MAD STARS shares a recent Q&A with Richard Smoorenburg, the Managing Director Data and Digital at Media.Monks.
Based in The Netherlands, prior to Media.Monks, Smoorenburg was Chief Digital Officer at IPG Mediabrands. At Media.Monks he helps advertisers gain more control over their data in order to build better consumer journeys, build a more loyal client base, and provide better services.
Over the course of the conversation, he shares his thoughts on data regulation, the Metaverse, why he thinks aspects of the agency model are crumbling, and more.
You work for one of the fastest-growing digital companies in the world, could you share with us the secrets to explosive growth and repeated success?
There’s no secret sauce other than having a vision and being perseverant. Right from the start, there was a plan as to how we’d like to grow, what type of clients we’d like to attract, and what type of entrepreneurs we’d look for in acquisitions. Generally, the best thing digital agencies can do is to create a plan, stick to it and work to make it happen.
Richard, what got you started in the creative marketing industry? Do you have any advice for anyone trying to make it into the industry?
For starters, it’s an amazing industry that is known for attracting diverse talent as well as providing breeding grounds for them. I was lucky enough to have seen many companies focused on data, creative and media from the inside, and though they are all different, they share their approach in attracting young people to the industry. So, as a talented young professional, you have the power to determine the direction of your career. There’s one personality trait that I’ve always been on the lookout for and that is curiosity. On another note, it’s not only about “starting with why”—it goes beyond Simon Sinek.
A lot of governments and legislators are tightening their approach toward data, making it more regulated. Could you tell me a bit about the challenges you might have faced with regards to privacy and data regulation in the past few months?
Obviously, there’s a lot going on with regards to data and privacy, including the whole cookie depreciation issue that’s been postponed by Google—but I wouldn’t say that that’s the biggest issue we’re facing right now. Recently, advertisers struggle with the unclarity and mismanagement around Google products.
The EU might be one region, but when it comes to privacy laws it’s a bit more nuanced. Over the past months, we’ve seen news articles from other member states that point out GDPR risks in Google Analytics. As a union, we’re not at a point yet where we can have one directive, which makes interpreting these local decisions difficult for, for instance, cross-border e-commerce companies.
You’ve spoken in the past that brands will require more specialized guidance, support and agility from their partners to succeed as opposed to having a one size fits all agency partner providing all their marketing and branding services. Do you still believe the agency model is crumbling? How do you see the agency model evolving moving forward?
Yes, in all fairness, the model is crumbling. Holding companies face difficulties in finding the right talent for running their digital operations, all the while the number of channels is increasing. We’re already seeing that media plans are based on the people and knowledge that agencies have, and that’s a problem when it comes to pushing creativity and innovation to the next level.
“To be perfectly honest, not many advertisers have reached that point yet, where media, data, creative and technology are seamlessly integrated.”
I always say that if you ask a carpenter to fix a problem, he’ll likely reach for his hammer and some nails. The same goes for the holdcos; they’re still largely staffed, compensated and foundationally built around offline buying. So, what are you going to get? There’s no one right answer to this question, as the solution differs per advertiser, but generally having a digital agency in either the driver’s or (at the very least) passenger seat for your customer journey sounds like a more future-proof solution than having a traditional agency determine the direction.
Media.Monks is a very innovative company and also a very data-focused one. Could you tell us a bit about how these two concepts come together, and how data might ultimately inform the creative process?
Well, to be perfectly honest, not many advertisers have reached that point yet, where media, data, creative and technology are seamlessly integrated. Truth be told, it’s not a simple feat either. The old world tends to look into what has worked in the past, using that for their next creative briefing. In my view, that’s too limited, as it assumes a ‘ceteris paribus’ when that’s absolutely not the case—to the contrary, all other factors are typically not the same, so the learnings from previous campaigns are not as relevant as they were when you ran the campaigns.
So, I believe that in order to succeed, we should focus on building the entire customer journey around data collection and then run campaigns to test hypotheses and validate outcomes. This process of constantly being on top of the most relevant target audience and what it is that moves them is ongoing and done in real time.
What innovation in technology excites you the most these days? What trends are you most excited about?
For those who think that the metaverse is still a long way off, I’d say think again. The metaverse is already here—the plane is just being built as we fly it, and it’s bringing us to a completely new, exciting destination. The metaverse is designed to deliver experiences over ads. In this highly interoperable digital ecosystem, ads won’t stick to 2D. Instead, they’ll be objects, spaces, skins, avatars and experiences. Both logistically and creatively that’s a different approach to any of the digital social media we have seen so far. Games come close, though, and the success of Fortnite and Roblox as digital hang out zones for social activities is an indicator for the need to re-conceive advertising as we know it.
“For those who think that the metaverse is still a long way off, I’d say think again. The metaverse is already here—the plane is just being built as we fly it, and it’s bringing us to a completely new, exciting destination.”
For the past years, Media.Monks has been working on the elements that lay the digital plumbing and foundations of the metaverse. We’re building out to what will be the future of digital commerce and customer experiences, and have already shown what this will look like through digital events such as the second annual Song Breaker Awards. The metaverse is part of the next phase in digital and the next frontier for business growth: virtualization. We’ve actually just released a report on it. You can read it here.
Could you tell us a bit about a campaign you have recently worked on of which you are particularly proud?
As I mentioned, I love all our client work. That said, streamlining Mondelēz’ first-party data, among the other work that we have done for the brand, is one thing that I’m especially proud of. Our client Mondelēz is one of the world’s largest snacking companies, delivering delicious treats across 37 brands to consumers in over 85 markets—that’s what I’d like to call true global presence.
Mondelēz hired us as its data agency of record, a model designed to help brands access, control and measure their data holistically as it continuously travels through the marketing and advertising lifecycle. Our global scale paired with our ability to work around the clock was ideally suited to help the brand engage better with its ecosystem of paid media partners in each market around the world. In all, with the brand’s data better organized and collected in an integrated data warehouse, Mondelēz teams were better able to parse their and their partners’ data for campaign performance and media spend.
You were part of the MAD STARS 2022 Jury, do you have any advice for the future contestants of MAD STARS 2023?
First of all, providing a visual representation of a case will definitely increase your chances. Make sure that you put as much effort into delivering the case as you can. Second, given I’m more of a generalist, I tend to look at the wider craft instead of the deeper craft. If you have considered an omni-channel strategy and have managed to execute that flawlessly, then I’m more interested in the learnings than the results.
Third, make sure the case has at least some impact. I deliberately stay away from the word purpose, but I’d say: show us the impact of the work and always be proud of the results.