Alex Wan, co-founder & CEO at Periphery Digital tells us about bilingual digital marketing.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Alex Wan: We’re doing well, thank you for asking. It’s been an interesting challenge getting used to staying indoors most of the time, but we’re trying to keep ourselves busy with work and other hobbies. I have family in Asia and it’s been interesting to see how different countries are handling the effects of the pandemic around the world.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Periphery Digital.
Alex Wan: We started Periphery Digital in 2016. It’s an interesting story — we didn’t initially set out to create this company, it was a happy accident. My background is in marketing and communications, but after university, we dipped our foot into a few different business ventures. Marketing was the one that kept coming back. Chinese marketing was a niche we noticed Vancouver was missing. Fast forward to today, I’ve been named one of BC Business’ 30 Under 30, and our company has grown 900% since its first year. We’ve grown 80% in 2020 alone compared to the previous year. With no signs of slowing down, we’re set to become the largest bilingual advertising and WeChat agency in North America.
How does Periphery Digital innovate?
Alex Wan: We are a bilingual marketing agency and the core part of what we do is help Western brands connect with the Chinese demographic. Because of this, it’s crucial for us to stay up to date with industry trends and level-up our expertise not just in North America, but also in Asia. It’s paramount for us to always take a forward-thinking approach is not just what we do for our clients, but in applying it to our internal initiatives too. Marketing channels are ever-evolving, and regardless of the platforms, we need to be recommending the best performing and most appropriate ones for our clients. We’ve worked hard for our industry reputation — a lot of our clients come to us through referrals, and innovation is a key component in ensuring Periphery stays top-of-mind.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Alex Wan: In the beginning, we took a large dip like most other service-based businesses. There was a lot of uncertainty, and many of our clients reacted accordingly by reducing their ad spend. As the months progressed, we found that digital is something that is very important to our clients — they revisited their initial response and constructed a new plan. As a result, our company actually grew in 2020, and we have our amazing clients and team members to thank for being patient with us through the initial shock.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Alex Wan: We’re proud to say we didn’t lay off any of our team members as a result of the pandemic. In fact, we grew our team by 8 people by the end of the year. The lesson learned from the unexpected year is to be as open and transparent as possible with our team. We didn’t hide any downturns and ensured the team understood what direction we were taking. This built a lot of trust and we’re committed to continuing this method of leadership moving forward.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Alex Wan: We couldn’t have any more in-person client meetings for obvious reasons. We work in an industry that is relatively traditional, and initially, it was a little bit harder to grow the relationships knowing we weren’t going to meet in person. But as time went on and video calls became the norm, things turned out for the better as our team was able to be more efficient in their client initiatives.
As for tools, we mainly use Google Meet and Zoom for client meetings. What was more challenging was internal communications. Like many other companies, we moved to a fully-remote environment and needed to transition all communication processes to ensure the entire team was on the same page. We ramped up our usage of Slack for internal instant messaging, and also Notion for our team wiki and operational documents. We also implemented a new project management tool called Scoro which has greatly improved task organization and scheduling.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Alex Wan: Yes — Canada had a bunch of awesome grants that assisted businesses with the impacts of COVID-19. We took advantage of the wage subsidies and emergency business account loan for a couple of months when our clients pulled back their spending at the beginning. We’re very happy and thankful the Canadian government was able to offer such support for businesses during this time.
Your final thoughts?
Alex Wan: Through the current COVID landscape, it’s been more apparent for us that traditional companies need to rethink their digital strategy, not only from a marketing perspective but also from an internal operations perspective. We’re lucky enough to have a technology-forward team. So, implementing all these new processes and tools was very smooth — we can see why more traditional companies would have a hard time integrating new tech into their business model. It’s definitely accelerated the journey to a digital-first world and companies must take advantage of all the technologies available to them to continue to scale, as it’s evident it will become continuously harder for them if they don’t.