Spark Interview: See the Marketing Forest, Not the Trees.

Jerri Helms, Senior Director at Harper Collins, shares her diverse knowledge on how to zoom out and take in the bigger picture of your marketing strategy.
Rachel Kador
September 12, 2019 - 6 min. read

When you’re on the ground in the nitty-gritty of social media marketing, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees.  
Seasoned marketing pros know that it’s important to take a step back once in a while and assess the bigger picture. One way to do that is through a formal social media audit, which forces marketers to revisit their original goals and strategies and take a hard look at what’s working — and what’s not.  
Jerri Helms, Senior Director of Digital Marketing Initiatives at HarperCollins Publishers, knows all about zooming out. She is both a subject matter specialist and a marketing leader at one of the biggest publishing houses in the world, which means she needs to be able to manage daily marketing tasks as well as contextualize long-term strategies. 
Any marketer worth their salt needs to be able to do the same — and that’s why we’re so excited to have Jerri at Spark, our digital marketing conference, in November. She will lead a discussion on how to conduct a DIY Social and SEO audit, full of practical tips and a clear roadmap for implementation.  
In the meantime, we sat down with Jerri to ask about her broad marketing experience, from mapping the customer journey and reaching niche audiences, to her top tips for selling on Amazon. Check out her answers below.  

To come see Jerri speak — and all the other amazing Spark speakers — get your ticket now. Early Bird tickets are available until September 30, 2019.

Q: At HarperCollins, your team provides guidance to other marketing teams on subjects such as email marketing, Amazon PPC and social media management, just to name a few. What steps are you taking to guarantee that your digital marketing activities are aligned with the buyer’s journey? 

A: The most important part of aligning our digital marketing activity to the buyer journey is to know the personas of our most likely potential buyers. If you don’t know who you’re talking to, how do you know what is important to them? Or their potential timeline to make a decision? Or what type of content might be helpful in the process?  

From there we make sure that the content strategy is based upon where each of those targeted personas are in their journey. Then we do our best to plan for the delivery of the most applicable content for where the buyer is and set appropriate KPIs to gauge success.  Every persona’s journey is different, and research (plus experience) tells us that it often takes multiple touchpoints (in various combinations) along that path to conversion.  

I’d like to tell you that mapping that journey is a linear process straight through the funnel — but it is NOT! Sometimes it wanders a bit…and if we listen along the way we can pivot to meet them where they are. 
Q: Proper targeting likely plays a key role in aligning your digital marketing activities with the buyer’s journey, but you must have some pretty niche audiences you are targeting at HarperCollins. What advice can you give other marketers looking to identify or reach niche audiences?  

A: If you know your personas there are many tools that help you to find look-alike audiences to expand those niche audiences. But if you are starting from scratch or looking for new ones, the most important way to identify those niche audiences is to do your research!  The “spray and pray” approach is generally a waste of your time and resources.  So to hone in on a new audience, here are some questions to ask yourself: 

  • What would the passions and interests be of the audience you want to go after?
  • How does what you have solve a problem they may have? 
  • What sites do they frequent?
  • What do competitor sites do well with content-wise? Any holes? 
  • Who are the influencers in that space?

Then, using tools such as Alexa’s “audience overlap/interest tool,” social listening (i.e Falcon, queries, forums, alerts, etc.), competitive keyword tools, SEO & topic trends, in-field research, etc. you can hone in and identify your niche targets in order to develop social content structured around that particular group’s needs and desires. 
Q: Roles within digital marketing are becoming more and more specialized as the customer journey becomes fragmented across an ever-expanding landscape of platforms. Given headcount and budget restraints, this makes building the ideal marketing team impossible for many organizations. If you were recruiting for a newly formed marketing team, what profiles would you be looking for? 

A: Marketers these days are expected to be a “jack of all trades.” and they are often stretched in every single direction.  Trying to find a marketer who is current in every single aspect of what is taking place in the digital marketing space is a tall order for any company.  

We have chosen to create a marketing operations team, in addition to product marketing teams, where there is someone who goes “deep” in a specific area of digital marketing. yet understands the impact and strategic purpose of how that particular area interacts and impacts other marketing areas.  This helps us to raise all the ships through education, practical application and strategic planning.   

Therefore, when looking at a profile for a potential new hire it is critical to find someone with a true passion for the particular area they will handle – whether that be SEO, Social, PPC, copywriting, etc. And in addition to being masters at their craft, I strive to hire people who are naturally curious, have a “how can I help” attitude, are motivated self-starters and who have a true desire to look beyond what is in front of them (and working well now) in order to prepare for what is next. 
Q: Obviously, in order to evaluate whether a marketing team is functioning properly, you need to be tracking certain KPIs. Most marketing teams are probably keeping a close eye on traffic, bounce rate, engagement, etc., but is there any unique metric that your team is tracking that others may not have thought of?  

A: Most teams probably look after the same KPI’s we do whether at a high level or down to campaign specifics. We find it helpful to look deeper into site analytics available to us (both internal and external) to identify areas for improvement.   

As you can imagine, book publishers are constantly launching new products so the catalog continues to grow and grow which can make it quite challenging when evaluating where to focus our energy. Therefore, one metric we like to deep dive on and monitor closely is page views vs. conversions to help us evaluate products and sort them into “buckets” based upon various types of attention they may need. Employing this type of evaluation with a little data science saves us a lot of time and helps keep us focused on where we have the best chances for conversion improvements! 
Q: As most B2C e-commerce businesses have come to realize, maintaining a presence on Amazon is essential. What one piece of advice do you wish you had been given before you started marketing products on Amazon? 

A: This is an easy one! I would have wanted to understand what impacts the “A9 algorithm” on Amazon because that is critical to a retailer’s success with them.  

Many people don’t think of Amazon as a search engine, but it is actually number one and has surpassed Google for shoppers. Nearly 56% of US, UK, German and French shoppers are using Amazon as a starting point.  So the biggest mistake anyone can make is to assume that search on Amazon works the same as it does on the web. 

Unlike Google, Bing and Yahoo (which all take into account outside measurements of authority) Amazon uses internal measurements, along with your provided metadata, to determine your organic rankings in their search.  So take the time to research what matters to A9 and never assume that your SEO tactics for regular search engines will work the same on Amazon!