Updated: Mar 29, 2020
In this episode we talk to Dennis Pang of Popcorn about the digital marketing landscape in today's world, the importance of brand and augmented reality. If this is your first time seeing this, please visit our YouTube page and give us a like or share this with a friend. To hear more about various topics about business, please subscribe to our Spotify Podcast as well.
As always, I'd love more questions and comments so I know where to take the channel to help you on your journey in entreprenuership!
Justin Lam 0:05 You want to find your tribe of raving fans. I'm gonna help you do it. This is the digging deep podcastwith Three Sixty Media where we help you do better business. Justin Lam 0:16 Hey everybody, this is Justin Lam and you're watching Episode Six of digging deeper. We help business owners build better businesses and today I am joined by a very intriguing individual. He has been self employed since 2009. Starting a agency here in Vancouver in 2011. That has gone viral. Go popcorn, and some of the clients includes Samsung, Rogers and Purdy's in 2016. His agency has won the AMA Innovation Award for most innovative campaign and winning a tourism destination Canada award for the work that he did with Tourism Vancouver. And so I would like to introduce my guest, Dennis Pang. Dennis, how are you? Dennis Pang 1:11 Hi, good. Thanks for having me on. Justin Lam 1:13 No, thank you good. Well, I mean, I know you have a busy schedule otherwise but because of this lockdown, most of us have really a really busy schedule, I suppose. Dennis Pang 1:24 Hmm. Yeah, I got a couple of kids next door in the other room and been hunkered hunkered down at home for the last week or so. Justin Lam 1:34 Yeah, my kid is eating breakfast in the kitchen. And I don't know if she's going to come in and invade the podcast at any time, but we'll get cracking and get into it and get back to our kids. So let's start off. I know, through the grapevine that you weren't the most studious of students when you were young, would that be? Would that be correct? Dennis Pang 1:58 Well, actually I was Yeah, that's partially true. I would say like up until senior year in high school, I was pretty much your prototypical nerd. You know, chess club, math contest club, amateur radio club, doing kumon and, you know, in a lot of extracurricular activities and also super academic. I fell off the wagon, I guess in my senior year in high school, started making some less than favorable friends and and hanging around, maybe not not the best of people. And for the next couple of years, it was interesting because I was kind of just caught up in the party scene and not doing a whole lot. You know, like in terms of academics, I was kind of bouncing around from university to colleges, and you know, picking up three credits here, six credits, there getting kicked out of SFU and it wasn't until really kind of the late 90s when we got internet at home, and I started spending a lot of time on there. And that's really kind of what started my journey into marketing as I shortly after, then became a web designer. Justin Lam 3:17 Yeah, isn't it interesting? Where, you know when we're young? You know, we think of it as we fall off the rails. And I guess, of course, there is some truth to that, but it's a different type of learning, isn't it? It's it's learning about life and about people and and the intangible skills that we acquired through our career. Dennis Pang 3:40 100% I mean, obviously, I look at all my experience and my upbringing with no regrets. I mean, I think if I were to only have perhaps any sort of regret is that I spent a little bit too long in that sort of party phase. I mean, I could have probably cut that down in half, and probably been better for it. But I mean, at the end of the day, I am who I am today because of all those experiences, whether they're good or bad ones. And, yeah, it allows me to bring into my life and into my business, a lot of learnings and experiences, just how to how to work with people and how to deal with situations. Justin Lam 4:23 Absolutely. And, you know, I think working in the party scene, and I did a small stint in that, I mean, I partied a lot. But I worked in the party scene for very little. But it teaches you a lot about marketing. It teaches you about, you know, where your position and how to attract clients, doesn't it? Dennis Pang 4:41 Yeah, for sure. I mean, whether you're, you know, being approached by like a club promoter walking down the street, or maybe you're just drawn to a poster that you see in a in a club bathroom or something like that. catches your eye and next thing you know, you're at that party. Yeah, there. There are certainly lessons in marketing to take from that. Justin Lam 5:03 Yeah. So then how did popcorn fall into your lap? Dennis Pang 5:08 So popcorn was an interesting thing that happened, I guess, to take it back a little bit further. So I was in my third year or sorry, yeah, third or fourth year in university, and that was around 2009. And at that point, I had become really active on social media. And I would say like, my activity on social media really kind of peaked at around 2008 2010 or so. And so, you know, back then this was pre Instagram, so my audience was all on Twitter. And then back then I had around 7000 followers or something like that. And I was a big foodie, as a A lot of people in the city probably know or have seen my photos. But anyways, I was sharing a lot of a lot of food photos on on Twitter back then. And if you remember camera technology back then, you know, I was shooting with my Blackberry. You know, it was probably like a two megapixel camera, camera and it just wasn't really great. But nonetheless, I managed to grow an audience outside, I managed to grow an audience on that on that platform. So long story short is that eventually some restaurants started reaching out to me in terms of being interested in finding out how to grow their own social media audience. And at that time, 2009 I had just been laid off from my job with the 2008 recession. And in my third year university, I also started that's kind of when I started to think about starting my own company. And through my through being on Ei and being eligible for a self employment program, which was funded by the provincial government, I was able to get my company started and start to working with a few restaurants just right out of the gate. And that's kind of how popcorn got started. Justin Lam 7:20 Interesting. Interesting. And so that incubation period as you're growing, I mean, you're starting in restaurants. How did you? How did you end up in with Samsung and Rogers? Dennis Pang 7:33 Yeah, it's it's always it's been a interesting, but I would say an organic trajectory since we started. I guess. For the first three years of our business. We were really heavily rooted in the restaurant and hospitality scene. You know, whether we were working with food trucks are fine dining restaurants or pizza shops. Yeah, that's right. So I guess we were doing that for about three years. And then we kind of hit a wall. The wall that we hit was one where, you know, working with restaurants, we, we soon realized that our marketing budgets were never going to be really, really big. And at the same time while i was growing my team, while with budget staying the same, it was it was becoming harder and harder for me to service that industry. Just because, you know, our team was bigger, there were more overheads and things like that. So at the end of it, it was 2014 when when when I sat down and looked at the books and realized that we were actually just making around $7 an hour. And at that point, it was kind of a inflection point, because I was like, Well, you know, what, what are we really doing here? I mean, I, I love what I'm doing, but ultimately, I can't really get by and sustain a business. That is only making $7 an hour. So overnight, we tripled our rates. And it was terrifying because doing that I knew knew right away that we would lose some clients because just, you know, in the restaurant business, most restaurants are just barely scraping by, especially in the city with, you know, their low margins and whatnot. And so it was kind of a terrifying moment. But at the same time, I realized that we would never be able to take the step forward if I didn't do that. So ultimately, we did that we did shed some clients, but in doing so we'll also freed up some capacity. And then we started to bring on some larger clients and some larger clients that ended up coming on board or ended up being like wineries and hotels and like tourism, tourism companies and destination companies and whatnot. So it was never intentional, sort of like that. We would start To switch from restaurants to, you know, slightly larger businesses, but I think when when you're kind of stuck in that mentality in terms of like, even just pricing out your services. You know, just to give you an example, back then we were charging like $500 a month just to manage like social media accounts. And that was kind of like the mid range, the mid range, right? So when we tripled, you know, that went up to 1500 or so. And I think when you do that, you naturally start to present your business a little bit differently, and then you start to attract the types of business that you ultimately want. So how that ended up to going from hotels and wineries to Samsung. Samsung was an interesting one, because they just found us on Google. So I mean, that doesn't happen every day. And I mean, I wish that happened all the time. But yeah, they just happened to go on in search for more marketing agencies in Vancouver and they found us and yeah, the rest. The rest is kind of history, I think once you get some really and that's generally how it has worked for us is that we would just land, you know, sort of mid sized clients and then those mid sized clients would then turn into larger clients and then those larger clients are turned to global global clients and it was really organic in that sense. Justin Lam 11:26 Yeah, I find it's quite an interesting thing. And in the entrepreneurial arena, it is really common for people to be paralyzed in raising their rates, partially because they have that inferiority complex, they have the imposter syndrome. Did you ever did you ever have that and you how did you overcome that? Dennis Pang 11:48 Um, I wouldn't say necessarily, imposter syndrome, but it was more so Yeah, I don't think I ever really, really struggled with that. No. Justin Lam 12:05 Okay. And in terms of your philosophy in how you, you know, decide to the market and, you know, the engine that you put behind popcorn, you know, what is the driving force that, that you guys push behind popcorn? Like, what is the, the mantra? The vision statement for that? Dennis Pang 12:26 Yeah. So I mean, we are a strategy driven agency. So it wasn't always that way. And we've really had to shift our, our, our, our mission really in over the last few years, simply because a lot of the things that we were doing early on, especially when we were just marketing for restaurants, you know, to be to be honest, like, restaurants aren't successful because of their marketing restaurants are successful because they can execute really good food and they have good service right? So, at the end of the day, when you're when you're talking about marketing strategy for restaurant, it's really not not really that strategic. It's more about tactics, right? It's more about taking good photos, it's more about being active on social media, you know, knowing what platforms to post on how often to post, things like that. I would say, as we started to work with larger clients, those larger clients, there, there definitely was more focus for them on approaching marketing in a more strategic manner. So I would say, Yeah, and that's, that's, you know, becoming more and more prevalent these days, especially with, you know, how much access to data that we have. And, you know, just the ability to have data informed strategy and whatnot, to be really, ultimately really smart about your marketing, right. So, I think at the core of it, I think today what makes us successful is that we are Strategy driven agency. And we also like within my team, we, I employ people who are practitioners of digital marketing themselves, you know, so whether so so I mean, I have one of my account managers, and she manages a lot of the accounts for us. And she's also managing a lot of influencer campaigns for us, but she herself is an influencer herself. So she has that insight on the personal level into how businesses approach her and how they picture and then she can take some of those learnings and apply those to her work as well. Justin Lam 14:41 Hmm, yeah, that's a really great way to both empower some of the people who are within your ecosystem, but also to pick from the same ecosystem to then help other businesses so that the it's a good model. In terms of small businesses, then I think a lot of them Maybe don't understand, you know, kind of what goes into marketing. And a lot of times I hit the dumping money into the ocean, so to speak, and, you know, not figuring out or seeing a rate of return. And so one of the things I really wanted to spell to business owners is, you know, what that world of marketing is, and you know, that it's, it's not necessarily a a sure thing. And that marketing has so many variables to it. And if a person doesn't have a strong positioning and branding, in your opinion, how do you feel that affects the way that you market or the way that you're able to push out a brand? Dennis Pang 15:48 I think brand positioning is super important. And I think this is super relevant right now especially, but because I think the only thing the only problem ducked out there that I can think of that is universal in that you don't really need brand positioning is toilet paper. Excuse me. Now the reason being that, you know, toilet paper, everybody needs it right? And at the end of the day, does anybody really care what brand it is as long as they get it? Right? So I mean, we're seeing people fighting over toilet paper, they're not really brand sensitive, per se, there's more out of necessity, right? So unless you have a brand, like unless you have a product like toilet paper, I think brand positioning is really important because it's important that you understand what your product is, who your customers are, and what drives your customers to purchase your product. And how you differentiate yourself amongst your competitors. Yeah, so I think a lot of times, these are these are questions that I have for business owners, not only small business owners, but you know, even large businesses and a lot of times large businesses already have this figured out but small businesses sometimes they haven't really thought that through completely. Justin Lam 16:59 Yeah, and I totally agree. I think we spent a lot of time in the initial phases with clients doing that is helping them figure out their brand strategy, honing in what is their actual secret sauce, and then being able to formalize that into a document for themselves. For you, in terms of the differences between, say, restaurants and you know, small businesses and then global enterprises, how much of it becomes tactics in terms of the people who are, you know, hiring you? How much of that do do you run into where the person just wants to do the tactics because they saw it work for somebody else, versus a proper brand and marketing strategy? Do you find that that changes in the different strategies and levels of businesses that you work with? Or do you think that that's a universal thing straight across Dennis Pang 17:58 while in the case of Samsung, So when they approached us, they knew right away what they wanted from us. And for them, they were looking specifically at just running a campaign on social media and on Google AdWords. So they weren't really sure which social media platforms to focus on. So that was one thing that we had to do a little bit of, we had to dig dig into that a little further, and kind of kind of look at their product and ultimately, you know, with that campaign, they were looking to market their Samsung Knox product which is a mobile security software essentially is kind of their their Sorry, it's their equivalent to Blackberry. In the sense that for medium and large sized enterprises, if you're if you're gearing up your, your staff with with phones, the idea was that you know, they would use Samsung phones Right. So, because it was so specific with who they wanted to reach, and that was medium to large sized enterprises, and really they wanted to reach the senior decision makers in terms of the people that are making decisions for technology and systems and and and things like that for their for their companies. Then it became about well, how do we target, you know, Chief Information Officers and Chief Technology officers or senior engineers and things like that and get, get the message out to them. So ultimately, what we did with them was we did run an AdWords campaign, but we also ran a campaign on LinkedIn targeting specific industries and specific cities. And right down to specific job titles, right. So it was a really successful campaign which ended up seeing over 300 signups for their Knox trial. Justin Lam 19:59 Amazing this Awesome. In terms of, you know, you mentioned AdWords and placing ads against different cohorts. That landscape has changed tremendously over the last decade or so, in terms of the cost per click, and the sheer data that's available and the finite people that you're able to reach now, especially with something like Facebook and Instagram, and the data that they have in, I think a lot of people don't understand when they're trying to do it themselves. And they're bootstrapping and try to put out an ad that what what makes it a successful ad, I think a lot of people are looking at, you know, approaching everybody thinking that everybody is going to buy their products, and we know, because we're both in this that that's not necessarily true. And a lot of that money goes to waste. So, you know, what have you seen? Or what are some tips that you could impart on an individual who might be bootstrapping it? And understanding where they're placing their ad and what they should be spending for that? Dennis Pang 21:14 Yeah, so I mean, with regards to a lot of paid campaigns, I've actually, you know, whenever whenever clients come to us, and they say they need help with their marketing, ask them what they've been doing, they might say that, oh, you know, we've done some AdWords before, but, you know, didn't really really see any great ROI from that. And then I'd ask them, if I could take a peek under the hood and look at their AdWords account to see what they've set up. In one particular instance, I think it was a dentist that was in in North Vancouver. And basically, he went in and he set up his own campaign. He had no real real background or experience in marketing before, but he tried to just kind of hack it himself. And when I look At his account, I noticed that he was bidding on words like dentist and dentist. I think when I looked at it it was costing him something like 100 $100 a click or something like that. And he was also targeting when I looked at his geographic target he was targeting all of the Lower Mainland right so he was even targeting people out in Maple Ridge and Langley and things like that and you think about it's like well who's going to be living in Maple Ridge and going to see a dentist in North van right so even from that just looking at how broad his keywords were you know, he was wasting a lot of money on like, there might be that person in Langley who whose search for dentist finds his ad and then they might even click on it to look at his website and find out that he's in the Northland and decide like, Okay, well that's not it's not gonna work for me right. So you we took a look at that campaign we really honed in kind of the areas that he wants to focus on. And and and that's By really just understanding who his customer or where his customers are from the majority of them being from Western and North van. So we tightened up, we tightened up his geographic targeting to just downtown West van and North van. And then we also looked at the keywords and actually didn't bid on words like dentists but, you know, he was doing things like like crowns and and and other cosmetic procedures and things that were kind of some some services that were especially kind of unique to his practice too, right. So in work in in, in developing ads and focusing on those sort of more specialized keywords, were able to bring his cost per click down significantly and and be able to increase his traffic and just use his budget in a more efficient and strategic way. Yeah, so a lot of times these platforms like Facebook and Google, they're seemingly easy to use. But I would say like for the large majority of people who don't know what they're doing, it's really easy to get sucked in and blow a lot of money and not see a lot of results. And that kind of turns you off from marketing altogether. Yeah, in cases. Justin Lam 24:15 Yeah. 100% agree. I think a lot of people think that it's an easy thing to do, and that it's intuitive and in the interface is intuitive. Right. I think we both agree that the interface is intuitive. But the brain work that goes behind it and isolating the right individuals isn't? That's right. Cool. So with the virus on hand, what's changed in your in your world? Have you tried to adapt to make work happen into to bring in revenue, or, you know, hedge it to shut down? Most of it altogether? How's it worked out for you? Dennis Pang 24:55 Yeah, I mean, so in terms of our team, our whole team is now working remotely It's not been a huge shift in terms of that just because typically, we already work remote on Mondays and Fridays as it is. So now it's just going full time, remote, in a lot of ways and what that has allowed us to or what what, what has come out of that is actually just more transparency in terms of what everybody's working on on a daily basis as we have, you know, a morning check in with the team every day. You know, but how that's impacted our business in terms of like client wise, I would say. I mean, because we do have several retail clients that we work with, and a lot of these retailers have closed down temporarily. So with that, some of the campaigns that we've been planning with them have been paused or on on hold. You know, some marketing budgets have been slashed and now they're, they're on there and they're they're kind of looking Got their budgets and assessing kind of where they should be spending their money on. I think at this point, nobody knows if this is going to be going on for like a month or three months or a year even. So, there's a lot of uncertainty, I would say right now and everybody's just, myself included, I would say like, I'm just kind of taking it like day by day, week by week at this point. This, our sales funnel has also somewhat dried up as well. So the leads aren't coming in quite as quite as fast as they were. And on our end, I guess the silver lining is that it gives us a little bit of time and space to be able to focus on our business and look at what kind of services are appropriate for the market at this time. So right now what we're doing is we're actually brainstorming some packages that are designed for small businesses that are low cost and high high yield. So To speak. Justin Lam 27:01 Excellent, that's a good way to adapt. Seeing that we make up such a large part of the economy. And I looking forward, what are the plans for popcorn outside of this? Like, you know, once this all clears up and the world returns back to status quo? Do you have other things to pursue? Or are you going to stay the course? Yeah. Are you What are you looking for in terms of innovation? Dennis Pang 27:27 Yeah, I mean, I think when it comes to digital marketing, and there's never a dull moment, and you know, I'm constantly just keeping up with my news in terms of what's happening in the industry, looking at new and new and emerging trends. You know, ar augmented reality is a really hot topic right now. And a lot of companies, especially big ones, are really starting to do a lot of stuff in that space. So we're, you know, it's constantly just keeping a pulse on on what's happening and more What's emerging, and not necessarily focusing on today, but looking at trying to try to stay a step step ahead. And and ultimately, nobody has a crystal ball. And ultimately nobody knows what's gonna, how the landscape is going to be shaped. But, you know, by staying on top of this, I think we can continue to innovate our services and continue to drive value for our clients. Justin Lam 28:21 Yeah, it's interesting that you said they are. I've been saying that for maybe the last half a year that AR is going to be something very interesting. And I think actually, it'll super it'll, it will exceed what VR is, and I think a lot of people have put their bank on on VR. But I actually think AR has wider applications and has a more I guess, robust or easy entry point, you know, in terms of adoption for the masses, because I mean, people are using it already in gaming. And of course, we know that the Dallas Cowboys Have you utilize that already in photo booth software, so to speak. But yeah, I think it's, it's quite interesting. Dennis Pang 29:07 Yeah. For sure. Like with VR, I always I've, I mean, I've had experiences with VR probably, since. I don't know, I think my first experience was probably the Virtual Boy from Nintendo. back then. And but I think that they, they that was short lived, because I think it gave people seizures. But, you know, I think of all the VR experiences that I've had, you know, today, like everything, like none of the VR experiences I've had have really been really great experiences, you know, you're wearing like a big clunky, oftentimes, you're wearing big clunky hardware and you're tethered or maybe even you're not, but I mean, it does, like I have yet to seen a VR experience that really blows my mind. Whereas with AR, you know, you know, it's being rolled out using technology that people already have, like, whether that's smartphones or whatnot, right? So I think the one that I really like IKEA is activation where they, you're now able to with your smartphone, basically look at how the furniture is going to look in your house before you actually buy it. Right. So I think I think the applications for AR AR are just endless. I can't wait to see kind of what, where, where that, where that's gonna go. Justin Lam 30:22 You know, I'm right there with you so awesome. Well, I know you've got the kids in the other room. And one thank you so much for your time. Hopefully that we'll get to do a second podcast and maybe dive a little bit deeper in the world of marketing the next time. If people want to get ahold of you and connect with you, how can they do so? Dennis Pang 30:44 Yeah, so I'm pretty easy to find on the internet on any social media, Twitter and Instagram. You can just find me by my name, Dennis Pang. My website is www.gopopcorn.ca and yeah, I think Thank you. Thank you again for having me on today, Justin. Justin Lam 31:03 Yeah, absolutely. It's been a pleasure. And I'm super, super glad that you gave me some time. Justin Lam 31:08 My pleasure. Awesome. All right. Thanks. Thanks.