Welcome to CharlesLau.com website

Charles Lau is a digital enabler, a web strategist, a web consultant, a social media evangelist and also a software developer. He is also a proud husband of Simin and a loving daddy of Faith and Zac.

Read more about me here.

Recalling my past in 2004

Two interesting encounters I had in one day. Listening to an agency startup pitching on a web project, as well as taking a cold call from an insurance company.

I saw the younger days of myself when I was listening to a startup pitching on a web project. While an entrepreneur is supposed to be aiming high and is probably flying so high that his colleagues may not be able to catch up, this agency is just providing too many services with no real focus. As a digital marketer myself today, I have some doubts in terms of their expertise. Moreover, they have started only one year ago. I was an entrepreneur myself long time ago, and I can start understand how amateurish I was in the past just by looking at them. My only advice for them if they are continuing with their startup is to focus.

Another encounter was with that cold call. This insurance lady claims to be from HR department looking for a potential financial planner. She packaged it as though it is the greatest opportunity of all time. When I told her that my focus is in digital marketing, she doesn’t respect that and even side-commented that “we will still need people like you to be engineers and policemen”. I find her really rude for saying that. If she were to post that on social media, she will surely get it from the public.

Nevertheless, the above two encounters were reminding me of myself in 2004 where I made a lot of similar mistakes myself too. I am glad to make them at the younger years and progressively improve myself with my business and family focus. As someone told me this,  “When the student is ready, masters are everywhere…”

Hiring process is all wrong!

In this world, I find that the hiring process of getting a person onboard is pretty much ineffective. 

First impression is not accurate
No doubt that we can’t escape the first impression, it is nevertheless inaccurate to use first impression to determine a person’s potential.
– Some people are simply fantastic at talking which makes them a perfect fit on first impression.  But when you dig deeper with such person, you may not see the right judgment because of the first impression.

Is there a need for replacement?
It seems natural for all hiring managers to find someone who is of the same level to the previous employee as much as possible.  While that is a sure thing for the employer, it shouldn’t be so straightforward for the employer.  Whenever there is someone leaving, employer should assess the situation from different angles.
1) Is the person leaving because of a better career prospect?  Or is it because there is something to improve that the person has given up to try?
2) Is there a need for this position?  Do we need to review on this position whether it should be done by someone lower or higher level?
3) Even if we have evaluated to have someone at certain level, there is a need to think if we want this level to move to the next level or to maintain as it is?

Interview is not just about assessing the person’s current situation and history
I have read somewhere on LinkedIn with regards to the third angle above.  The reason for asking the third angle above is because there are many times employers tend to find someone who is of that level that they need.  But have they thought of asking the potential employee what he or she thinks about it?  He or she may have done the same role for a long time and it is just a change of culture for him or her.  What is he or she looking for when working on the same role?

Don’t assume that we should get the same level of new employee as the predecessor
We have to assume that all human beings are always looking for better things in one way or another.  It may be because they are really looking for an improvement in culture and/or environment.  If not, he or she is looking to become better at their level and promote to the next level.  Or looking at it in another way, if you want to hire someone of that level, you should look for someone lower and is hungry to work towards that level.

Time Management At Work must become more flexible

Recently, I tried to work on the dot in my job. That means I will reach office on time, go for lunch break on time as well as leave office on time. It turns out that it is very hard for me to do so unless I start to neglect part of my work which I don’t bear to do so. In fact, some of my workload has been pushed behind so that I can focus more on my current tasks.

It is especially difficult when I have to deal with multiple operational work at the same time while chasing different people for their deliverables.

I think the working life in a client environment is very different from agency. Over here, I will have to take full ownership of every project that I am involved in whereas agencies can only see part of the picture of how the projects are being managed. I have to think through many things while working with both my stakeholders as well as my resources to get things done. There are many hurdles to cross along the way such as IT restrictions, budget constraints and many stakeholders to explain to, while working with my resources such as my agencies as well as my staff.

I think some flexibility of the working hours will be very much appreciated for me to work hard for the operations and to work smart for the strategies. For example, we may not have lunch on time because of work. Granted that people may be looking for us after lunch, but they can always look for us on mobile, or to send an email to us first, or to contact us later. Anyway, we will try not to come back office later too. When there is a meeting right after lunch, we will even skip lunch or eat lunch concurrently. The whole idea is to create a win-win situation. We won’t take anybody for granted.

No matter how I try, I can’t seem to get off work on time either. That’s probably because I have a lot of emails to catch again so that things can continue to move,  or there is some operational work for me to attend to. If I were to ignore any of those, I won’t forgive myself for not working efficiently.

That’s also why I start to see some companies (such as the WordPress company) focus on work deliverables while their employees are working at their own flexible time with unlimited leave to take. With the kind of real time communications we have today, it is impossible to draw a line between work time and personal time.  Things will keep moving and improving, and if you start to get a little lazy, it will be very obvious simply because we start to be result-focused.

Marketing your competitors’ products

It seems to be a taboo for any business to have anything to do with their competitiors directly and indirectly.  In fact, I do know that some businesses who are competitors on the outside, they are actually friends who meet up regularly on the inside.  And when it is about competition, you will almost not able to hear any collabroation between the brands unless they belong to the same company.

Why is this so?  It is quite natural that all businesses are doing for their own sake. But what if they can and should collaborate in one way or another?

Probably the only impossible collaboration is when the customer can only go to one business once and probably forever.

Companies such as restaurants can actually do a collaborations amongst themselves to do cross-promotions.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see that happening between companies on the social media, emails and even websites?  How about furniture companies?  How about electronic shops?  There is simply a lot of opportunities missed out there when compeititors are not collaborating to leverage on one another’s market size.

Of course, cross-promotions are not free.  There has to have some mechanism in place such as advertising space, affiliate programs or even an exchange program.  If a customer cannot buy your competitor product after buying yours, it is definitely not making sense to do this either.

Nobody usually wants to take that first step to do the collaboration.  It is either a “You must be crazy” idea, or “What if you market less than me” idea.  It is not easy for sure.  In fact, I am not expecting this concept to come true in the very near future.  But who knows?

3 stages of understanding in life

From my own experience, I think life can be divided into three stages of understanding. Of course I am at the third stage since I am able to identify so far. (Maybe in the near future, there may have fourth stage if I am enlightened.)

The first stage is the child understanding. This is the stage where a child is not matured enough and illogical/emotional to handle matters like adults. When they handle things, they tend to face certain problems and may just get frightened by them.

The second stage is the adult understanding. This is the stage where the adult is matured enough to handle most of the tasks out there. They are able to handle most of the problems faced with confidence. There is still an element of emotion which makes them unable to handle the rest of the problems.

The third stage is the matured adult understanding. This is the stage where the adult is able to handle even the uncertain tasks with care. They are the ones who can use logic to make sense with their tasks. They can work things out in their mind before execution. They think through thoroughly so much so that they tend to give an impression that they are always right but actually they are looking how to improve.

Probably there’s a fourth stage where some sort of wisdom is achieved. Who knows.

What do I think about Facebook today from a digital marketing perspective?

Looking at how Facebook has become today, it is getting really overloaded with people sharing information. So much so that it seems there’s no easy way for friends and fans to digest the information shared by others.

How many Facebook Pages have you liked? How many friends have you made? How are they going to squeeze all the information for you to view in a nice newsfeed? Plus, there are even more advertisers who want to reach out to you as well. Liking a page is no longer as effective as doing advertising.

As digital marketers, we have to treat Facebook as one of the marketing channels that we have to pay in order to reach out (even to our own fans too). No longer are the days when you get free access to your fans who have liked your page. In fact, if you can get your fans to share on their profiles, that’s more effective as Facebook somehow gives priorities to friends. There is another way whereby we can post almost every other minutes since real time postings also have some priorities.

Facebook is an important platform as it has become a personal usage for many where they share and like. That’s also why businesses still cannot forget Facebook as one of their touch points in their overall marketing strategy.

Gone are the days when people think that you can slowly grow your fans in quality for your Facebook Pages. Without advertising, Facebook Page reach out is always 1% or less. It is very hard for a person to be loyal to your Facebook Page for long because of different distractions. Newsfeed is the one which is loyal because it is convenient, but it is very difficult to get into newsfeed because of the flood of information trying to get in as well.

Content schedule posting is still important. But it is only one variable out of so many others to work on. We should still work on outreach programs such as advertising and email marketing to our lists. Then, the engagement part comes in as well. That’s where the so-called quality fans are attracted. After some time, they will no longer be of “quality” due to other distractions along. While it’s hot, we have to capture the potential ones as leads through various digital marketing methods such as bringing them to a landing page.

In other words, when there’s still people, there’s still potential. It is only up to our imagination how we can do a better hacking in the growth. :)

Change in company culture is inevitable in the world, yet it is almost impossible

Companies are struggling to adapt to the new world of Internet today. Everything is getting even more connected than ever before. The Internet is not only for techie people, it is also for sales people, marketing people, customer service and even supply chain.

In one way or another, everybody is trying to do their part to participate in the most connected channel ever (i.e. Internet) because if they don’t, they are going to limit their business growth. How is that so?

1) Some of your customers are out there talking about you because they want to vent their dissatisfaction. Over a period of time, this will be perceived as authentic negative reviews about you as more and more negative reviews are produced. Don’t you think you should approach them and solve their problems? This not only helps to turn problems into solutions for public to know, it is also beneficial to understand and improve your products.

2) Some of your customers may be very happy with your products that they write lots of positive reviews about how they have benefitted. Don’t you think you should embrace them to bring your business to the next level?

3) There are some customers who couldn’t get satisfaction from the customer service. In the end, they complain publicly hoping to get their voices heard. As for the genuine cases, it goes without saying that you have to investigate and solve their unfinished problems. In terms of the non-genuine cases, it can be quite tricky because there isn’t a problem to solve while it is sometimes a matter of preference.

Microsoft CEO Nadella promises to shake-up Microsoft’s culture with the attitude of ‘nothing is off the table’ (reference: PCWorld: http://charlesla.us/z4ay0). While it is extremely hard to change a corporate culture, I would love to wait and see how Microsoft is changing for the better.

As I have mentioned above, it is really hard to change corporate culture. Usually, the marketing people tend to be the ones who are trying to change. You tend to see the non-marketing colleagues are the ones not moving. It is virtually impossible to change unless there is a change of management.

I know that it is almost impossible. But with every step trying to change the world, it is just a matter of time. As long as I am still around, I am very hopeful of a change.

What kind of digital marketing manager are you looking for?

Digital marketing role used to be non-existent in a typical company till 2010. Many people were surprised by my role before 2010. Now they don’t.

Before 2010, companies typically employed an IT trained person to update their websites, while the smaller companies tend to outsource or to figure how to do themselves. Back then, this person is technically a data entry person who has html knowledge.

Today in 2014, it is becoming important increasingly to hire a digital marketing person. But many times, companies are confused about the type of digital marketing manager that they need. That is because it used to be managed by a Marcom person who is not technically inclined to either figure out how to update the websites by themselves, work with an IT personnel or to outsource.

In a typical operation, it is getting harder for a Marcom person to handle a web project because of the rise of different technologies that they have to learn the different terminologies when working with an agency. Agencies will usually be the ones who have to spend more time educating the Marcom in the entire project duration. And to make things even harder, the agencies will usually assign a non-technical person as the account manager to manage their clients. With both non-technically inclined persons from agencies and clients trying to figure the web things out, they can usually work on simple web tasks only. Sometimes, things may go wrong along the way which delay the project due to poor IT understanding.

Hence, it is usually ideal to look for an experienced digital marketing manager from IT background who works with Marcom team before. It will even be better to have a Marcom person to work hand in hand with this person.

On the other hand, I have seen many companies looking for a Marcom person whose main role is actually digital marketing, while I have also noticed that many Marcom people want to work on digital marketing role. This is only possible if they are going to manage an agency for their projects.

Even for web agencies, many companies tend to think that certain agencies are good at this or that. It may be true to a certain extent. However, the actual implementation comes from the pool of talents that the agencies have hired. If a certain talent is no longer working there, you will not get the same result even if you pay at a premium price. What matters is really the talents inside and not the price that you pay for any particular agency.

In other words, if you wish to bring your company to the next level in digital marketing, get someone with technical knowledge as well as working experience with Marcom. I personally think that this will be a good start to make a great team!

How do you determine your work priorities in a company?

It has been a while since I last blogged. Been trying to manage multiple projects both in office as well as at home. Though my outsource is changing job to become a teacher, I found myself another great person to help me with my work.

All these things have made me ponder about the true meaning of work priorities. Does work priority rely solely on sales numbers as the big picture of a business reality?

Generally speaking, it is true for the business fulfillment portion that we have to prioritise based on the best performing products.

But how about marketing communications? If you think about it in another way, the products are able to perform well in sales because they are better communicated. The awareness is there, while the least performing products are the ones who need more awareness campaigns literally.

There is no harm at all to continue reaching out to bring the best performing products to the next level. But because of priority, the lesser performing products which we think have great potential are being “neglected” (or put in lower priorities).

In terms of marketing, I personally think that we should look at the potential market instead of yesterday’s sales. Yesterday’s sales are good for benchmarking for business fulfillment (i.e. goods ordering and delivery). However, it is a terrible measure to be used as prioritisation in marketing. By putting lower priority on any product, we have to rely on hard core sales people to increase sales for this product with their own effort.

Every product deserves equivalent marketing awareness if we can see a lot of potential in it.

Increasing of headcount is always very difficult, which is why most companies tend to get contract staff and temp staff to confirm the demand first before committing any perm staff. No company out there has the luxury to employ new headcounts as and when we need in order to achieve equivalent marketing awareness for every single product.

I have always been trying to figure out a win-win situation on this.

My approach is to do my very best to work with the product managers who are very proactive, pro to digital marketing as well as open to new ideas. That’s also because we will be able to create new methods of digital marketing so as to share successful practices across other products later.

I think that I am pretty good at web analytics

I have been analysing the web behaviour and reporting professionally for a couple of years. Every year, I am always challenging myself (as well as being challenged) to analyse even deeper to see what we can do with those data. In fact, this could be my calling to focus even more in this niche area of my digital marketing career.

This year, I am being challenged by our wide variety of website presence of our products in LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Google Display Network and a couple of strategic banner placements. I have to go through a lot of dashboards, some of which are very user-unfriendly which make it hard for me to look out for things. This had cost me a few sleepless nights to figure them out by myself. Nevertheless, I think there is more to analyse before I can call it accomplished.

In addition, I am also looking further into implementation of Bazaarvoice. There are a lot of things that I can learn from the Bazaarvoice team to implement even more successful campaigns.

Not to forget about Meltwater Buzz also.

Twitter as well.

I wonder if you think Mediamind dashboard is good or not because I find that the information they gave seems be associated to a few sets of information they have.

I think I need to do housekeeping of my work as there are a lot of portfolios to handle. How can I do more with the least amount of resources possible?

Thank God that Reno and Poh Ling are around to help me in the digital marketing channels.