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Amrita Chandra

Head of Marketing at CrowdRiff

Amrita Chandra is the Head of Marketing at CrowdRiff in Toronto. Amrita and I first met at a design event a couple of years back and have stayed in touch over the course of her last two roles. She shares how she ended up in marketing, what she believes is the best starting point for a marketing team in any industry and gets really honest about finding meaning in marketing roles. Having worked in marketing her whole career, Amrita shares what she loves most about the discipline and also what she finds most challenging. Her points around knowing when it's time to make a career change and finding meaning in her work are some of my favourite parts from our chat.

Tell me a little bit about your role and what it encompasses.

I’m the head of marketing at CrowdRiff, which basically means that I lead our marketing efforts. We mainly work with people in the tourism and hospitality industries - destinations, hotels, museums. Our tool allows marketers to find photos that people are sharing of their cities, get permission to use those photos and then bring those visuals into their own marketing. So future travelers see a blend of authentic and aspirational photography. It is a dream role in that I get to work at the intersection of many of my interests - travel, photography, social media and marketing.

Marketing’s role is to make sure that we reach the people who have challenges our product can solve and that once they have heard about us, to work with sales to generate revenue for our company.

My role within the team is to make sure that as a team we work on the right things, and are able to measure the impact of what we do, and demonstrate how we’ve helped the company grow.

What is a major aspect of your work that you don’t think people realize?

I feel like marketing is definitely misunderstood because conceptually it’s very easy. In theory, it’s not neuroscience but in practice, it can be complex. People often think marketing is just about tactics. The reality is that to do marketing well, you need to start with a deep understanding of your customers and find that overlap between what your customers need and what your company offers.

I feel people think marketing is just about sending out tweets or running an ad. There is a lot more thought behind it than I think people know.

“Part of my challenge is figuring out effort versus impact. Sometimes you want to do certain things but you realize they’re not actually going to make much of a difference.”

Once you feel you have an understanding of your customer, how do you go about deciding where to put your marketing efforts?

I started at CrowdRiff just a few weeks ago, and luckily the team had done some research already on our customers. We had a sense of the different ways in which they go about buying software like ours. Beyond that, we looked at what they do in their jobs, and what they’re trying to get done that maybe has nothing to do with us specifically but give us some context to how our product helps them overall.

For example, we know that marketing folks in large destinations are always trying to keep on top of what’s new in the industry and find ways to innovate. Whereas a smaller city is interested to know how they can do more with a smaller team and budget. One of the things we aim to help them do is just find that information.

We know that we can meet them at conferences, we know that there are a very small number of publications that they read. One of the things we can do is to connect our expertise around visual content with their desire to engage visitors. Part of my challenge is figuring out effort versus impact. Sometimes you want to do certain things but you realize they’re not actually going to make much of a difference. Even if they’re easy and you can get them done in a week, it won’t really make a worthwhile impact.

It’s a balance of thinking short term versus long term. You need to do both. We’re a venture-funded company, we have certain goals that we want to meet. At the same time, we need to be thinking beyond the next three months. Making sure we are setting a foundation that will help us grow for a long time.

One concrete thing I do is put together a map - a buyer journey not unlike what designers use for user journeys. I look at how people move through their day and move through their career. Then I list out what their information needs are, who are the people they listen or pay attention to, what channels are they in, or where are their watering holes? To be honest, doing that work makes my job as a marketer so much easier because there are things I can rule out right away and then other things I know I need to do for sure. I think most people skip that part and that’s why it feels like it’s hard to choose from all the different tools and tactics.

It seems very much like a mix of being an art and a science.

Totally. I think everyone is talking about marketing as a science but I still enjoy the art of marketing too. There is so much conversation now about growth hacking and performance based marketing, which is great but I still think there is so much power in storytelling - like the Ways We Work site. I don’t think the power of storytelling has gone away, we are still humans that have emotions and great stories and visuals can connect with people on an emotional level.

“Earlier in my career, one of the things I didn't like was coming up with products that I didn't really feel added much value to people's lives. It was almost forcing the demand to exist. Whereas in technology, I feel like an app can make your life easier if it's a good one.”

How did you end up in marketing? Did you go to school for it?

I’ve always been a marketer, I’ve never done anything else. I remember, I had a cousin who was doing his MBA when I was a teenager and I was always fascinated by his marketing classes. He was actually developing packaging and messaging around particular products. For some reason I was drawn to that right away, I think it was partly the packaging aspect. I was probably as interested in the design as I was in the marketing.

I was also drawn to the communication aspect. I liked the idea of having to figure out how to talk about things that people are going to want to listen to. But I didn't really know how to become a marketer because I didn't really have a lot of exposure to that world. I actually went and did an economics degree first, which I totally regret.

Then I did my MBA at a great school in Boston. My MBA was my first real exposure to marketing. In between doing my undergrad and my MBA, I started working in marketing with Nestle. They're amazing marketers. That was a great first introduction to good marketing fundamentals. Also working in a company where marketing was really valued. That's how I got started.

I think the only thing for me that's changed is I've changed industries. I started off in consumer packaged goods. Then I joined the tech industry. A lot of the fundamentals are the same. I think the tactics are different but there are some basics that apply no matter what industry you are in. I love working in tech and I love what tech does for people's lives. Earlier in my career, one of the things I didn't like was coming up with products that I didn't really feel added much value to people's lives. It was almost forcing the demand to exist. Whereas in technology, I feel like an app can make your life easier if it's a good one. A lot of the stuff we were doing in packaged goods was how to get people to buy more chocolate flavored coffee. I wasn't that excited about that in the long term.

What do you find the most challenging about the work you’re doing?

The thing that stands out to me is that we’re a young company and there’s so much we need to do. It’s about being able to sit down and say, “Okay, what are the things that will really make a difference because we can’t afford to do everything today.” I feel in general at startups and every startup I’ve been at, that’s always been the struggle. Even the things that you know are going to work for you, you just can’t do it all. You have to prioritize.

One of the first things I said to our team when I came in was that I would actually be giving them less to do. To stop doing the things that just aren’t a priority at the moment. I felt like there was some discomfort around that at the beginning, because you worry if you’ll be less valuable. But already in the first few weeks, I’ve already had team members come back and say, “It’s great, we can focus, and we’re getting so much stuff done.” It was such a good feeling and I realized that’s something we just need to keep doing.

We’re still in our early days so there is so much we need to do. It’s just about balancing short term needs like - the sales team is going to a conference, so how do I make sure they’re as successful as they can be? While at the same time making sure we set up our inbound marketing, which takes a long time to start working and bringing people in. We don’t want to be six months from now wishing we had started it. So I would say in summary, balancing the short term and the long term goals, that’s definitely my biggest challenge.

How do you know, on a personal level, when it's time to take on a new challenge or start something new?

For me, that time has come several times over my career. I've been working for a long time, so I've been in a number of different roles. I think fundamentally it's when I feel like I'm not learning anymore, or when I'm not pushing myself. If things start becoming too routine, I usually feel like that's when I know. Usually, I try to look within the company to see if I can grow there. Can I take on more responsibility? Can we go beyond what we are doing now?

But sometimes that's just not possible. I've been at companies where they don't want to invest more in marketing, or other departments have more priority, and so that's just kind of where they are. I've worked for one company which - I didn't really totally understand this when I joined - but I realized while I was there that it was really more of a lifestyle business for the owners.

There was nothing wrong with that but it meant that it wasn’t the right place for me. I’m a very ambitious person and I want to keep growing. I don't work to just make money. I really love what I do, I want to learn. If I feel like I'm just kind of maintaining things over and over and we aren’t really doing anything new, that's usually a sign for me that I've either got to find that in a side project or I've got to figure out a way to do it in my role. Whether that's in the same company or at a different company.

“You can grow your company and still take vacation, still sleep at night and still feel really good about what you’re doing.”

Do you ever find yourself feeling disconnected from your work or experiencing burnout? How do you deal with that?

I’ve never felt disconnected from my work because work is a big party of my identity. I love work, but I have definitely felt burnt out. I’ve had times in my life where what we are trying to do and the resources we have to do it are just so mismatched. That can definitely happen in startups.

It’s one thing if it’s temporary, but if it goes on too long, that’s when burnout can happen. I was at one place where it went on for at least a year, our staff were just constantly working crazy hours and the environment wasn’t very positive. I definitely felt burnt out at that particular point in time.

So I feel like my goal is learning how to work less while still doing great work. For me, it’s about learning to set some of those boundaries and make sure that I don’t just work all the time. I work in an industry, that industry being startups, where there is this culture of it being 24/7, and I’ve seen a lot of conversations around equating being a workaholic with being a hustler in a good way. I think that’s unhealthy and I don’t think it’s necessary. You can grow your company and still take vacation, still sleep at night and still feel really good about what you’re doing.

I also think it’s important for people to think about that when they choose where to work. What kind of life do you want to have? I’m in my 40s now so my priorities are different from when I was in my 20s.

What are the main tools that make up your workflow right now?

Trello - I've been coming back to using Trello because it's something we are using at CrowdRiff, and we are power Trello users so I have become a power Trello user. I never loved it but I'm learning to love it and it's actually working okay for me now.

X.ai Virtual Assistant - It's so funny, because it's just a little tool for scheduling meetings. Scheduling meetings is one of those things that just interrupts your day all the time, going back and forth with people over e-mail to figure out a time to meet, especially when they are outside the company and they don't see your calendar.

CrowdRiff - Of course I use CrowdRiff at work. I use it for sourcing photos for our blog posts and campaigns.

Tweet Deck - I love Twitter. There are things about it that have changed, obviously it's become less social, but I'm still very social on Twitter in particular. There are so many interesting conversations going on that I can follow. I use Tweet Deck because it allows me to kind of follow people on Twitter that match different interests. I actually have a Tweet Deck list of what I call interesting people, which is a private list. I just do it to make sure that interesting people are still on my radar so that I'm not just in a bubble and not only paying attention to work related stuff.

Receipt Bank - Again a small thing, but this tool has changed my life. It's basically an app where you can take photos of your receipts. It automatically scans what's in them and sends them into your accounting system. It's great, we use it at CrowdRiff and I had used it when I was a consultant. It's amazing, it means I don't have to hang onto my paper receipts anymore.

“The word meaningful kind of trips me up a bit, because on some level, marketing doesn't feel very meaningful. But I think why I do what I do is to bring meaning and thoughtfulness into marketing.”

Having worked in so many different roles, have you developed a good routine or structure for your day that really works for you?

I have what I call a loose routine. I’m don’t believe every second of your day needs to be productive. That stuff turns me off actually. I really like having some breathing room and spontaneity in my day.

One of the best things that I do now is use Trello. Our whole team does this now, and we have a top three label that we apply to our Trello boards. I have a Trello board that I organize by week, so in a given week I know the main things I need to get done. There are some projects that take multiple weeks so I'll just move those over week to week. But I find that top three label has been really helpful to me, because it's so easy to get distracted. There are a lot of little things that can take your attention away in a given week. Every morning I look at it and just make sure that I’m progressing those top three things forward. That’s been really helpful.

The other thing which has helped me is something I just started doing in the last couple of years. I've been doing a lot more writing for work, so it’s so helpful to just block off a whole afternoon or big chunks of time where I don't book meetings. I block it off as a meeting in my calendar so that I can just put on my headset or go into another room and not be interrupted and do that sort of focused work.

Writing, in particular, long form content, I cannot do it in spurts. I need that long chunk of time. I think when you work in an office environment, there are always demands on your day. Now especially with Slack anyone can just interrupt you at any moment. I find that I need periods where I just turn everything off. That's helped me as well.

Why do you do what you do, why is it meaningful to you?

The word meaningful kind of trips me up a bit, because on some level, marketing doesn't feel very meaningful. But I think why I do what I do is to bring meaning and thoughtfulness into marketing. I think you can market a product or a company in a thoughtful way.

At the end of the day, people do need “things” to make their lives function, and to make their lives fun and entertaining and delightful. I do what I do so that hopefully the things that people need they are able to find them easily, and they’re able to choose to do business with companies that meet their needs or align with their values. But I would say that I think marketing is not the most meaningful profession.

It's something I actually struggle with, is how do I find meaning in my life when the relative meaning of my work is maybe less obvious than if I was a nurse or if I was a firefighter or something like that. But still, I love my work and I love what I do because it’s intellectually challenging and can also be incredibly creative. I find that my work doesn't have to be everything, that I can live a meaningful life, and I do a lot outside of my work that has a lot of meaning. I volunteer, I try to be a good friend, I try to be a good wife. All of those things to me are what makes life meaningful. It's kind of a long winded answer to a good question, but I don't have any grand illusions about marketing being the most meaningful profession, and that's okay.

Who would you want to see on Ways We Work?

Andrea Carson Barker - She’s a good friend of mine and an all around interesting person. She started the first, contemporary art criticism blog for Canadian art. She ran that blog for years. But now she is doing a web series called Artland where she tells these little stories about some of the lesser known people in the art world, like the people who hang shows, or people who are collecting who might not look like a typical collector. She is just an all around great art advocate.