Matthias Schrader and the new breed of digital consultant
BY JOHANNES CEH
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2018)
On 16th January, a man was elected HORIZONT “Agency Man of the Year” at the Alte Oper Frankfurt. He stands for a new era in the marketing sector. For years, Matthias Schrader has been one of the leading figures in the German digital scene. In the last financial year, the listed agency group SinnerSchrader, which he founded in 1996, increased its revenue to over 50 million Euros. With a stronger focus on platforms of IT, commerce and services, and less on communication, the group’s offer is exemplary of the reorientation many digital providers are striving to achieve.
Whoever begins the digital transformation at company level has already lost. Nowadays, digital products by companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are taking over users’ everyday lives. They are successfully penetrating sectors that include the banking, insurance, telecommunications, retail and automotive industries. Many companies run the risk of seeing relationships with customers slip out of their hands. They are becoming interchangeable. In his book, Matthias Schrader cracks the code behind the transformational products with which Google & co. are succeeding in reshaping whole markets. The book also provides a playbook for the successful development of transformational products in the corporate context. In the end, it bridges the gap between product development and digital transformation of companies themselves. Transformational products are making classical marketing a legacy, making a problem of what was once a solution. The weapons of advertising – promotion, place and price – have grown blunt. Digitalisation poses a huge challenge for the product – the fourth “P” in the marketing mix. The focus on the product as a success factor forces companies to focus on the specific contribution of added value for their customers.
This was apparently enough to convince Accenture, too. In early 2017, the IT consulting firm acquired SinnerSchrader for more than 100 million Euros. Matthias Schrader is the first HORIZONT award winner to whom the prize has been presented despite the sale of his own company. In the view of the jury, the link with Accenture is not a sign of weakness; instead, it suits the Schrader entrepreneurial credo. The credo of a man who experiences digitalisation as a continuous learning process. As for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the mission statement of Matthias Schrader is: “Still day one”.
My connection with Matthias Schrader stems not only from the fact that we started out working independently of one another as editors. In the years that followed, each of us continued dedicating ourselves to the customer experience, with the understanding that this customer focus will be an essential key for businesses of the future. In practical terms, this meant that Matthias Schrader and I never worked together in the same company, but our teams worked together successfully, again and again, on complex projects. This is an experience that connects.
On the evening of the award, Matthias Schrader was moved as he listened to the words of his laudation. For all his expertise, he remains reserved, and has certainly considered whether the entire hustle and bustle is not just a bit too much. Over the years, Schrader had been acting in the background, while others celebrated their own golden ideas and egos. In this regard, Schrader possesses a toolbox that many in our industry still do not understand, and would be grateful to have just begun to internalise it the way he has: digital transformation and customer experience.
For Schrader, it was all the more natural to pass his knowledge along. Working with his book, “Transformal Products”, challenged and motivated me a great deal. And that is precisely what I appreciate. This culture of action is evident in many of the small details involved in cooperating with Matthias Schrader and his team. This culture also helped shape SinnerSchrader. While so many people continue to philosophise about culture to this day, for Matthias Schrader it was always clear that it was about just one thing: the people.
To me, the title of “man or woman of the year” is synonymous with “doer of the year”. If the title didn’t already exist, it would have to have been invented for Matthias Schrader. In spite of his tight schedule, Matthias Schrader took time for a brief interview for purposes of classification.
Congratulations, Matthias Schrader! What does this award mean to you?
This award really is something extraordinary. As an agency, SinnerSchrader itself does not take part in any awards. So, unlike other agencies, we do not have lions, nails or other creative prizes on display in our showcase. Because this is not our focus at all. I am all the more pleased that this prize has come to us.
If it is extraordinary for you to have been awarded with this prize, what does this honour mean for the advertising and marketing industry?
The award is a sign to the industry that agencies need to continue to evolve. That our mission today is not advertising. That, instead, the focus is on the market, the customer and thus on marketing.
SinnerSchrader itself has also continued to evolve. The acquisition by Accenture in particular attracted a great deal of attention in recent weeks. Is SinnerSchrader an agency? A consulting firm?
For all this change, “digital agency” is the term that best suits SinnerSchrader. In recent years, we have successfully positioned ourselves in technology, consulting and design. This is of great benefit to us today, if customers are already in search of these individual capabilities, and if the core question beyond that is: How does one create a working, cross-functional team based on these skills?
In your opinion, how do companies need to position themselves in order to remain viable? What role does marketing have to play in this respect?
Nowadays, whenever successful companies orient themselves around the market, what they are actually doing is orienting themselves around the customer. It makes sense to locate this task, and the empathy it involves, in the area of marketing. In fact, this is an organisational challenge, because the channels in marketing have exploded, and there is also a great deal of savings. At the same time, it is a great opportunity to lay the blinders aside and, working from there, accompany the customer as a whole.
Matthias Schrader ranks among the digital pioneers of Germany. In the mid-1990s, he founded SinnerSchrader and developed eCommerce solutions for start-ups such as buecher.de, Intershop and Ricardo, whose products were ready to go public in a very short time. In 2006, Matthias Schrader founded the NEXT Conference, which, within a few years’ time, established itself as the leading conference for digital transformation in Germany. In February 2017, Accenture, the worldwide management and technology consultancy, announced that it was acquiring SinnerSchrader for a sum in the triple-digit millions.
Johannes Ceh is an Independent Publisher and Chief Customer Officer. Shaped by his career positions at Sport1, Sky, S&J, JvM, BMW, Daimler and Ogilvy, he now advises enterprises at the interface of customer experience, organisational development and new forms of cooperation. He is inspired by people, cultures and digitalisation.
Picture credit © Oliver Reetz