Step into the captivating world of branding and storytelling with Mahfuz Chowdhury, the Director of Strategy at Candybox Marketing and a recognized thought leader in the marketing and branding space.
For over a decade, Mahfuz has been instrumental in the impressive growth of Candybox Marketing, an agency consistently ranked among Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. His strategic prowess and dedication to the craft have earned him not one but two national awards.
But Mahfuz is more than a strategist; he’s a dynamic public speaker who has shared his wisdom with audiences from industry giants like Microsoft, IBM, KPMG, PwC, and EY, to name a few. He’s even etched his name into the Guinness Book of World Records for his participation in the world’s largest virtual podcast conference.
Mahfuz’s ability to craft compelling narratives and break down complex concepts into actionable insights has made him a sought-after speaker and author. His latest book, “The Resilient Brand: Storytelling in a Digital Era,” explores the profound impact of storytelling on brand authenticity and resonance.
Now, as the host of Canadian Western Bank’s “Growth Decoder” podcast, Mahfuz delves into the journeys of entrepreneurs, unraveling the challenges they’ve faced and the strategies that led them to success.
Join us for an enlightening conversation that delves into the art of storytelling, branding, and personal development. Get ready for a masterclass in creative brand storytelling and the profound influence it wields in today’s digital landscape.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started in your field?
Although I was never a top-performing student at school, my hunger for learning was at an all-time high.
While attending university, a marketing professor divided our class into groups and tasked us with launching a fictional footwear company. While bringing this brand and strategy to life, I found myself having the time of my life!
This curiosity led to searching for Toronto marketing firms, on LinkedIn, in hopes of landing an internship. I narrowed my list to the ones that looked like a great fit and started messaging the CEOs one at a time. This resulted in an opportunity to intern for a two-year-old agency called Candybox Marketing.
Working at the agency gave me the opportunity to get my feet in digital marketing and create marketing strategies for businesses in various industries.
The internship was highly successful and resulted in being offered a full-time position at the company. I’ve now been with Candybox Marketing for over 12 years and worked my way up into the Director of Strategy position at the agency.
During these dozen years, I’ve helped grow the company into an award-winning national brand, with over 40 team members between our Toronto and Halifax studios.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?
The topic of ‘shiny object syndrome’ gets discussed a lot these days, which refers to the ongoing thoughts that there is something new worth pursuing.
As someone whose heart rate rises with excitement whenever I do creative work, these thoughts are a never-ending dilemma. I often found myself craving to try a different career path or work on something new rather than put my energy into finishing what I already started.
I’ve been able to overcome these challenges by putting these cravings to good use. While focusing on the agency’s success, I would take my learnings and put them into practice by launching side projects and personal initiatives. This resulted in delivering over 20 keynote talks per year, publishing two books on brand storytelling, and releasing three seasons of my podcast show.
To bring it full circle, I would use these new-found skills and pour them back into the agency’s success. This has resulted in growth for Candybox, new ideas for our clients, and plenty of opportunities for me to flex my creativity muscle within the organization.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned throughout your career, and how have they influenced your approach to leadership?
I can say with full confidence that I wouldn’t be where I am today without becoming aggressively curious.
This means taking advantage of the endless supply of resources available online to sharpen your skills or further explore ideas.
Some say ‘curiosity kills the cat,’ but I think that curiosity builds the cat.
You can learn how to build an entire website from scratch by watching one tutorial on YouTube.
You can learn how to approach career roadblocks by following someone else’s journey on a single ‘Ask Me Anything’ Reddit thread.
You can find unique insights and solutions by searching on Google with one query.
You can produce a step-by-step guide to deconstructing any roadblock with a single prompt on ChatGPT.
The list goes on, and goes on for a long time!
Understanding the value of ongoing professional development has translated into my leadership style, where my team is encouraged to spend dedicated time researching better solutions and sharing them with others through lunch & learns, weekly huddles, and individual mentorship. We also conclude each project by reverse engineering the experience and identifying: what to start doing, what to stop doing, and what to keep doing.
These practices have become a norm at Candybox and have created an environment where team members actively seek learning opportunities and use them to elevate others in their careers.
One thing that people don’t know about you and not listed on your LinkedIn profile?
I am a heavy introvert. I suppose this could have also been highlighted as another one of the biggest challenges in my career. This industry requires a lot of energy and social interactions which weren’t something I was prepared to do at the beginning of my career. It has taught me to manage my day-to-day energy and become purposeful about doing what I love every single day.
What advice would you give to young professionals or entrepreneurs who are just starting out in your field?
Along with constantly feeding your curiosity, my biggest advice would be to build marketing experience in your spare time. We are lucky to be in an industry where your resume can be built with passion projects and personal initiatives.
Even though Candybox Marketing was my first step into the Marketing world, I didn’t go into the interview empty-handed. I brought my laptop and showed the blog website I built to demonstrate my understanding of basic website development and content writing practices. I opened up Google Analytics to discuss the traffic that I generated to the website to showcase my understanding of marketing data. I walked through my Twitter feed to put my passion for social media on full display. These were the portfolio pieces that I used to show the value I could bring to the agency.
Pick a topic that you are passionate about. Create a social media account around this passion and build an audience. Create a website to publish blog articles about the topic. Launch a podcast show to share your ideas around the topic.
Not sure how to start? Refer to my answer to Question 3.
The combination of being aggressively curious and transforming these ideas into action will allow you to thrive in this industry. I promise.
Mahfuz Chowdhury, your journey is nothing short of inspiring. From a determined student with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge to the Director of Strategy at one of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies, Candybox Marketing, you’ve shown that perseverance and curiosity can reshape destinies.
Your relentless pursuit of learning led you to Candybox Marketing, where your internship swiftly blossomed into a thriving 12-year career. Your impact is undeniable as you played a pivotal role in the agency’s transformation into a nationally recognized brand with a team of over 40 professionals across two studios.
Facing the allure of “shiny object syndrome,” you conquered this challenge by harnessing your creative energy to inspire others. Keynote talks, two books on brand storytelling, and hosting a podcast—your prolific journey showcases the power of channeling curiosity into action.
Your leadership approach, rooted in relentless curiosity, has created an environment where your team at Candybox thrives. By fostering ongoing professional development and knowledge sharing, you’ve empowered your colleagues to excel and elevate their careers.
Surprisingly, beneath your accomplished exterior, you’re a heavy introvert. Your journey highlights the importance of self-awareness and purposeful energy management in a field demanding social interactions.
For young professionals and entrepreneurs entering the marketing realm, your advice is a goldmine. Embrace your passions, build your digital presence, and let curiosity be your compass. Your story is a testament to the limitless potential that lies within each of us.
Thank you, Mahfuz, for sharing your remarkable insights and journey with us.
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