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CMWorld Interview: H&R Block’s Zerlina Jackson Explores Marketing in the Financial Sector

Marketers in financial industries are in the midst of a major digital transformation.

Apps and mobile experience have become not a “nice to have” but a requirement from consumers. Additionally, financial institutions have started investing heavily in user experience for their web properties to focus on customers first.

The team at H&R Block has taken digital transformation to the next level by utilizing the artificial intelligence from IBM Watson to help tax preparers dig deeper and help customers save money.

To gain a better understanding of what it’s like to work in marketing at a financial institution, I reached out to Zerlina Jackson, Director of Web Experience at H&R Block. Zerlina has nearly eight years of marketing experience in the financial sector and was able to shed some light on topics that are top of mind for nearly every marketer.

Zerlina will be presenting at Content Marketing World this September and was kind enough to provide insights into what her role at H&R Block entails, what it truly takes to create an exceptional customer experience and some takeaways from her presentation at the conference.

What does your role as Director of Web Experience at H&R Block entail? What does your day look like? What do you like best?

I manage the strategy and day to day operations for hrblock.com, blockadvisors.com, and other pre-authentication web properties that influence client conversion. We focus on two strategic disciplines to optimize our web experiences; driving traffic and closing traffic. Our driving traffic strategy consist of developing programs to ensure our information is found beyond hrblock.com (i.e. google quick answers, local listings, optimizations for SEO). While our closing traffic strategy ensures that our prospects and clients have the best experience possible when engaging with our web properties.

At H&R Block, no two days are the same. One of the things that surprises most people is that we’re developing things year-round. In a typical day, I could develop a web strategy plan, consult on user experiences and designs, develop a project plan, analyze program results, evaluate new technologies, and meet with business/agency partners. We definitely keep ourselves pretty busy. But the best part of my job is that I get to work with an amazing team of smart people every day that are all in a constant pursuit of excellence. And we get to do some really cool stuff.

How have the other positions you’ve held in your career impacted how you approach digital marketing today?

I’ve been lucky to work for some amazing organizations. I started my career at Domino’s Pizza and I worked with some of the most innovative digital marketers around (ordering a pizza online changed lives). The great thing about Domino’s (besides the fact that there was an official company cheer) was that we were in uncharted territory. It was great to be part of a team that was doing something that hadn’t been conquered before and there wasn’t a blueprint.

At PNC I worked managing the website for the Corporate & Institutional Banking business which was very different from selling pizzas online. The sales cycles for closing a Corporate Banking deal was years, and the needs of the clients were much different. The website didn’t play a major role in the sales cycle but provided bankers with the information needed for client engagement.

Although both roles were different (Dominos with fast consumer sales cycle vs. PNC with slower business sales cycle), I learned a valuable lesson from both. At Domino’s & PNC it was all about develop the best possible experience for clients to ensure that you maximized conversion. The conversions were clearly different at each organization, but the notion of ensuring that the digital experience is optimized to the client, has stuck with me throughout my career.

What do you think it really takes to create an exceptional client experience in today’s fast-paced and overloaded digital world?

Take the 3 second rule of capturing a user’s attention before they bounce from a website, combine that with the new normal of simultaneous device use, and it creates quite a challenge for UX designers. However, I believe in keeping things simple. The two questions we ask prior to creating any experience is:

  1.    What does the user want to know or do?
  2.    How can we meet their goals with the least amount of friction (easy to understand / easy to take action)?

We keep everything focused on our user goals and then align business goals to those experiences. Once we create an experience, we constantly validate our theories through testing and optimization programs.

Has there been a defining moment in your career that you credit for your success and if so, what was it?

Prior to entering the web world I was working in IT and completing my Master’s degree when I took a marketing course and fell in love. I moved to the digital team because I thought it would be a great way to combine those two passions. Then I decided to go work in the financial industry at the height of the financial crisis (not the smartest decision I’ve ever made). There I met a mentor who challenged me to grow my UX skills. And then I came to H&R Block to challenge myself again and continue to grow in a new direction. So, I don’t think I would say there was one defining moment, but several small moments that has allowed me to do amazing things with amazing people.

Do you have any advice for other marketers who are making the transition from content creation and strategy to a marketing leadership role like yours?

It can be a difficult transition to go from program executer and actual SME to leader and supporter of SMEs. You must let go of having all the answers (project statuses, timelines, and details) and trust your team so that they can do their best work. My advice would be to lean into your new role of learning how to develop people, clear roadblocks, influence executives, etc. and allow your team to lean into their new roles as well. You’re going to make mistakes and that’s ok but have that same level of grace with people who are learning your old position. Someone once told me, “Just because your title changed doesn’t mean you are a leader. Leadership is developed with each interaction within and outside of your team.” I’ve always found that to be a helpful reminder that how I represent myself, represents my team.

In your presentation at Content Marketing World you’ll be sharing the insights into how content marketing and agency collaboration can drive qualified traffic. Without giving it all away, what are 3 things attendees will learn from your session?

We can’t wait to share some of our learnings from this season! Three things we want attendees to walk away with are:

  1.    Why this initiative was a vital part of the overall H&R Block content strategy and how it may be applicable to your organization as well.
  2.    Tight deadlines, competing priorities, and dev restrictions were all challenges that we had to overcome. We want to share how we brought it all together.
  3.    How to be innovative and experiment without disrupting your normal workflow.

Which speaker presentations are you looking forward to most at Content Marketing World 2017?

This is such a great lineup it’s hard to choose but I honestly can’t wait to hear from Colson Whitehead.

Want More?

Thank you for sharing your insights and expertise with us Zerlina!

If you’d like to learn more from Zerlina and 14 of her fellow Content Marketing World speakers, check out the final eBook in our series, In-Flight Content Guide: Making the Most of Your Content Journey.


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