Speaker’s Corner: Featuring Depesh Mandalia, Founder & CEO, SM Commerce

Tell me about SM Commerce, its work and projects…  

SM Commerce was incorporated in 2012 as myself and my wife had success with affiliate marketing and needed a corporation set up. We then used it for contracting and consulting before switching gears in 2017 to an ads agency and 2018 onwards, incorporating training, events, coaching and community.

Right now we work with businesses to offer them, or train them up on creating, profitable advertising solutions.

What are the challenges within the Advertising industry today?

The most immediate challenge with advertising is the constant battle between privacy advocates and governments and the consumer’s awareness of how their data is being used. In 2021 Apple enforced changes to their iOS operating system to ensure apps asked for user permission before using their data to serve ads. This created a big awareness piece on just how much data was being given up by users online. Yet ‘data mining’ has gone on for decades, even before the internet was established. Yet the trackability of digital data has made it the sole victim of what is an otherwise widespread problem with personal data. The challenge now is how advertisers and ad platforms react to ensure businesses can still reach their target audience profitably.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you go about business? What trends do you see for the future?

Covid hit our business in two big ways; first we lost some clients that had to stop their operations due to either the ‘local’ element and lockdowns, or lack of logistics processing for example with fewer warehouse staff or delivery drivers. Secondly, the events business we started in 2019 was paused in early 2020 when the pandemic hit – stopping us from working face to face with clients on their advertising challenges. However the pandemic did accelerate virtual events and has proven that virtual meetups can work – but also that in-person events and networking still hold high value for us sociable humans.

What is your biggest objective as a speaker?

It’s a privilege to speak at various events around the world or online, however I still prefer in-person. Given a choice I’d rather the enriching experience of meeting people and cultures.

One of the blessings of the international speaking circuit is to dive into those cultures, cuisines and experiences – for example in Bangkok it was amazing to see the ‘rich’ experience of high rise buildings and extravagance, blended in with the poverty of many downtown and out of town areas. Or being able to visit a place like Fiji to speak at a mastermind – a destination otherwise not on my bucket list but an adventure full of great experiences, from the people, the food, beaches and weather.

Could you share with us the points of discussion (the input that you provided) during the panel(s) at the AD World Conference? 

The topic I most recently spoke about was the need to overcome some of the tracking and attribution limitations inside of the Meta (Facebook) ads platform.

For some, there are 3rd party software solutions, which come at a monthly price premium and setup complexity. However, what I shared covered how advertisers can fill in many of the reporting and tracking gaps using free methods readily available to advertisers.

 As a leader, what are the factors both professional and personal that drive you? What keeps you going?

On a professional level I started a journey in 2017 with unintended consequence – moving from an unknown agency owner to a public figure and personal brand. This shifted my personal view on what meaning I could give my life beyond my family and personal interests, into a more global view of impact and change.

In 2017 I would focus on the next lead, the next client and growing my business revenue whilst working on the time and cash freedom we all crave. Yet right now whilst those things are still important, I’m driven more by legacy, for the businesses and people I help professionally, as well as for my family.

In your opinion, do digital events give you a similar level of feedback/result vis-à-vis the live versions? What would you say were the biggest pros and cons of both formats? Which do you prefer?  

I’m a fan of digital events in how accessible they are; not everyone can afford the flight, the hotel and other expenses involved. Digital events when set up well can have a far wider impact on the world.

However the downside is you often don’t leave your comfort zone and so may not actually put the effort in to be present. I’m guilty of this myself. If I’m at my office, dialed into an event, I’m likely still tapping away on my laptop working on something. Or watching soccer on the TV or having kids running around causing distraction.

However, for an in-person event, I have no choice but to be present. To dress for the occasion (even if it’s jeans and a tee vs PJs!). To sit through and listen. Sure, some may take their laptop or browse their mobile devices but if you’ve left your zone of comfort to go to an event you’re more likely to take action from it.

Given a choice as a speaker or attendees, in-person events get my vote.

What is your take on in-person events? Do you prefer in-person events as compared to hybrid or virtual? How soon do you think in-person events would return? 

I’ve seen hybrid events being run, which merge in-person (for those that want to go) with virtual attendance. This is perfect since those that can and want to attend, can. For those that can’t make it for whatever reason, they don’t need to miss out.

 In your opinion, what are the top 3 challenges to returning to ‘In-Person’ events? How could we mitigate risks?

I believe the next decade will be carrying the memories of 2020’s covid pandemic with them wherever they go. For years I’ve shaken hands with anyone and everyone at events. Now I’m more hesitant. In fact before the pandemic, I was sick after an event in the US after someone had spread the flu virus around and anyone that had been in contact was also sick (not helped by many flying in with jet lag). So handshakes could become a thing of the past at in-person events.

The other challenge is how long it will be before people trust that in-person events are going to be safe for them to attend. I personally am happy to attend events around the world, however with a young family I do need to think twice about whether I introduce risk to my family.

Finally, do you have a favourite mocktail or drink? We’d be delighted to know. 

My favorite mocktail is the Mojito!

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