Rishad Tobaccowala: Strategy is Future Competitive Advantage

Early in his book Restoring the Soul of Business, Rishad uses a slightly provocative phrase to describe getting to the point and how productive that can be. He uses a meeting with a previous CEO of Adobe to make his point in the form of an entertaining story.  His point is about telling tough truths. 

The one thing you will always get from Rishad when you ask him a direct question, is the truth as he sees it.  When the conversation turned to strategy, my formal education focused on Michael Porter / Peter Drucker and I was introduced to a new definition.  To Rishad, strategy is “future competitive advantage”.  It is about understanding what people will want in the future, who you will be competing against and what advantages will you offer over your competition in meeting those future needs. 

In order to succeed, one needs to understand key trends and be aligned with them. 

Align with Trends

If you are trying to be strategic and successful, you need to align with future trends. Some things are hard to predict like Covid, 9/11 or the war in Ukraine.  There are four underlying trends that Rishad sees as key to strategy & future success.

  1. Globalization.  Globalization is unstoppable, but evolving, from a western centric to a multipolar model.  There will be a regionalization of gravitational pulls & forces.  These regions are likely to be the US/EU, China, India and Latin America.  In time, an African center of gravity will also emerge.  None of these regions will be absolute in their models or influence. Apple for example, still heavily dependent on China for iPhones manufacture has begun to shift some manufacturing operations to Vietnam and India.  While still “global”, it is a different model.
  • Demographic shifts. Populations – primarily in the west – are flattening and some are declining. At the same time, these stagnant populations are aging.  Broad exceptions to this growth stagnation are India and Africa.  The people of the world are just getting older… at the rate of about 10,000 people per day turning 65. Add to this the fact that the vast majority of wealth in the United States will be held by people over 50.  Marketers focus on Millennials and Gen Z is about to become a turd on the table for many.
  • Third Connected Age (far more than technology). The first connected age was when the web first appeared, people were able to search & transact business (ecommerce).  The second connected age was when social media, mobile and streaming allowed people to be “connected” to distraction.  The third connected age will connect data to data (ML & AI), 5G + speeds, AR / VR. This will lead to a breakdown in trust which means the rise of blockchain. 
  • Changed expectations (result of Covid).  The impact of Covid-19, specifically the lockdowns and remote working, changed how people view their relationships with work, workplaces and life. People will not go back to work the way they used to. Expectations have changed.  Work, workplaces and life will not be the same as a result.

Alignment with these trends does not guarantee success, but it will enhance the probability of future success. There is much more to Rishad’s thinking than I cannot possibly capture for this series, so I recommend Rishad’s substack “The Future Does Not Fit in the Containers of the Past”.

The Rise of Data & Privacy

In the next three to seven years, Rishad sees a transformation occurring in the world of data.  Instead of your data being strip mined by companies like Facebook (Meta) / Google (Alphabet) and monetized for their own purposes, he predicts a new model will emerge where everyone controls their own data.  The enabling technology will effectively be our identity in a wallet.  “We will reveal & share our identity as and when needed, at the levels necessary and we will be paid for access to our data”.

Between now and then marketers will have to deal with the decline of 3rd party data. They have to engage and understand their buyers directly.  This will allow them many opportunities to activate their audience for themselves and also allow access to that audience in cooperative networks where they can monetize that understanding.  Companies can buy into networks like Walmart or Amazon.  Marriott is another good example with their Bonvoy network where partners can access and leverage that network.

Ultimately, the real power will eventually rest with the consumer where they can reveal and share their data for some sort of value exchange.

The impact on marketers will be the responsibility of managing 1st party data and identity management solutions.  Marketing agencies will have to help their clients with data identity and personalization.  From a regulatory perspective, the impact will involve addressing ownership related challenges. Consumers will demand to understand how any enterprise got their data.  To know if the data is valid and if not, how to correct the data.  Ultimately, they will want to know if there are any opportunities to monetize the use of that data.

The 3rd article from my interview with Rishad will focus on the acceleration of technology and data; the evolution of the customer journey and how this will impact the ways brands manage customers.


  • Get to the difficult issues, ie “the turd on the table”
  • Globalization is unstoppable but evolving
  • Demographic shifts globally signal opportunity and insight
  • We are entering the third connected age
  • Covid helped transform peoples’ expectations about work, workplaces and life
  • Control of data will shift to the consumer

About the author:

Jeff Leroux is an experienced Silicon Valley executive with a broad background in tech and thought leadership marketing. He is on contract with Happy Gilmore Marketing to complete a thought leadership series on security & privacy compliance.