Vivid Ideas 2016: How to Become a Digital Juggernaut like Margaret Zhang

She turned 23 years old the day before talking in front of hundreds at Sydney’s Town Hall. It’s undeniable that Margaret Zhang has achieved more in her young years of living than most could say they have in a lifetime. Her recent Vivid Ideas Game Changers segment encompassed brand differentiation in the digital age, told through Margaret’s personal anecdotes as both a public-facing model cum influencer and from running her own one-woman creative consultancy.  With support and commentary from Time Out Australia editor Alyx Gorman, the conversation that took place on stage was essential in offering insight to creatives and professional communicators who want to learn how to generate engaging content and grow engaged communities.

Here are four key takeaways from career wonder woman Margaret Zhang, on how to nail your brand messaging both offline and online while looking fabulous doing so.

Consumers are leading the charge

Margaret sets the scene with how digital disruption continues to permeate through the creative industry.  The democratisation of technology has enabled the everyman to own channels and the tools to manage them, think iPhoneography and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  As a result, self-publishing is not just possible but effective in allowing one to build their brand and their audience. Added to that is globalisation, a movement made possible also by technology that allows us to be more interconnected than ever to communities across the world.

“Vogue was gospel before, but now if we don’t like what we see we don’t have to tolerate it. It’s the power of choice.”

In contrast, large companies with complex structures and slow approval processes are not proactive or reactive enough to match the demands of the consumer. She uses the publishing world as an example where the lack of agility of most magazines cripples circulation numbers simply because their infrastructure isn’t built to accommodate the need for immediate content consumption. An owned digital channel also has the added benefit of also enabling brands to speak to their audience directly without having to jump through publication hoops.

Know your audience

“Everyone is vying for attention from an audience who’s attention span is 30 seconds.”

More channels also means more noise. Imagine a market with hundreds and thousands of voices peddling their goods; communicators need to be strategic in both how they engage and whom they engage with in order to rise above the cacophony. The tie-in of the two lies in your key messaging, content is currency, what is the value of yours? Margaret talks cameras in this instance, your selling point isn’t the high-resolution megapixel or a laundry list of specifications, it’s what the camera does to empower the user. GoPro, a manufacturer of action-cameras, is a company that’s nailed it she says. GoPro’s extreme action videos have icon status for their ability to demonstrate the lengths you can go and document with a GoPro.

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Having content, one now needs the appropriate channels of distribution to reach your intended audience. Spoiler: having more channels doesn’t equate to winning. We (the actual live audience) have a chuckle as Margaret describes the juxtaposition of Snapchat and certain luxury brands, citing that the idea of Snapchat which humanises and makes a brand more accessible is the complete opposite of the luxury image of prestige and unattainability. Having the right channels isn’t just important with reaching your audience but the channel itself impacts your brand positioning.

Influencers at your own risk

Being an influencer herself, it was surprising to hear Margaret approach the topic gingerly. Yet she spoke in frank terms, stating that engagement and consumption of content is not a numbers game. Partnering up with influencer needs to be more than product placement of a skinny tea or a watch on your wrist, it should be a partnership that speaks to the authenticity and longevity of the relationship. This statement rings true, not least because influencers today command huge amounts of money per Instagram photo (arguably the most common medium with influencers), you want to get the best return on your investment.

“The average lifespan of an Instagram post is 2 hours max. Think about the purported number of eyes that have seen your post, the number whose actually read the caption, then the ones who eventually click on your brand Instagram handle, website, and finally make a purchase. There are simply too many steps to that call to action”

Love your everyday

When asked about maintaining a work-life balance, Margaret posed a question right back, that if you have to consider that there is a separation then you are probably not in the right career. It’s by far one of the most frequently asked questions, how does she juggle the many facets of Margaret, the illustrious profession, the modelling career, the celebrity status, all while simultaneously obtaining a law and commerce double degree at one of Australia’s most prestigious universities? Margaret’s answer is simply time management and determination.

“We’ve all got 24 hours a day and if you think about it, so much of that time is spent just watching TV or sitting on your phone and scrolling through social media. By consolidating all of those black holes of time, you could actually be more productive. And to be perfectly honest, I probably don’t go out as much as the average 23 year old”

It isn’t by any miracle or stroke of good luck that Margaret Zhang is who she is. She’s young, talented, curious and driven to always raise her M-game to the next level across all her businesses. For me personally, my biggest takeaway from the talk is encapsulated in this one final #ZhangQuote,

“The value of your years of experience actually starts to depreciate if you don’t constantly update your knowledge”

Knowledge brings power while resistance to new ideas breeds complacency. In an era of such dynamic change, communicators and creatives need to be on the front foot to embrace technology and innovation together with forward-thinking individuals like Margaret who are leading the charge.

Margaret Zhang spoke at one of this year’s Vivid Ideas “Game-Changers” talks. You can find out more about the talk here.