We’re talking all about storytelling and creativity with Eugene Kan, co-founder of MAEKAN and ex-editor of HYPEBEAST. 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. Going even deeper, it plays a role in how you see your business as the owner, too.
Hope you enjoy the episode and got some value from the conversation with Eugene. Testing, trying, and actually 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.
If you’re looking for more help with your digital marketing, I’m excited to tell you that the team at Social INK Digital Marketing 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.
Read the transcript
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 find all the show notes and all the episodes on www.AllAboutDigitalMarketing.co.uk. If you enjoy the show, feel free to subscribe. And of course, share with a friend who you think might find this useful.
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 opportunity.
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 continue HYPEBEAST.
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 editorial director.
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 last year.
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 about storytelling.
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 player.
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 getting paid.
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 medium.
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 synergistically. [28.6s]
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 critical. [4.9s]
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 send.
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. Yeah.
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 somebody.
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 to.
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 about.
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 later.
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.
- How football led to a creative career [02:22]
- You need to be prepared and passionate to win the attention war [06:03]
- How to be creative “on demand” in a sustainable way [13:04]
- Practice what you preach [17:17]
- The reality of financial “stability” in media companies today [20:25]
- How today’s digital tools help AND hinder authenticity and storytelling [25:14]
- Why you can’t spend all your time perfecting your product, and the consequences if you do [33:39]
- The #1 thing you need to know about your audience, and why trying is the most critical part of marketing [36:02]
- How to go from purely transactional business to making a connection [40:40]
- Your business needs to offer you, the business owner, more than just money [43:18]
- How to use your comfort zone in a productive way [51:05]
Stuff We Mentioned
- Decatur Dan
- #ContentClubUK Twitter chat, Tuesdays 11am BST
- Making It Up podcast (Episode 96)
- Adam Studios
- @EugeneKan on Twitter & Instagram
Music by Hani Koi from Fugue