Introduction [00:00:02] Welcome to
the All About Digital Marketing podcast. The show all about digital marketing.
Brought to you by Social INK, the digital marketing agency specialising in
social media and content marketing for brave brands and forward thinking SMEs.
I’m your host, Chris Bruno, and as always we’re here to bring you the most
actionable tips, tricks, tools, and insights to help you achieve MORE when it
comes to your digital marketing.
Introduction [00:00:34] You can
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Chris Bruno [00:00:57] Hey everybody, Chris
here. And today we’re talking all about storytelling and creativity with Eugene
Kan, co-founder of MAEKAN and ex-editor of HYPEBEAST.
Chris Bruno [00:01:09] Storytelling has been
around since the beginning of time. We’ve used this as a means to pass on
information to educate and warn each other as well as to entertain. When it
comes to your digital marketing, storytelling plays a massive role in the
development of your brand online. Whether you’re telling stories through
articles, videos, or photographs. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy what Eugene
has to say. We do go off on some tangents during the episode but I really
enjoyed the conversation and I think you will too. Remember you can check out
all the show notes and find all the links mentioned in the episode on our
website www.AllAboutDigitalMarketing.co.uk – enjoy the episode.
Chris Bruno [00:01:50] Hi Eugene. Thank you
very much for joining us now.
Eugene Kan [00:01:53] Thanks so much for the
Chris Bruno [00:01:56] It’s awesome obviously
we’ve met and have known each other now for a little while. But for those
people who don’t know you. I wanted to start at the beginning of kind of the
journey that I know about you and talk a little bit about your time at
HYPEBEAST. And I think this will all fall into shape as we go through and
explain a little bit of your your background as to how you got to where you are
today. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at HYPEBEAST and also, for
those that don’t know about it, what HYPEBEAST is.
Eugene Kan [00:02:22] Yeah. So I. Basically
my trajectory I think kind of culminated in Hong Kong. Like there’s a little
bit of backstory where I was born and raised in Canada. And I was just sort of
going through the motions I guess beyond just one particular thing and I was
like playing football, playing soccer and that’s one thing I was really
passionate about growing up. And you know I think that I. Went to school mostly
to appease my parents, but then I always kind of saw an opportunity to go to
Hong Kong afterwards. And like I went to Hong Kong after graduating from
university. I basically tried to graduate as quickly as possible. I have
terrible grades and landed in Hong Kong and I was playing. I played one season
and but between all of that, I had a lot of free time. So I started writing
for, and this is kind of sketchy but not sketchy, was like a sneaker reseller
site in Hong Kong. Called Kix-files which I think is still around. And that’s
sort of where I cut my teeth. Sort in the world of sneaker media. And that was
sort of my testing grounds. Because right around the same time like Kevin Ma,
the founder of HYPEBEAST, he had moved from Vancouver to Hong Kong to kind of
Eugene Kan [00:03:35] And for those unfamiliar
with HYPEBEAST. It’s probably one of the biggest most well-known publications
and media companies within the realm of sneakers. And and I guess you coould
say creative culture. So it spans everything from sneakers, fashion, design,
art, music, and a lot of those things all culminate under one lifestyle.
Eugene Kan [00:03:58] And when I first
joined I was actually super excited. I went from writing about sneakers in
exchange for essentially discounts on on sneakers, to actually getting paid.
And I never really thought that oh you know there’s a career for me here. But
as things grew and I think it was kind of the right right time in terms of
where that culture was going. And for better or worse it was starting to become
a lot more monetisable. There was a lot of interest around it. It was starting
to emerge from a subculture into a part of popular culture. I wouldn’t say
right away but I think if you look at it now everyone’s into trainers and
everyone’s into sneakers. And to a point where you know, 10 years ago, 12 years
ago, it wasn’t exactly in this scene, in the same light. And then I guess over
the course of my time. I spent about 8 1/2 years there. I went from being the
first ever full time editor to sort of a managing editor and then eventually an
Eugene Kan [00:05:01] And it was honestly
one of the most fascinating times because I think that. Well, I have to kind of
preface it. Because in a building a digital company, at any given moment in
time, is going to be difficult. Because I think the playbook changes so often
so frequently. But you know being part of that growth in that sort of
opportunity. Where essentially a blog could turn into a full fledged media
company. I think those times are maybe a little bit beyond us. Where the
organic nature of that growth is increasingly more challenging, given there’s
so much to do in the Internet. And how there’s been a sort of industrialization
of casual media if that makes sense.
Eugene Kan [00:05:44] I think everything
needs to be a business in a way. Whereas in the past like when it started I
don’t think that HYPEBEAST necessarily set out to be a, you know, a massive
publicly traded media company. It was really just, let us do what we enjoy
doing and let’s do it consistently. And that sort of was the genesis to what
you see now.
Chris Bruno [00:06:03] That that’s probably
actually a really interesting point. So I referred to this recently writing
about it saying, it’s an attention war. So people are talking about you know
how data is the new oil and stuff. And for me it’s more a case of we’re having
an attention war and exactly what you just said. You know I don’t know what the
latest stats are. But it’s something along the lines of 1.9 Billion blogs out
there. Yeah looking at YouTube where 500 hours are created and uploaded every
minute onto YouTube. So we’re in a space now where talking to anyone or getting
anyone’s attention to read your blog is massively harder. Because you’re just a
tiny needle in the haystack compared to like you said, 10-12 years ago. Where
obviously, that landscape was a lot smaller. So a blog where you were
interesting and you’re bringing things to people’s public view, that could then
transform into a business, seems to make a lot more sense back then. Whereas
now it’s very very hard. You know I’m sure you’ve had similar conversations
with people that want to start something. So they tell me that they’ve got an
idea to start a travel web site, so they can travel the world, and start making
money from it. My initial gut reaction is always, Jesus please don’t. Like
onestly you’ll spend all your savings travelling trying to write a few things.
And the chances of you getting that to the point where you think you’re going
to get, is probably actually very very slim.
Eugene Kan [00:07:23] Yeah. And I think that
the, I’ve seen a lot of personal changes myself. Because when I was younger, I
would say that my general sentiment would be: Hey, just drop everything and
commit fully to it, and it’ll work out. But I think that now, that I look at
what’s possible, and what actually becomes a bit of a personal test, is that
when you don’t want to do it. When you’re tired after work. Are you still able
to go and actually you know try to put together a – whether it’s a business, a platform, a
blog, whatever on travel. When you don’t really feel like doing it, are you
able to actually push through because you’re that passionate about it?
Eugene Kan [00:08:07] Or how do you handle
the roadblocks that come? Because you know there’s certain times within your –
even these “lifestyle businesses” where you don’t want to do this
stuff. But it’s a good test to see if I can moonlight and actually make
something happen, I guess.
Eugene Kan [00:08:25] You know, I think that
the ultimate challenge there, is when you’re… When things are.. [00:08:33]When things inherently are not as fun,
and that’s there is a lot of sort of unsexyness that comes around with these
types of – anything you’re starting on your own right. That’s when things
really become demystified and you understand, oh am I actually cut out to do
this? [16.4s] Because that’s the thing. A
lot of people that I speak to, they seem initially very passionate. But
especially now, when you don’t necessarily see immediate results, are you
willing to push through it?
Chris Bruno [00:09:03] That’s, that’s really
interesting. So I was gonna bring this up a bit later on but maybe we’ll loop
around and come back to it as well. But so interestingly. Digital marketing
agencies are amongst the worst for keeping up to date their blogs, their social
media, their channels, their public channels, all the things that they charge
other people to do. And really, really interestingly the stat came in at
something like, 24% of all businesses haven’t updated their blog within the
Chris Bruno [00:09:33] And when we saw the
stat, then you start thinking about it. and it comes back to exactly this. And
we’ve seen hundreds of times, with everything. From blogs – we’re going to
start a blog. Okay great. What you gonna blog about? Well I dunno we’ll figure
something out. And like you said, as soon as it gets hard. As soon as it gets
slightly tougher, as soon as it’s not as easy as knocking out that first
article. Suddenly it becomes. Well let’s just put that to the side. We’ll come
back to that at some other time and invariably you don’t. And I think starting
a business is exactly the same thing. It’s this idea that if you look into the
stratosphere as it were. And you see the Gary Vees and people think. Well what
he does is he pumps out content. And gets paid for it. Or t,he Tim Ferriss he
does a podcast, and has written a book and has made loads of money, and he has
a great life. I want to do that. Nobody necessarily takes into consideration
exactly what you’ve said there, that those moments when you’re sat at home on
your own, and you’re looking at bills, and you’re looking at emails. And you’re
looking at accounts folders and files that you need to sort out. And then
you’ve got a tax bill even though you feel like you didn’t make any money. [00:10:34]And those moments, are those testing
moments where you’ve got two types of people. One that goes, you know what –
this is worth it, because after this it will get better – hopefully. And then
you’ve got the other side, which is very simple. Screw this, I’m out. [15.7s] Like literally, cut the cord as soon as it
gets tough. And I think that’s really interesting so a lot of people talking
about entrepreneurship and things like that at the moment. And especially
online where we again like we were saying, we’re all competing for people’s
attention. But people talking about this “entrepreneurship” and I
don’t think it’s right for everybody. Like you said, if you can moonlight on
the side, and you still have that passion. And when you finish an 8 9 10 hour
day at your normal job, you can still come home and honestly say that you’re
pushing out the best possible version of what it is that you’re trying to do.
Then I think you’ll know six months, a year down the line, whether or not
that’s a good idea. But jumping in, I think is crazy. And I’ve had some mental
stories over the years, and I continue to do so every time I speak to somebody
that’s trying to do that. But I think that’s really quite quite interesting the
way you said it there.
Eugene Kan [00:11:41] I was – sorry to cut
you off there – but the one thing that really sort of put this whole concept
into light, was I have a friend. Who goes by Decatur Dan and he went from
shooting a lot of music videos in Atlanta, to eventually becoming a full
fledged agency that he launched on his own. He moved to L.A. from Atlanta and
he brought up a really good point.
Eugene Kan [00:12:03] He’s like, artists
don’t really have a timeline. Like you can put out something whenever you feel
like it. Whenever your mental mood is fit for you to create. But as a
“creative” where you’re paid for work, you really just need to be
able to create to spec and/or when it’s within a constraint right. And I think
that’s the one thing that people fail to understand, is that, the constraint
means that you need to understand – whether it’s time, whether it’s budget,
whether it’s sort of the vision of someone else – being able to create on
someone else’s spec and doing it consistently, it’s actually really hard. It’s
a mindset thing too. It’s like some people feel they’re so, their work is so
great that you know they can’t, they refuse to have any sort of bend in what
they put out. And this is a thing that I think is critical to understand too.
Is that, there’s so many different compounding factors that all come together
in this equation, that people need to understand where they stand on each
thing. [00:13:04]And I think that one thing
I’ve utilised as a tool, is that there are certain things within that creative
process that can be simplified and almost formulaic. But since you are creating
things consistently, and within restriction, then it’s OK to kind of take
shortcuts. Because shortcuts, in many ways, allow for sustainability. And as a
full time creator, whatever you want to call it, shortcuts are what allow you
to make a career out of it. [28.0s]
Eugene Kan [00:13:32] [00:13:32]I think that
there was a point in time where I thought that because I was able to put a process
around something, that it would diminish the creative value of it. But now, I
realize that it’s really case dependent on the on the outcome you’re trying to
achieve, and when you need it for. [15.0s]
Chris Bruno [00:13:49] Well I guess that’s
probably the difference between, you know singing as a musician at your local
pub once in a blue moon, and trying to call it a career, and then trying to get
to that next stage. What are the things that you can systemise or processes
that you can put in place to try and really help you get through that. And like
you said consistency, and finding ways to make sure that it continues to
happen. And especially, I mean we’ve seen it in terms of the creative sides.
And again, we’ve been around since 2008. So we’re coming up to our 11th
anniversary soon and literally we’ve had people come in to help us, or to work
on a project with us, as either a copywriter or as a graphic designer. And
we’ve got a specific brief. We’ve got client feedback. And they won’t take it
on board, necessarily. Then the creative process becomes the blocking mechanism
to actually making this into a career. If that makes sense kind of thing. And
it’s infuriating to see and I’ve seen it with entrepreneurs, where you know,
you believe in your product so much, even though nobody else does. And even
though [00:14:54]your clients are actually
telling you what you should be doing next, and yet you’re still so focussed on
building what you had in mind, that you end up not actually taking that
forward, and not making it into a sustainable business. [11.0s]
Eugene Kan [00:15:06] Yeah. Yeah. That’s
100% valid. And this is like, I feel like we’re taking all these interesting
tangents. But everything you brought up I think is very critical towards, what
is the future of creative work? And creative work being anything. Like it
doesn’t necessarily mean photography. It’s like, could be B2B writing, content
creation. But understanding how to best work that process out, in an
ever-changing environment. Where for example, you and I used to work together
on some projects, and I would say that in general. Because both parties were so
open to exploring workflows, and identifying how to best – how to best set each
party up for success meant that, even though we we’re on different time zones
like 6-7 hours apart we knew how to formulate something that would allow you to
understand, at any given time, where we were in the process and what was
needed. And I think that is one critical thing that, as we become I guess, more
remote, more decentralized, like that’s also a big part of the process that
people need to kind of get on board with. And I think those that are able to
understand the process quicker will be a lot more successful because even
before this whole shift is happening, people already don’t really understand
how to work with creatives, even if they’re in the same room for example.
Chris Bruno [00:16:32] I’d agree with that
completely. And without wanting to sound too cliched. Communication is key.
Always. And so our entire team is completely decentralized and, like you
mentioned, we then had a time difference with you guys. But having those
platforms and those tools, and again they all exist, they’re not even
expensive. Most of them in fact some of them are free. But you can use those
tools to communicate, to help track, to have that flow, to be able to make sure
that everyone’s in the loop at the same time. So there’s never any kind of
disconnection, disconnect along the way or during that process. And I think that’s
hugely important. Again, something that a lot of people especially freelancers.
We were involved in – and we do #ContentClubUK every week on Twitter. (I’ll
chuck a note into the show notes, I’ll chuck a link.) But what was really
interesting about it is, last week they were talking about, you know, how the
creatives/ freelancers find their clients. And what are they doing to market
themselves. And 95% of all of them were basically saying: I have no strategy. I
have no plan. I haven’t really done anything. I don’t really update my blog
enough. I don’t really. And you’re sitting there going: This is crazy! Like
it’s your number one connection point. It’s what you do for a career as well,
but it’s your number one connection point with potential clients, with new
potential clients, with leads, with other people so they can recommend you.
It’s a chance to really showcase who you are, your ideas how you work. Anything
like that. And we realized how quickly that kind of break between creativity
and then actually, “Yeah, but it needs to fit into the other organization
it needs to fit in with your client.” But anyways we got massively
sidetracked and I enjoyed that. So we started with HYPEBEAST which for me was
kind of the beginning. And to understand a little bit more. And you’re
currently focussed on and you are the co-founder of MAEKAN and and for people
that don’t know MAEKAN. This is all about celebrating creativity and it’s all
Eugene Kan [00:18:28] Yes.
Chris Bruno [00:18:29] I want you to tell
this story, so tell us a little bit about what you were trying to do when you
started and how far you’ve gotten what you’re doing currently with MAEKAN.
Eugene Kan [00:18:37] Yeah. So MAEKAN was
the by-product of myself and my co-founder Alex Maeland, who at the time was a
creative director at HYPE. We both, I think came to – I think “end of the
road” could be seen as sort of like a negative thing. But it was more so
like, you know we had spent collectively 13 years at HYPEBEAST. We sort of recognized
that the trajectory of HYPEBEAST itself as a business I think was going in a
certain way. And it’s not to discount it. It’s really, like looking right now,
it’s wildly successful. But it’s just like for us, personally as people that
we’re sort of brought into this culture in this world on the backs of stories.
And the people in the process behind why things came to be, like we felt as
though that we wanted to kind of return to those roots. And that was sort of
the catalyst for making what it is. It’s a publication. It’s a slack community.
It’s a podcast series. It’s a newsletter. So it’s a lot of these sort of bits
that are all sort of almost independent channels but form to be part of a
bigger picture around you know the big ideas that are shaping creative culture.
Eugene Kan [00:19:46] And for us it’s,
there’s so much noise out there. There’s so much. There’s so much confusion
around what’s happening, how things affect one another in the creative world,
that we almost want to come in and demystify it for people. So it could be, an
analysis on trends within how A.I. is going to affect the world of art. Or
maybe it’s an interview with somebody who has just finished art school is
trying to kind of explain the challenges of being an art school graduate and
what their future looks like. Or could even be like a well-known personality
like a Philip Lim and his challenges as a designer. So I think it’s actually.
At the very core of it. It’s about people in process but what it means in terms
of an outcome, it really is up for interpretation. It could be audio. It could
be video. It could be text. And one part that we’re going to launch soon, is a
small e-commerce sort of component to it. And I think that’s the one thing that
is going to be interesting because I say this in full transparency. It’s like
it took us a while to come around to it, because I think that there’s already a
lot of stuff in this world. And how do we personally want to be part of that
conversation? But I think ultimately there is a lot of things that I’ve been
running through my mind. I feel like I’m going another tangent here, but in
terms of the overall sort of media landscape, I think that monetization and
financial stability are always really challenging. [00:21:16]And
to be in the media industry today is to almost to have an appetite for
experimentation more than ever. [7.0s] Because
you don’t really have these strong foundational revenue streams that you can
rely on like the past. So we’re always trying to pick and choose like you know,
we have membership and patronage. We have branded partnerships. We have what
will soon be e-commerce. So kind of understanding how all of those will work in
tandem, with one another in addition to a creative agency on the side. I think
those are sort of the the challenges, but also the interesting bits because the
job never gets boring.
Chris Bruno [00:21:52] But I think that
probably loops back to our first tangent when we were talking about this. And
again it’s a very different landscape now than it was 10 12 15 years ago. And
again trying to build a website and then hoping that you know AOL would acquire
you for five dollars per newsletter subscriber email address that you had like
back in those days. And it just doesn’t exist anymore. So like you’ve just
mentioned that these different ways of exploring how to monetize the different
channels and opportunities you have. And again bearing in mind like you just
said that, how things fit in with regards to to everybody else. Because how do
you distinguish yourself. How do you fight for that attention. How do you stand
out from the crowd without devaluing what the core product was in the first
place. So if I can kind of try and build on that. The storytelling aspect for
you is always been the important part. And I kind of want to understand why. So
you finish uni, you’re gonna go play soccer for a season, and you suddenly get
into this storytelling kind of vibe. Or for you it comes a really important
part of what you do. How did that happen and why?
Eugene Kan [00:23:02] Yeah I think I think a
very sort of basic entry point was when I was growing up playing football it’s
always it’s always interesting hearing a British person say soccer but yeah
playing now that I’ve been in Hong Kong for the last like 13 years I’ve sort of
adopted “football”. But in terms of that like I think I was as a kid
I was always really drawn by the performative aspect of equipment. Like how it
was trying to enhance your performance, whether it’s real or not you never know.
But I think that just because for myself I was this weird sort of mix of like
identity where I never felt I was that good at sports or anything in general.
And you know those Nikes or those Adidas gloves would help make me a better
Eugene Kan [00:23:47] So I think that was
the initial story that really rooted me in why I enjoyed I guess gear sneakers
etc. But then I think as I got a little bit older I soon realized that at the
very end of the day like the product is sort of the end of the road. It’s like [00:24:05]product comes and goes. But I think the
emotional resonance of story in the people’s perspective and challenges behind
creating that product, are things are going to last a lifetime. And that’s why
I started to really double down on my interest in why things exist. [14.1s] And I think stories often fulfil the why.
And that part of it was I think ultimately the the thing that since that – I
came to terms with that. I realized that without that like a lot of things will
will be just sort of a flash in the pan. But then if you go even deeper I think
that the story element is something that’s so uniquely, is so uniquely human
that it allows us to sort of pass on interesting titbits of information.
Generation to generation. And that’s sort of what allows us to build culture.
And I think without stories it really hard to do that. There’s no… There’s no
opportunity for us to continue this lineage. So I think there’s a level, the
whole gamut of reasons are kind of weighed out from very superficial to something
that’s a little more I guess cerebral in that sense.
Chris Bruno [00:25:14] Yeah I think it’s
quite interesting again. Stories. Everything’s got a story. Everyone has a
story. Everything, every product. A history, a story,, a company a person. It
doesn’t matter. There’s always something to tell behind it. And I think really
interestingly like you just said that it’s the process of telling that story.
That kind of ended up capturing you. And what I probably ask next is with
everything that’s happening, and we talked about obviously digital and the
creative side changing so quickly. How do you think storytelling is being
affected? Do You think it’s evolving in a good way, in a bad way, is it getting
better or is it getting worse?
Eugene Kan [00:25:55] I would say that in general it’s the ability to tell stories has gotten significantly better but the opportunity to monetize stories is significantly harder. So I think, as you recognize, the business, the content, is a lot more challenging now. Especially with, sort of the erosion, of visual advertising and even understanding what sort of product comes forth when you do focus on advertising as your primary revenue driver. So there’s that element of it. But you know, now that there’s so many tools, whether it’s the availability of cameras, podcasting, all those things, I don’t doubt that your tools are significantly better. So the challenge now becomes like you know if you can’t make money off thatm doesn’t mean it’s bad right. And I think that you’re seeing sort of the the hyper focal – I don’t think hyper focal is the right word. But it’s like our ability to really go super niche on something has exponentially increased. And I think that inherently creates more interesting stories. Rather than like the sort of catch all, that needs to hit millions and millions of people.
Chris Bruno [00:27:09] Well this is where
things like Twitch, YouTube, where hundreds of hours of content are being
created and uploaded every minute. And like these are showing us just how. Like
you said niche down. This gets. And I think it’s interesting. See, from my side
again. I think the ability or the tools, the ability to tell your story is huge
today. I mean it’s a thousand times what it was 10 15 20 years ago. And the
iPhone in its own right changed everything. You bolt the iPhone in with
something like a Facebook page. And the fact that you can suddenly go live in
HD for free broadcasts to people, fans, record the video automatically, and
then share that forever and not have to pay a penny. I think that’s crazy. Like
it’s just huge the opportunity that people have. But I wonder if storytelling
itself is eroding slightly because of it.
Chris Bruno [00:28:04] And what I’m trying to
explain by this is, you know, this focus on Snapchat or Instagram stories or
these short clips into a fake lifestyle that somebody’s showing you the 15
seconds of. As opposed to creating content that’s got heart and soul. And
that’s actually coming from a place of authenticity. And I wonder if that’s the
bit that’s harder to get through or that’s just not getting through as much.
But what do you think?
Eugene Kan [00:28:31] Yeah. I actually had
this this debate at length and it is. It’s kind of super meta but it’s like
really considering what is authenticity. And you know, let’s use the example of
a famous – of an influencer that is jumping around from advertiser or brand to
brand. And that inherently through consistency is to be authentic, deemed
authentic right. Whether you want to adhere to that or you want to subscribe to
that. That’s up to you. And I think that what I used to think was authenticity.
It really made me question what was authenticity in this sort of social media
era. It’s like there are certain things that you’re doing on the basis of
Eugene Kan [00:29:14] There’s other things
that you want to do on the basis of what you personally enjoy. But if making
money is your passion and that’s authentic to you that, that doesn’t really
fundamentally change what is authentic, right? But I think that we’re now
seeing. I think we’ve hit a tipping point where people are now wanting to see a
little bit more reality. But I need to preface that too because I think that
depending on the market itself. I think you get to certain points where the
maturity of the influence your market also dictates how far gone we… How far
along the, sort of, funnel we’ve gone and whether we want to change it.
Eugene Kan [00:29:52] So if if you’re in a
market that doesn’t have a lot of influence or marketing I don’t think you’re
as likely to be bored with that whole world. But if you’re in sort of the
Western world your first world Western world market where you’ve seen it at
length now it’s time for you to push back. And I think that you’ve seen too. I
don’t have the stats in front of me but, I’m pretty confident that Instagram
Stories is going to be the more valuable property. Or the much more valuable
channel or medium relative to the feed because it’s so much more real time. And
people’s propensity to spend a lot of time creating that content is reduced.
There’s also a lot more real. So might my whole take on like any sort of new
movement is that we sign. We almost didn’t. We often need to test the
extremities and see how far we go. Do we realize, Oh this is not sustainable or
this is not we want to do. And then, and then you kind of pull it back. And I
think we’re kind of in the midst of a pullback in finding what is a happy
Eugene Kan [00:30:51] But I think that in
general when it comes to the elements around content that are deemed to be
like. I don’t think length necessarily dictates quality, although there are
certain things that require a bit more time. But I think it’s now along the
lines of social media is, to me, entertainment essentially. But there’s a whole
sort of industry that’s being built off of a stub stack or just Patreon that
focuses on longer form and higher quality content. So you’re kind of seeing
that bifurcation right. Like social media needs scale. It’ll most likely always
be free because you’re monetizing attention. But true quality can also exist in
a different, sort of a different part of the media world. Albeit there’s its
own challenges like whether it’s subscription fatigue.
Eugene Kan [00:31:48] What happens when all
the good content is not available to you and you have to pay for it? I think
these are all other challenges. But I don’t know if I necessarily agree that we
lack quality content right now because I think even myself like. I’ve seen my
shift too from going from Instagram and spending more time on Reddit and I
would say yes there’s bullshit on both. But Reddit itself probably has a lot
more interesting discourse and I guess thought-provoking ideas that maybe
represent a more accurate take on where social media will go going forward.
Chris Bruno [00:32:27] So actually the point
that’s resonated with me the most on what you’ve just said there is
authenticity and actually what’s authentic to me. You might not see as being
authentic. So I’d like to think that during the time that we’ve worked together
or that we’ve talked or that we’ve spoken that you’ve always thought I’m just
who I am and that I’m being genuine and authentic about it but actually again
you’re right. That’s a level of something that comes from the other person.
It’s not something that you can necessarily show. But that’s I think the last
point that you just made there. Instagram for me is now feeling like a
bullhorn, to say check it out. I’m doing something cool. And things like Reddit,
or I find myself spending quite a lot of time on Medium. And looking for
interesting content written by interesting people and just kind of getting into
things a little bit more in depth. And I think that’s where it’s becoming
interesting or more interesting for me. Because I’m looking for something
deeper than that 10 second flash of the you know, you’re at a swimming pool,
you’re at a beach, you’re having a great time today, in this moment, whatever
it is that you’re doing. And I’m actually looking for a conversation. A story
and a conversation if that makes sense.
Eugene Kan [00:33:39] Yeah. Medium is a good
example. I think that the now more than everything the quality of and
accessibility of writing is. You know there’s too much of it. Not necessarily
in a bad way. But you know there’s. Oh I almost feel as though anything I want
to find is out there. It’s just that I think finding is the harder part of the
whole experience. Like. But you know to that point to it, it also brings into
question that quality is still being created. But it’s just that now, in the
past I think that cream used to rise to the top and now. [00:34:17]Marketing is such a fundamental
requirement within anything you do, [3.2s] that
it really plays to the strengths of people that are really good at about
talking – or really going at talking about themselves. But also understand how
to play that game. Which I would say like for the most part now, I recognise in
the past when we started making. There was so much time spent on the product
almost – not almost – like for sure, there is diminishing returns. It’s like
there are certain things that at our scale like it was just too small for
people to recognize or to really value, right?
Eugene Kan [00:34:53] [00:34:53]I think the
people that did see it valued it. But. We didn’t need to spend that much time
on it. And now that I look at it like I wish I’d spent maybe. Maybe cared a
little less about the product and cared more about the marketing side. Only
because I think that they both need to work in tandem with one another. You
can’t just be all this or all that. And that balance is I think the most
critical thing to both be self aware of and to know how to make them work
Chris Bruno [00:35:24] So bearing those
things in mind, bearing in mind your experience with the nitty gritty or trying
to make a change to the product, rather than sort of the overarching kind of
getting all those parts to work at the same time. When it comes to let’s call
it, digital storytelling, marketing, today what do you think are the biggest
opportunities for small to mid-sized companies right now?
Eugene Kan [00:35:48] I think that I’ve
always really tried to drill down on who it’s for. Because a lot of times
people don’t really know who it’s for. It changes too, like for example in the
context of a let’s say, a cultural publication.
Eugene Kan [00:36:02] Maybe they’re not
necessarily there to provide something very tangible. Like hey, this is, these
are 10 tips on how to increase how much money you make a month. I don’t know.
That’s like something that that might be different from what they’re trying to
do. It might be just like let’s put you on a new light onto a new I thought or
idea. Versus like I think in my experience with B2B it’s like it’s very
tangible. Right? It’s very objective based and yes there’s some thought
leadership there but I think [00:36:32]understanding
what exactly you’re doing and what that demographic deems is valuable is
Eugene Kan [00:36:38] And sometimes in the
very beginning you don’t really know who your consumer is right. And when you
don’t know who your consumer is, it’s a little bit of a challenge to figure out
what resonates with them. But I think you and I generally speaking when we work
together we kind of had an idea of where to start and I think [00:36:54]most people get so caught up in not
understanding, what is the right answer, that they fail to actively try
something. And I think trying is the most critical part. [12.8s] Because once you have a reference point,
you can start deriving feedback. Whether it’s the metrics etc. And that sort of
influences what direction you go. I would say for me personally like for better
or worse, being in the sort of more culturally driven space. I’ve never really
cared about the metric side of thing so much as just like, hey let’s do it
consistently. And let’s do things that we feel need to be put out in the world.
Because someone needs to take that risk. Whereas when it comes to like a B2B or
SME type environment you’re trying to figure out, what’s going to lead me to
more sales. Right? And I think that there are fundamentally different
requirements and you need to understand what is the outcome or success I’m
looking for, and how do I reverse engineer that. But also be OK with the fact
that you’re not going to know the answer the first time you hit publish or
Chris Bruno [00:37:58] That’s, I start
giggling sorry. The reason why I’m giggling is not because your answer or
anything else. It’s because you’ve hit it on the head absolutely. Trial,
trialling, testing, whatever you want to call it, number one. That’s literally
the most important thing. Put something out there. See what kind of feedback
you get. Share it with a dozen people you trust, that are professionals that
are friends, that are family. People that’ll give you a little bit of open and
honest feedback. And just start doing something. And we spoke with a company
recently. I won’t say names or anything else and they’re not the only ones so I
hope they don’t feel bad by mentioning this. We were talking about what they’ve
currently been doing on social media and their digital marketing in general. So
they’ve been paying a firm and they’ve been working with this firm now for two
years. So that means you know 24 monthly fees that have gone out to this firm
and I stopped in the middle of the conversation. I just went. Okay so what’s
the goal. And that’s all I ask. They just said you know you’re pumping this
money into social media. What’s the goal. What’s the desired outcome. And
literally you could hear the person’s shoulders head slump. It was on a phone
call but I could hear it. He just sort of turned around and kind of. Oh, yeah.
And this one moment of clarity, where like you’ve mentioned that you know, you
reverse engineer it.
Chris Bruno [00:39:22] Not everything that
you post is about trying to sell. It’s not about a direct sale. “See this
post, click here. Buy now.” That’s not what we’re trying to do and it’s
definitely not, for my opinion anyway, the way to get yourself out there. Even
if you want to be to be where the goal is to sell more further down the road.
But it’s this fact that people are doing things because they’ve been told, or
they’ve read something that said they had to. And now they’re doing it. And you
say well why? And they go, I don’t know. And we were just amazed. That, it’s
not the first time I’ve heard this and it’s not the won’t be the last time. But
I just thought it was amazing this fact that you know you could pump money in
as a small to mid-sized business, where you don’t have money to waste. Let’s be
honest. And you suddenly realize that actually we’ve been just pumping this
money in because we thought we should, and with no real goals or no real plan,
or no real strategy in place at all.
Eugene Kan [00:40:13] Yeah. No, it’s it’s
certainly something that people need to be considered about especially the
expectation is like, I need to do it. But then interestingly enough, like you
know, a lot of businesses are so transactional that you don’t really need sort
of a deeper mission or a vision. Or anything, just like hey we offer this
service and that’s sort of the end of it. And that’s OK too. But I think
generally speaking in those businesses, people fail to recognize the value and
power of brand and how brand can work for you.
Eugene Kan [00:40:43] I mean I’m primarily
in the world of brand building right. So it’s understanding you know, what can
I offer to you, and why should, why should you spend money with us versus
somebody else. I think those are things that you, you soon realize that you can
do the same amount of work for more money when you have a good brand, right?
And people. And since it’s so sort of, intangible, it’s hard for people to understand.
I was used this example. You know I think that. It’s neither right or wrong.
But if you look at it from the world of electronics and and mobile phones it’s
like. Apple has never fundamentally been at the very sort of like cutting edge
of just technological advancements right.
Eugene Kan [00:41:30] Yes. In some
instances, but in terms of actual hardware it’s never been about that. But by
virtue of just creating a brand that people want to resonate with or want to be
associated with. Like it changes whether you’re going to be in the market for
an Apple phone or like an Oppo or Xiaomi or whatever. I think that that is like
the interesting thing, where I’m sure everyone would want to have a better
margin on their phone. But you know because of the lack of branding they’re
unable to do that.
Chris Bruno [00:41:57] It’s as you’re sat
there talking about Apple as the brand as an example, I’m looking at my MacBook
which is plugged into an Apple display, which has my iPhone sat next to it, and
I’m using the iPad to record this.
Eugene Kan [00:42:12] Yeah.
Chris Bruno [00:42:12] I’ve definitely bought
into there to that brand, and their story. OK before we go off on more tangents
even though I am really enjoying this. A piece of advice for anyone. What sort
of advice would you give to anyone who’s looking to try and build that
professional or personal brand right now in today’s space.
Eugene Kan [00:42:32] I think we’ve. It’s
almost like that answer is a sort of a consolidation of a few things we talked
about right. It’s about understanding whether you really want to do it, right.
Like do you actually really want what you say you want. And how do you validate
yourself. How do you put yourself through the gauntlet to know that, hey all
the time I’m going to invest in this, is going to be worth it. And worth is
something that’s interesting because work. Generally speaking. We value it in
terms of in terms of financials right. Like is this going to pay me money. But
I think ultimately there’s things that. There’s things that we can do that
provide value in a different way. This is one thing my friend Jasper Wong, he’s
started this really cool, I guess you could call it an art mural festival that
travels around the world.
Eugene Kan [00:43:18] But he said that.
Ultimately when it comes to the process. That’s the thing you should value the
most because. Everyone will want more money. Everyone will see, like oh I mean
I got paid this much for this job. Like inevitably that number needs to go up.
But if you value something that’s hard to, to sort of put a number on. I think
it allows you to have a bit of a more healthy relationship with it. And like
that’s one thing for me. I’ve always valued the process and like my value
wasn’t necessarily financial value was just being able to experience something.
And I think this is sort of like not not a new idea but we’ve seen people now
really focus on experiences. Because experiences provide something that you
know buying something, going shopping can’t really provide.
Eugene Kan [00:44:06] I think that’s one
critical thing. And secondly it’s just like I think the creative process itself
doesn’t need to be pulled out of thin air every single time. It’s like, if you
can find a way to do – to engage in shortcuts, because it allows you to sustain
yourself, then by all means go and explore that. Because a lot of people are so
caught up in right now, today. But. We sometimes need to be a little bit more,
I guess, a little bit more wise to understand that. Everything you put out,
your goal is to make something better than next time. So while something might
not be perfect today or it might not be the best today. Your goal is to make
sure that the next time you engage or you execute something that is going to be
better based on previous learnings, experiences, and all that. So I think the
iterative process of creating stuff is pretty critical. Then just understanding
that it’s something that you’ll never really know until you do it. So I mean
that’s sort of the very simple way that I’ve sort of adhered to and I go
through that process almost every day.
Eugene Kan [00:45:18] Like there’s things,
that I do and I’m like, man I wish I was better at this but then by virtue of
like compiling all the experiences and learnings. Like how to deconstruct a
problem is arguably the most valuable thing as an “entrepreneur”.
Anyone that works for themselves or I mean even in a business right. Like if
you work for somebody else, your value at providing solutions is going to be
one of the most valuable assets to you, yourself, and to the people around you.
Chris Bruno [00:45:46] Couldn’t agree with
you more and I think the process is the bit that people lose sight of. Excuse
me. I think too many people are focussed on the end goal and what they think it
looks like at the end whether it be that 10 million dollar mansion that super
nice jet and one thing or another. But they’ve seen in somebody else’s post or
get rich quick scheme. And but the idea of it actually is the process. So I’ve
been doing this since 2008.
Chris Bruno [00:46:15] I’ve been offered a
couple of times to take a full time position which at that time would have
meant massive amounts of more money. But enjoying what I do on a day to day
basis and also doing it for myself, for me, is worth twice as much money if
that makes sense. We of course we’re a business. We try to make money. We’ve
got staff. We pay people. We’ve got services and other providers of suppliers
that rely on us. But ultimately from my point of view having the opportunity to
work and do what I do, and do it for myself as it were, for my clients is worth
a huge amount of monetary value. And I think that’s something that’s really
important because too many people are in love with the results or what happens
at the end or the early exit and retirement or whatever it might be. And I
don’t think people actually focus on the you know what. I wake up every morning
raring to go because I enjoy doing this.
Eugene Kan [00:47:14] Yes it’s interesting
because I haven’t, I would tell myself pretty fortunate to have stumbled into a
career path that I would want to work for as long as I can. Like I don’t dread
it. Right. And I think that’s a rarity. That’s a rare example for a lot of
people who you know maybe. Maybe they do do something that they don’t really
enjoy and it’s just for a paycheque.
Eugene Kan [00:47:35] But I think that
understanding what, what you currently don’t like about, whether it’s the work
you create or it’s your job and finding a way to actually actively improve upon
the situation at hand is pretty critical. Like if you can’t fundamentally
improve your own situation if it’s within sort of a company structure. It
becomes even more difficult when you’re doing it on your own. And you need to
have the solution. So I think that’s like another sort of almost like a
warning. It’s like hey learn to improve upon your own sort of standing. Because
once you have that experience and understanding of how to improve on something
it actually is quite applicable across multiple opportunities and challenges.
Chris Bruno [00:48:27] So talking about
waking up every morning and enjoying what you do. You also co-host a podcast as
part of MAEKAN. And it’s called the “Making It Up”, I believe, podcast.
Eugene Kan [00:48:37] Yes. Making It Up.
Chris Bruno [00:48:39] So we’re going to have
a link in the show notes. But I was listening to a few episodes before jumping
onto, to have this interview. I am really enjoying it and I think it was on
Episode 96 and I’ll double check that and put the right link in for it. But you
were talking with your co-host about people starting podcasts, about publishing
content in general, and one of the things that we’ve already discussed on this
and on the continuity side. On one of our tangents. But this idea that you know
you’ve seen people that published six episodes, you know, they didn’t get that
sponsorship deal. So that’s it. It’s thrown away it’s tossed to one side and
they just kind of give up. What would you say to anyone who’s thinking about
either a podcast or starting to do something digital right now and whether it’s
a company or personal brand. What would you say the key factors would be for
them to consider in terms of actually doing it and trying to make that work.
Eugene Kan [00:49:35] I will say it just it
basically comes down to one point like. If no one was going to pay you at any
given moment in time would you still do it? And if you can say yes then like
it’s worth pursuing. Because there’s something else that’s providing value for
you there. It’s almost like a piggy back onto the previous answer I gave. But
yeah like a lot of things I’ve done for over my career is life like, I was just
interested in it. And somehow, not to say that you should just leave it to its
own devices and magically find a way to monetize it. But that’s generally how
it’s been. It’s like I enjoyed photography, I enjoyed brand building, or
enjoyed doing a podcast, and it provided me with a lot of opportunities going
forward and I think that if you can answer that to yourself truthfully then I
think that’s all you really need.
Chris Bruno [00:50:24] I think our tangents
have ended up being far more valuable and I’m probably actually discussing all
the points. So guys and gals if you’re listening re listen to this podcast and
listen especially to the tangents. Okay cool. Let’s wrap up then with my one
thing. I prefer to ask. Like what’s the one biggest piece of advice you’d give
to anyone. And I know that we’ve talked about a lot of things. Love the
process. Try and do it on the side. See if you still feel that kind of passion
once you’re six 10 12 episodes or blogs or articles into it. But what’s the one
biggest piece of advice you could say you’ve learned in your career whether it
be personal or professional that you’d say that you’d want to share with
Eugene Kan [00:51:05] So this is something
that I think comes up the training pitches that a lot of times you want to be
in control of the difficulty of the situation so that when things actually out
of control you’re prepared for it. So even the way I look at it like, whether
you’re on the training pitch or you’re in the gym and you’re working out or.
Preparing yourself for something like, the harder you push yourself under your
own circumstances and you continually iterate and build off of that foundation.
The easier it becomes when something actually hits the fan, with a client or
with something in the workplace. So that’s the one thing that I don’t know. I
think that that’s the one thing I’ve looked at is that if I’m able to push
myself sort of to the. To the extremities. More than anyone else. Then when
someone else sort of needs something or something goes wrong then I’m
adequately prepared. So it’s knowing that you know on the training pitch. Like
treating creative work like you’re training for a marathon, or you’re training
core on match, or whatever actually is pretty valuable in that sense.
Chris Bruno [00:52:17] So to make sure that I
understand this. Pushing yourself past your comfort zone when it’s comfortable.
So to let me try to rephrase that. Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone
when you don’t need to, in order to be prepared for the day that you do need
Eugene Kan [00:52:36] Exactly. You did a
much better job of summing that up than I did.
Chris Bruno [00:52:43] I’ll invoice you and
you can use that as your tagline for your book. What’s, what’s the one thing
that you’re focussing on working on. Obviously I know MAEKAN is is as big but
what’s the one thing that you’re focussing on right now and that you’re really
working hard on.
Eugene Kan [00:52:58] Yeah. So between
MAEKAN, obviously we’re we’re in the midst of sort of always exploring what it
means to be a financially successful media company. Whether it’s through
e-commerce. I think e-commerce is probably the general play that you’ve seen a
lot of success with other bigger more more established companies. Whether it’s
like even HYPEBEAST and HBX or BuzzFeed sort of doubling down on retail as well
and glossier etc.
Eugene Kan [00:53:27] But on the agency side
with Adam Studios, one thing that we’re really interested in is. What does it
mean for creative work to have sort of this life beyond just the exchange of
services and time. So for example if. Obviously we’re both sort of in the world
of agency work. What if you’re able to build a brand and instead of just taking
a lump sum you’re actually taking equity within a company? And it’s you know
it’s nothing new either. You’ve seen Pattern as the outcome of Gin Lane start
to do that too where they’ve basically shed all clients and now they just build
brands internally. Right. I think that’s one thing that we are interested in
pursuing too is because we have so much experience building companies, brands,
creative. And why not start to leverage that into things that are not just, hey
we need a logo designed and we need this strategy. Here’s X number of dollars
and this much time. Right. And I think that’s the one thing that creatives
generally speaking have not really had access to, was sort of the ability for
their experiences to work beyond just this set project. So that’s something
like for example. We’ve just recently started working with a few companies where
we can help offer our sort of brand building insight as well as come on board
as basically a co-founder of the brand.
Chris Bruno [00:54:54] We probably do need to
have a catch up call at some point soon. But we feel very very very similar and
there’s huge opportunities and I think right now in the world the I don’t want
to say the be all and end all but. It’s definitely one of the most important
components in the engine for any company right now, is the marketing. And
without getting that right you can focus on product all you want you can focus
on you know, that T-shirt design or whatever it might be that you want to sell,
but without the right branding, without the right marketing, without getting
out there and having that attention war with everybody else. Because nowadays
you know you’re not a company competing with another company in your sector.
You’re a publisher competing with every other publisher out there. And
everyone’s a publisher today. So you know it’s becoming a very hectic place and
to be found is becoming harder and harder.
Chris Bruno [00:55:45] So we’ve actually
started very similar conversations on our side with some companies here in the
U.K. and so we should probably have a chat about that for sure. All right. And
Eugene, first and foremost thank you so much for agreeing to be on that on the
show. But where can people find you online if anyone wants to find out more if
they want to get in touch with Eugene, where do they go.
Eugene Kan [00:56:05] Yeah. So if you want
to find me on Instagram or Twitter it’s @EugeneKan.
Eugene Kan [00:56:13] My other. It’s my
other. You can also find MAEKAN at maekan.com and Adam Studios at
AdamStudios.co. Yeah. Feel free to reach out. I’m always trying my best to sort
of get in touch with people and just see what. See how I can help people, maybe provide more clarity on what they’re
working on. Or at least a second point of view or stress test ideas. So feel
free to reach out.
Chris Bruno [00:56:38] Eugene thank you so
much. And I’m hoping that hopefully in a couple of months we’ll do round two
because I think there’s probably a load of other tangents we can have a chat
Eugene Kan [00:56:48] Yeah hopefully I’ll
I’ll I’ll be more than on my first coffee.
Chris Bruno [00:56:51] Yeah we’ll do it a bit
Chris Bruno [00:56:55] We’ll do it in person
next time to make it.
Eugene Kan [00:56:57] For sure. Sounds good.
Chris Bruno [00:56:59] Thank you very much.
Eugene Kan [00:57:00] Take care.
Chris Bruno [00:57:06] Hope you enjoyed the
episode. And most importantly that you got some value from the conversation
with Eugene. Testing trying and doing are some of the most important factors
when it comes to your digital marketing. Remember to subscribe and leave us a
review to let us know what you think of the podcast. And remember you can find
all the show notes on www.AllAboutDigitalMarketing.co.uk.
Chris Bruno [00:57:28] If you’re looking for
more help with your digital marketing, I’m excited to tell you that the team at
Social INK Is launching a brand new education platform focussed on helping all
brands and businesses with their social media marketing. You can sign up today
on www.PostLikeShare.com to make sure you are amongst the first to know as soon
as it goes live and to receive a very special welcome gift too. Until next
time. Thanks everybody.