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'We say no a lot', says The Woke Salaryman co-founder on brand partnerships

'We say no a lot', says The Woke Salaryman co-founder on brand partnerships

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When Wei Choon Goh started The Woke Salaryman, a webcomic focusing on personal finance, back in 2019, he did so simply to earn more money and to understand the world of finance himself. 

"Before we started, I was grappling with debt from my university undergraduate programme," said Goh in a fireside chat at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Content360 conference in Singapore.

"I would always ask my co-founder, He Ruiming, for advice because he knows a lot more about personal finance than I do, and he would show me this website which had a lot of financial acronyms that I didn't understand."

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Goh added that as a visual learner, he wished there was a sort of "personal finance manga" that he could use to get started but that it did not exist. This was how The Woke Salaryman was born. 

"The original plan was to make a Facebook page talking about personal finance and get that to about 25,000 followers. Then we wanted to sell that as a workshop," said Goh. "The idea being that if we can make something so boring as personal finance accessible and to then organically grow a page to 25,000 followers, that we could teach brands how to make and grow their own organic community."

However, the web-comic did so well that soon, Goh and He realised that there was a better way to make money with the comic and that was through sponsored content which, today, is one of the main ways the company makes money. 

However, as anyone familiar with The Woke Salaryman would know, it is very selective and subtle with its sponsorships and with how it curates content. Below, Goh breaks down how The Woke Salaryman handles brand partnerships, how it handles talking about the sensitive issue of money and how it manages to keep its brand identity strong despite working with a multitude of clients. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: A large part of social media is also about trying new things and you're experimenting with your content and brand partnership styles and seeing what sticks. What was the journey like for you to create content that makes a difference, and that people can remember? 

Goh: I think we are able to resonate with people because my co-founder writes about things that annoy him. If people are being bullish about something that’s stupid, it makes him want to write about it. In that case, it makes him very charged because he’s just thinking about societal issues and misconceptions that everybody is thinking about.

When sponsors come in, we do something like gymnastics where we think about how we make what we have to say organically work with the brief.

If that doesn’t work out, even if the products are good, sometimes we might say no because it doesn't quite fit, or the timing does not work.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  It's also very important that the content also aligns with your brand identity. How do you make sure that your content aligns with your brand identity while you're working with clients? 

Goh: Honestly, the answer is, we say no, a lot.  And we can say no a lot because our team is small. So, we don't publish a lot. At most we publish twice a week.

What we have found is that you get to this crossroad of being an influencer when the option of money starts coming to you and you get offers.

The questions is, do I stick to my values and reject products, that are not aligned with my values? Or do I just take it and make money, run my reputation to the ground in the next few years but I earn millions. 

We are not saying we are above these brand partnerships, but we choose the long game. 

We turned a lot of money down by doing that but its better because we can earn money for a longer time. It’s been five years now, maybe next year we go out of business, but so far it has been working. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Doesn't saying no sometimes ruin relationships with sponsors?

Goh: The interesting thing is that we have gotten correspondences from big companies, and we say no despite the big budgets that influencers will typically say yes to. The funny thing about big companies is that people rotate in and out. So, if people from a new department come in and they need to get a campaign brief done and it suits us, they will ask us again. 

Also, we hope to eventually wean off sponsored content because we are still primarily functioning off them. There's nothing wrong with them but we want to diversify our income stream. For example, we have a book out titled ‘The Woke Salaryman Book: Crash Course on Capitalism & Money’.

We are also trying to keep our team small. Scaling too fast is problem startups have but we have to do more with less people.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Aside from brand partnerships, The Woke Salaryman also tends to focus on things that people are particularly passionate about. How do you balance and deal with varied and sometimes strong feedback?

Goh: My co-founder does a lot of correspondence on Instagram which is great for us when it comes to engagement. Facebook is changing a little bit. Not saying that it is not relevant. TikTok is too young for us, and we have somebody younger handling that for us.

Answering direct messages is a tiring thing especially on your mental health because we say a lot of things and we take a stand on things. And a lot of times, people disagree. It's hard for us because we try to be in the middle.

Some people think we aren’t being 'alpha' enough, not aggressive. And some people think we are too safe. As we get attacked by both sides, we need to realise that that’s part of our job as content creators, to be able to read feedback, process it, filter through and not let negativity get to us too much.  

Nowadays, we also don’t try to put things out with a high turnaround time. We give it two weeks to see where it goes. While the tradeoff is that we miss out on scoops and being the first reactors, on the flip side, you rarely trigger the people.

It’s like when you want to tell your friend something, you don’t tell them on the spot when you might be too brutally honest. We try to look for the right time to say things. 

Join us on 12 June 2024 for an exciting experience as Content360 makes its debut in Malaysia! Brace yourself to join the crème de la crème of the content marketing industry hailing from across the region. Immerse yourself in a dynamic atmosphere, and uncover the latest trends with thought leaders and solution providers from the realm of content.

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It's a woke world: How can brands manage brand image while taking a stand?

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