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About the monkey

(An interview with René van Dijk by Astrid Prummel)

A monkey is naughty, smart and bold. A part of that character is also present in the culture of many companies and organizations, if you are willing to search carefully. That is exactly what René van Dijk has been doing for three years with his company Monkey Inside. He goes undercover in search of the monkey inside. How does it work and who is the monkey inside René himself?

Monkey Troop Leader was the text at the bottom of his emails until recently, but for the sake of clarity that has been changed to Boardroom Creative. And on his website he explains that, like ‘the silverback of the gang’, just like most monkeys, he is very sociable and extremely curious.

In ordinary human language, René van Dijk is a creative director and Expert Marketing Professional (EMP) with more than 20 years of experience. The gang that he manages is a shell consisting of more than 150 specialists: monkeys who do what they are good at with all their heart. They include strategists, photographers, video makers and film makers, art directors and copywriters.

At the tipping point of strategy & creation
Monkey Inside operates just before and just after the tipping point when strategy is translated into creation, the moment when vision is made tangible in the execution. ‘I do not want to be too involved in the preparatory phase, not go into the strategic process endlessly, but I do not want to be involved in the production process for too long either.’

Monkey Inside is strategically strong and understands how creativity works, and how you deploy and stimulate the correct creative talents.

How it often works: a company or organization calls for a new positioning, a new website or campaign, and then comes up against the fact that they do not know exactly what the story is that they wish to tell. René: ‘They know that things must be different and they sense completely that what they have is not good. Their competitors all do that better, they think. They search for the solution in the first instance in a tool, such as a new website. However, the cause is usually that the brand positioning is not sharp.’

The search for the monkey inside

René working at the trade show booth he created for Van Wijnen

In order to make the story clear, René goes undercover in search of what is already there. ‘As Michelangelo said – he did not see a piece of stone but a beautiful angel that he would free from that piece of stone – I do not see the company or the brand, but the culture, the monkey within. And if I do not see it, I go in search of it.’ He immerses himself in the company, works at the shop floor, talks to people, takes photographs, absorbs the culture.

The search for the monkey inside results in a distinctive story, a positioning containing something bold and naughty and which not a single competitor can claim. That is part 1 of the Monkey Inside route. René: ‘Marketing guru Seth Godin keeps repeating it: you do not make your distinction in your promotion or advertising, but at product level. Just make things again which make people happy!’ Part 2 is about the translation into creative means.

The monkey of Van Wijnen
Construction company Van Wijnen is a good example. Van Wijnen is one of the top five and the largest housing developer in the Netherlands. The company asked René to amend their brand positioning and brand image to their performances in the market. What type of people feel attracted to Van Wijnen, René wondered. He went undercover, also spent a morning at the construction site and discovered that human values are important to Van Wijnen: it is by nature a customer-focused construction company where people and a family feeling are important. The people who work here are no-nonsense types and there is little staff turnover. ‘Wonderful values’, René believed and he proposed to no longer show any buildings in the communication, as almost all construction companies do, but to show the users of those buildings. ‘If you look on the website, you will see that the people are becoming more and more the main focus in both texts and pictures. That was certainly a step that required guts, but it was successful.’

Living the brand

René working with a team of Van Wijnen employees

Monkey Inside helped Van Wijnen to make the things that they themselves perhaps no longer saw so well, more visible and in a better way, René explains. He continually worked closely together with the colleagues of Van Wijnen, because in his eyes they represent the culture and the values of their own company the very best. This lead to the following co-productions, along with specialized monkeys from the network of Monkey Inside: a brand manual, an internal communication route, a new website, a talked-about fair stand at Provada real estate exhibition and a new corporate identity. Meanwhile, it is clear to both the management and the staff what the company stands for. They are living the brand, in the words of René. All the tools have been adapted and the communication specialists of Van Wijnen took over from René, as a result of which they can do most things themselves. René monitors and advises from time to time – ‘feed the monkey’, he calls that. And he coaches the people at Van Wijnen who manage the manufacturers themselves. These manufacturers were partly put into contact with Van Wijnen by Monkey Inside; they are ‘monkeys’ of Monkey Inside.

De monkey inside Monkey Inside
Monkey Inside searches specifically for the curious, intelligent and naughty-bold values of companies, brands and organizations. Because the core and the distinction can often be found there. It is also the case with the monkey inside Monkey Inside – it is what René himself is like.

That Monkey Inside could be founded in the Year of the Monkey was a good combination of circumstances. His father was a businessman, his mother a sculptor, and as a teenager René himself had to first ‘go off the rails a bit’ – his own words – to then, after his military service with the infantry which was very difficult but which he really wanted to do – and two years in his father’s company and one and a half years as a courier – get the wake-up call that he was perhaps a bit too smart and too curious to not make a bit more of his life.

After the wake-up call
At the age of 21, René decided to combine the entrepreneurial and creative talents that he had clearly inherited from his parents by going into advertising. He worked for agencies in graphic design, international retail, experiential communication and events. First as graphic designer, then as art director, creative director, strategist and partner.

Meanwhile, he accumulated diplomas from advertising and marketing courses at SRM, NIMA, VEA and completed in passing the four-year evening course in graphic design in Utrecht. In addition, he had two children, also completed a course in brand management and became an Expert Marketing Professional (EMP).

And his thirst for knowledge is still not quenched, because now René is starting a Master programme in Managing Information & Sustainable Change (MICS), a training course of one and half years under the supervision of Radboud University which will be completed with a Master’s research project (MSc).

It was meant to be
René explains Kevin Lane Keller’s theory to students in South Korea

What drives him? ‘My curiosity never runs out. After all those years of working for marketeers, I wanted to stand alongside them to a much greater extent. During a study trip to China, EMP certified marketeers stimulated me to make an assessment for that title. They said: the profession needs creative people like you. People who think differently. I followed their advice and then everything came together, it fitted.’

The foundation of Monkey Inside in 2016 was the inevitable result of René’s search for his own monkey. ‘It was meant to be. All my interests converge here. My interest in the psychology of brands, my curiosity, my need to search for the edges in ideas. Monkeys are naughty and intelligent, awfully smart. They shake things up and can also be extremely irritating. That fits with the monkey inside me.’