what should I do?'" Tobaccowala says. "The No. 1 question is, 'How do I do what I should do?'" Thus, what was initially conceived as a "futures" consulting group has shifted further into tangibility. Of course, the firm is still heavily focused on anticipating the future of digital. But now it's also heavily involved in designing the solutions that the future will demand.

That isn't to say that Denuo has crossed the line into technologies manufacturing. Far from it. Although the firm may envision the shape of a new solution, it leaves the production side to state-of-the-art technology developers. And it's something Tobaccowala recommends his clients do as well. "In a fast-changing world, why do you want to vertically integrate?" he says. "The internet is about eventually connecting the best of breed."

In a sense, Denuo's own transformation epitomizes the nimbleness that the agency tries to instill in its own clients. As the company has come to better understand what its clients want, and as its clients' needs have changed, it has evolved accordingly.

"We talk about being in Denuo 3.0," Tobaccowala says. "Usually what tends to happen is you go from 1.0 to 2.0 to 3.0 in software. You don't tend to go in organizations. Organizations don't change so fast. But we believe it's important for organizations to change fast because the only way to learn is by doing -- through iteration. You can't sit and read books about this stuff." 

Facilitation trumps advertising
So, when Denuo executives look into their digital crystal balls, what do they see? Well, as you might assume, that depends on the client. But across the board, Tobaccowala says marketers can base their strategies on a couple of assumptions about the future. For one, there will be people in the future. And two, those people will want to communicate and connect.

The rest, he says, is all about facilitation. "We need to basically organize the facilitation," Tobaccowala says. "We need to have chief facilitation officers." Rather than spending their time crafting messages, marketers should be spending their time helping consumers gain access to companies and their resources -- thereby making it easy for consumers to market to themselves.

When it comes to connecting and communicating, people want three things, Tobaccowala says. First, they want access -- access to content and to people, at any time, in any place, on any device. Second, they want participation. And third, they want empowerment. And not just any old empowerment, Tobaccowala notes. They want to be like gods, limited by neither time nor space. Thus, he says, marketers must learn to live in the world of the omniscient consumer.

"Think about facilitation rather than marketing," Tobaccowala says. "Think about access, empowerment and participation. In this particular world, you have to take segmented marketing -- which is what we do today on television, where you start with the cow and you get yourself a steak -- and combine that with reaggregated marketing, like people do in search engines. It's one person at a time, but you need to reaggregate them into a large enough audience. It's like starting with a piece of mince and getting a hamburger." 

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Alexander Wipf
Alexander Wipf October 30, 2008 at 9:39 AM

Love what Tobaccowala says here. This totally reflects our agency philosophy which we call HumanKind: go from milieus and demograhics to actual human behavior, from messaging to experiences, from campaigns to sustained value exchange, and from rigid posititioning and idle brand promise to a human brand purpose. Essentially what he talks about is how marketing organizations and their agencies have to change in order to actually deliver product innovation which can be translated into marketing innovations as well.

I like the the idea of faciliation, especially if you see it from the agency side.If you actually retool your agency structure and processes in a way that allows you to deal with creating experiences leading to value exchange (that gives people access to companies), you immediatly realize how much more involved your stategic and creative deliverables get. Planning and designing experiences based in people's goals and behavior is just much more complex than a catchy claim and a key visual based on brand attributes and a marketing objective.