The Education Center: On Making Decisions

When to experiment and when to focus

Summer of 2016 

The web of my job had blossomed out from content writing. There was nobody at the time reporting to me. I just showed up and did my work, which consisted of coming up with an idea, researching the topic, writing out the content, and publishing it on the company blog. I didn’t want to think of it this way, but I was the lowest on the totem. That all changed in a few short months. Things started moving fast. 

Before David left we were working on a few projects that I never fully understood. Now and then I would be looped into a meeting, but I was mainly focused on creating content and never had a say in the encompassing strategy. That was at least how I felt. After all, I was just a humble writer. I didn’t even think of myself as a marketer at the time, let alone a marketing manager. 

During this period, I was getting a bit tired of the content I was writing. There was only so much I had to say about credit card chargebacks, and there was only so much an audience wanted to read about that topic. 

Where I was given some freedom was when I was allowed to try different things. I made videos, infographics, and at one point even a few podcast episodes. I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to try new things for the company and I was grateful for that. In a way, I was doing growth hacking without knowing that I was doing it. I was experimenting. Throwing multiple darts and seeing what stuck. I feel I need to do that as a new employee at a young company. 

My job as I saw it before responsibility was thrust upon me was to come up with a productive way to kill time. As imaginative as I was, killing time was not hard. I had content: blog, video, and podcast to produce… along with the education center. 

The way Evan described it, the EDU was supposed to be this gated second blog that viewers had to enter their email address and sign up to before they read any of my writing. I like to believe that people would enter their emails. I’m a professional writer, what I produce has value. I like to believe that, but that is pure optimism.

In the EDU, there would be content that our users will find helpful in growing their business and handling payments. The question then for me is, am I creating better content than our knowledge base? Will it replace the knowledge base — also known as the support page — where we, at the the time, were using a service called: Userbase. It was there that all our How to’s and FAQs were. Will the EDU replace that and if it should, why would it be gated? Nobody was going to enter their email to see any FAQ page. 

David and Evan could never seem to come to a consensus on what the EDU was going to serve. Yes, we need to produce content and we needed a lead generation channel, but we were not going to be able to create support content that is better than what the larger companies that we serve has produced. We were an add-on, they were the hub. 

The EDU was aptly named because in the learning-on-the-job classroom it was my first test. When David and Evan left, the wheels for the EDU page were already in motion. Terry had spent countless hours working on it. As time went by, I began to work more closely with Terry, the front end developer. When I started in the industry, I didn’t even know what front end or back end developer was. I literally felt handicapped as a digital marketer because I didn’t know how to code. I was in a wheelchair and Terry was pushing me along. He had been a great sport the whole time and I would go on to waste more of his work hours — and that stressed me out a lot.   

I remember sitting down with Terry for at least five meetings deciding how to configure the EDU so that it made sense. 

Here was where I had to think about being a marketer in a whole new way. I started thinking in terms of resources and in terms of competition. What can we do and what are the trends? I went back to thinking, yes we needed to create content, but why did I have to split up my resources? Why should the blog have to compete against another entity? 

I would look at blogs like Hootsuite and see that they have webinars and courses. We didn’t have a team or a department to create all the content like Hootsuite. Eventually, every company will need to be a media company on top of what they build and serve. I believe that. I love that idea because it’s such a hopeful future for us content creators. 

But I can guarantee you this, before Hootsuite had their fingers in all those different projects, they had one solid blog. Before you take on another project, you make sure what you are doing is performing well. There is no reason to double down on two failing ventures. There is experimenting and then there is careless spending. I’m fine wasting my own time discovering and testing, but I’m not okay wasting others. 

The EDU, which Evan and David couldn’t even come to a conclusion on the name for — was it going to be the Education Center or was it going to be the Academy? — became the bane of my work hours for probably three months. It was the first big project I had to put the hammer down on. It was not the first time I gave up on a project, but in my position at the company, it was the first time I made a decision to avoid loss of more money and resources. I recognized sunk costs and I prevented more waste. 

I consider it one of my proudest decisions I made in my first quarter or even year at the helm. It was a leadership decision. I thought critically about what we were doing and decided it’s not worth doing. However, I would quickly learn that it is much easier to kill someone else’s brainchild than it is to kill your own. I was just at the start of my journey and it was already intense. 

This has been based on my personal experience. Details and names have been changed in respect for privacy.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

Attack ads are not just for politics

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Should corporations call out competitors?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 31, 2016

We see it in politics all the time: commercials that call out the negative aspects, false advertisements, and empty promises of competitors. As someone watching these commercials, I often feel like I’m watching a couple bicker—it’s awkward. This petty form of persuasion doesn’t really leave a winner in my mind; rather, it makes me want to oppose both parties. But what if this same method is used for our everyday products?

Recently, Verizon hired comedian Ricky Gervais to do a commercial spot where, instead of highlighting all of Verizon’s features, it calls out its competitor (Sprint). In the ad, Gervais states that their competitor “stretches the truth” when claiming to have the fastest and most reliable network. He also goes on to say that having the fastest, most reliable network in Kansas (the location of Sprint’s headquarter), is like having a parachute that only opens in Kansas. That’s no good. Consumers want a product such as cellular reception to be reliable everywhere, just like a parachute.

While the commercial was fun and light and Gervais’ snarky persona made the rivalry of the telecommunication companies humourous, it was bad practice. These types of companies are rarely promoting innovations, but rather striving for mediocrity. And it shows with an ad like this. Think about it, if Verizon had the “fastest” and “most reliable” network, they would be claiming it straight up. They would have proof. But instead of demonstrating their product, they turn the spotlight on their competitors and say, “well, they aren’t that great either.”

Often in politics, we don’t vote for the candidate that we like, but rather the candidate we hate the least. A world where we are choosing the lesser of two evil sounds like a pretty horrible place to live, huh? A world where we are calling each other liars and saying that a billion-dollar company is incompetent and irresponsible is worrisome place to live. A world where we spend more resources racing to the bottom, reaching the lowest common denominator, and striving to merely meet expectation is a scary place to live.

Calling out a problem does not solve it. One-upping competition by small margins doesn’t solve it either.

Enough talk about what others don’t do. Regardless of whether you are a politician, a billion-dollar company, or my co-worker, I don’t judge you by your competition, I judge you by your actions and achievements. You give me results as promised and there is no reason why I wouldn’t pick you over someone else. I would trust you.

The way you develop a reputation is by focusing on service and innovation, not by dragging your opposition down so that you look better. If you want to be the best, you’ll need to try your hardest and not just talk smack.

In rage or outrage

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How celebrities continue to bait the public on social media

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Feb 24, 2016

When you are a celebrity trying to promote yourself, no news is not good news. It’s better to receive hate from some than go completely unnoticed. That has been the philosophy of many celebrities who have taken to Twitter to make a big splash before sinking back into the depths of their wealth and sorrow.

But the barrage of outrage has become too much for British comedian Stephen Fry, who rage-quit Twitter after the criticism he received for a joke he made at the BAFTA Awards show. Or was it just another publicity ploy? While hosting, Fry zinged costume design winner Jenny Beavan for dressing like “a bag lady.” The Internet rose to Beavan’s defence, calling out Fry’s “offensive” comment on Twitter. Comedians defending their jokes on Twitter is not anything new, what’s surprising is that they continue to respond to those faceless voices even though they know they cannot fight the trolls.

I don’t believe Fry was harmed by the comments, I believe Fry was doing what celebrities do best, which is making the PR move that will garner them the most press. Quitting Twitter was the apt solution. It silenced the critics and made his fans appreciate him more. It also got him trending, which is rare for the BAFTA host.

Ricky Gervais, another fellow British comedian, is also no stranger to online outrage. As the host of the Golden Globes this year, Gervais made it his sole purpose to poke Hollywood celebrities and the Internet bear that defends them. Why? He openly admitted it. The more people bitching and moaning about how offensive he was on the show, the more publicity he gets. The more you get people talking about you, the higher you rise up on the Internet’s relevancy meter.

Celebrities have a powerful voice. When they speak, people listen, even when what they are saying is complete garbage. How has Donald Trump gone as far as he has on the presidential campaign? Shock factor. You cannot ignore it or pretend it wasn’t said because everyone will be talking about it days later. Simple yet ridiculous ideas that go against the grain are bound to evoke more attention than playing by the rules, nodding to what everyone else is saying, and conforming with the crowd.

Lastly, there is Kanye West. Does he have a new album coming out? Of course he does. But he didn’t market his new work as the latest Kanye West album, he marketed himself as a brand—a brand that’s so good it doesn’t give a fuck what you think. He sided with Bill Cosby, called out Taylor Swift, asked Mark Zuckerberg for money, and compared himself to Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry. Think about all the demographics he hit with those comments. Think of all the people he offended and honoured. He’s tapped into the Internet’s pathos and has manipulated it to do his album’s marketing for him.

So the next time you hear about celebrities saying something outrageous on a public platform, ask yourself: Do they want me to retaliate, or repeat what they said like some sort of megaphone?

Pricing Your Product Properly Matters

Before you sell your products or market your services you must first identify the cost. Understanding the price will give you a better perspective of your potential revenue, competitors  and target customers. Pricing your product is a defining mark for your company and should not be taken lightly. Follow this five-part series to understand the complexity, trickery, and science behind pricing.

Originally published on Control. March 12, 2015

Part One: Cost-plus Pricing or Value-based Pricing

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There are two general principles to pricing your products and services. You can rather implement the cost-plus or the value-based pricing method. Whichever one you choose, it will not only define your product but your company as a whole.

So what’s the difference?

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Part Two: 7 Free Tricks To Pricing Your Product

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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Shoppers are inherently programmed to compare prices. If you place a $20 T-shirt next to one that costs $50, it is instantly clear which one is more affordable. However, if the $20 one is made to be far less desirable and—for what you are getting—is still quite pricy. That’s because the intention is not to sell the $20 product, but to get people to opt for the more expensive deal for the reason that it’s actually worth it.

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Part Three: Tiered Pricing Can Take Your Product To The Next Level

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Tiered pricing gives people choices—and we all know that people love choices. When it comes to payment, choices may bring more value to your customers. Why not let them choose how much they want and how much to pay for it? After all, when you go to the coffee shop you want the freedom to pick Small, Medium, or Large. This ideology can work for your product or services too.

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Part Four: 6 Ways To Conduct An Effective Discount Promotional Campaign

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After the free samples and 14-days trial period, you may be pressed to earn more leads and gain more revenue. Without adjusting your standard price, you’ve decided that implementing a discount or promotional campaign is the best avenue to take. However, there are no fixed rules when applying discounts or generating coupons. You can hand out flyers on the street, but all that effort may be wasted time. Here are six tips to conducting a successful discount promotional campaign.

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Odds are at one point or another you’ll want to increase the price of your product. Investors, competitors, your internal team, and even the public may be urging you to do so. You yourself know that the current price is under valuing your product and this path is no longer sustainable. There are many reasons why raising the price makes sense, but the question is not why you should hike prices, but how to do it effectively without losing customers and decreasing your conversion rate.

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Nir Eyal Advises Canadian Entrepreneurs to Develop Habits, Not Addictions

Posted by Elliot Chan on Apr 23, 2014
Formerly published in Techvibes Media.

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On April 16, author and entrepreneur Nir Eyal approached an intimate group of Vancouver entrepreneur with a series of important questions. As a part of the Hooked Workshop sponsored by Work At Play, Eyal explored the concept of habits and addictions in regards to technology. Then he asked us all questions that steered us in the direction of creating habit-forming technology:

“Is your product a vitamin or a painkiller?” Eyal asked. “People want to invest in painkillers. Because painkillers address a burning need. They stop the user’s pain. They have a quantifiable market, they address a clear need and investors want to hear that your product is addressing a painkiller. As oppose to a vitamin—vitamins are ‘nice to haves.’ We don’t know if that vitamin we are taking every morning is actually doing its job.”

Technology is a part of our lifestyle now, whether it is built to alleviate pain or to generate pleasure. But what caused us to Google without considering the alternatives or to log onto Facebook when we should actually be getting work done? According to Eyal, there is only two reason we formed those habits: the frequency of use and the change in attitude. As a business model, that is a good thing.

“First, habits create higher customer lifetime value,” said Eyal. “If a customer uses our product for a longer period of time, then suffice it to say, they are also adding to our bottom line.” Then he added, “Second, we have greater pricing flexibility if the customer forms a habit. So when a user depends upon a product and it becomes a part of their normal routine, we have greater flexibility in changing our pricing structure.”

Growth is vital to a company’s success, but going viral—but being unable to engage customers—turns your company into a “leaky bucket business.” A product must keep customers coming back and through that consistent use, they can’t help but develop a slight loyalty to the product.

Why do we use Google? Because it’s the best right? Not necessarily—stripped of logos and banners, most people can’t even tell the difference between Google and the number-two search engine, Bing. But since we have been using Google for so long, we make ourselves believe that it must be better, because why would we use an inferior product, right? That is how strong habit-forming technology increases defensibility against competitors.

Eyal presented to the crowd the Hook Model, an infinity sign with arrows starting from the top left corner and looping around in a figure eight. This model is designed to assist entrepreneurs and designers aiming to create a habit-forming product, with the hypothesizing process of building a prototype. The Hook Model consists of four phases: Trigger, action, reward and investment.

Eyal quotes the co-creator of Twitter, Jack Dorsey at this point as he explains the method of understanding internal and external triggers of a customer. “[If] you want to build a product that is relevant to folks, you need to put yourself in their shoes and you need to write a story from their side.” So why is someone using your product? What is the trigger? How do you make them use your product as a solution?

According to BJ Fogg, behaviours occur when there is a motivation, an ability to act and a trigger that enables the action to occur. “Here is a key question for us considering how we design our products,” Eyal said. “Should designers move motivation or ability first?” The answer might not be obvious, but Eyal strongly encourages us to move ability first. Making things easier for consumer is always a plus if you want them to do something.

After the action is completed, the user will anticipate the reward. You search Google, you sit and wait for the results to pop up—perhaps your search is over, perhaps you are not so lucky and you need another keyword. “The unknown is fascinating,” said Eyal. That is why we read books, watch sporting events and develop relationships. Variability is a good thing and it helps increase the reward factor for customers.

At last we reach the investment phase of the Hook Model. At this point Eyal suggested that we all consider how we can get costumers to invest in our product after feeling the reward. How do we get them invested? “The investment phase stores value and improves the product with use,” said Eyal. “Because unlike products in the physical world: laptops, phone, the furniture in your house, your car. All these things in the physical world depreciate over time. The more you use them the less valuable they become. They age. However, habit-forming technology, when done correctly have the opportunity to appreciate. The more we use it the better it becomes.”

For example, the larger our library is in iTunes, the more value it has. The more followers we have on Twitter, the more visible our tweets become. And the more we comment on Quora and get up-voted, the more legitimate we are.

So for your next product consider the customer’s daily usage, the habit they’ve formed and the Hook Model Eyal presented in guiding your product into the lives of millions.

The boob tube

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Television’s bait and switch tactics are working too well

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 19, 2014

Any good salesperson knows that in order to sell a product, they first need to catch the consumer’s attention. Television, for lack of a better word, is a marketplace and you’re the customer who’s passing through. Since you’re just passing through, or channel surfing if I may, you don’t have time to linger and enjoy six seasons of anything, let alone one with multiple character arcs and complicated plot twists. Solution: nudity!

Sex sells. It’s not just a phrase used in advertising, but a legitimate formula for commercial success. But by applying this tactic repeatedly, like so many independent broadcasting networks and entertainment providers are choosing to do, the content itself turns into one of two things: pornography or satire.

Don’t get me wrong, I love nudity. I can appreciate a well-photographed love scene and smut on different levels. But I also believe there is a time and place for it. The audience should be able to control their own intake of controversial images. Once I’m hooked to the storyline, there is no reason to overindulge me with unrelated nude scenes. I care more about the progression of the storyline, the plot, and the characters’ expositions, than some attractive female lusciously draped over the screen—at least for now.

No, I’m not a prude or immature, but we all have a perv-side to us—that’s why sex sells. We have all experienced sitting down as a collective to enjoy a show with explicit nudity peppered throughout. When nipples appear on the screen, a few things could happen: either the room hushes up with slight discomfort, or someone will break the silence with a blatant statement addressing said nipples, and laughter might or might not ensue. Regardless, that little pulse of misplaced horniness is harmful to the storytelling.

Sure, it might be the artistic direction to include sensible nude scenes; there are many reasonable situations to showcase boobs, etc. But it’s clear that certain producers, with the intention of getting the largest viewing audience possible, are jeopardizing the artistic craft of filmmaking by pumping more nudity into the shows, thus turning an adult drama into soft-core porn.

Naked women should not be used as props to engage an audience. They should not be strategically placed in the background, while main characters discuss betrayal. They should not appear randomly to seduce the leading man only to disappear, never to be seen again. They should not be used to arouse or tease an audience without justified reasons. Am I angry that sometimes they are? No, not that angry, but when I see some of my favourite shows subjected to these low level bait-and-switch tactics to garner more viewers, I feel ashamed to like the show—and I know that true fans are not watching to see Lena Dunham naked or the next Westeros femme fatale.

We love the stories, we love the characters, and we love the fact that the show isn’t some homogenized Canadian show about life in the Prairies. Television producers should understand that by using nudity as a lure for viewers, they are only misguiding people, offering them something that is unsustainable on television and that there is already so much of on the Internet.

Advertisement, a reason to sell-abrate

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An Opinions article brought to you by the ‘Other Press’

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 18, 2014

I’m not an easy sell and I’m not a compulsive buyer. I can’t be—I wouldn’t survive if I was.

I work hard to earn my money and I choose to spend it on the things that I enjoy and with the people who I like. But I’m also reasonable; I budget wisely and do my best to avoid falling into debt. Many may consider it a marketers versus us game of tug-of-war with our paycheques, but I don’t see it that way.

I appreciate advertisements, because they aren’t pick-pocketing me on a busy street. They’re presenting the value of a brand in a way that might or might not attract my attention. Sure, advertisements are biased and appeal on many different levels, but as someone who understands the value of a dollar, you better appeal to me or I’m not buying.

Advertisers are not competing against us, but against other brands. So where some people say there’s too much product placement, I say good. It should be survival of the fittest. After all, advertising is art with a clear purpose.

I know it’s annoying to sit through those five seconds of commercial before your YouTube video, and I know it sucks to listen to the rambling of voices attempting to sell you something on the radio when all you want is some Beyoncé, but the alternative is having to pay for the services. God forbid I cough up my lunch money for a monthly subscription of YouTube, Google, Facebook, or any other free-to-use platforms that sustain themselves on advertisements. If you ask me, I think we are getting a pretty sweet deal.

Companies hate spending money on advertisements, and they hate it as much as we do when those ads are ineffective and annoying. Brands need to know their audience better and thanks to the technology of search engines, they are getting improved results.

I hope one day all marketing strategies will be targeted advertisements. If you show me something I actually want, I’ll appreciate it; if you show me something that is completely useless to me, like a diaper commercial, I’m just going to wait patiently for the baby to finish falling over and acting cute.

It does feel a little bit like Big Brother, knowing everything you do is recorded by a league of marketers. Still, if Big Brother knows that I’m searching “how to fix my plumbing” on YouTube, then Big Brother can rightly assume that I’ll need to find a good hardware store nearby, as well.

Our privacy is compromised regardless. Don’t be fooled, even your dirty Snapchat pictures can be recovered if you tried hard enough. But this is just the world we live in now and we can’t meet every technology and intelligence with paranoia.

Public places used to be train stations, shopping malls, office buildings, and school campuses, but now the Internet is a public setting as well. Advertisements are going to extend from the billboards you see on the streets to the iPhone app you look at before you go to bed. Embrace it. Adapt to it. And celebrate that we live in a time where we have a choice—because we are the ones with the power, not the brands.