'App Store Optimization Is The Highest Priority'

We sat down with Jason Katz, Vice President of App and Digital Marketing at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


For 15+ years, Jason Katz has built marketing teams and infrastructures to acquire millions of users, hundreds of thousands of loyal paid subscribers, and consistently increase customer lifetime value through data-driven growth and digital creativity for B2C and B2B startups and Fortune 100 companies across all devices including mobile, desktop, and connected TV. He currently leads marketing for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s emerging Consumer digital business.

Ahead of his presentation at the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit this March 21-22 in New York, we sat down with Jason to talk all things digital marketing.

What social media platforms do you find most useful and how are you measuring your success?

Facebook has been the most effective social media platform for both organic and paid advertising in the variety of subscriptions businesses that I’ve managed. The primary measure of success is subscription signups and recurring purchases. The secondary measure of success is reach to proxy brand awareness. As nascent brands like Serve by American Express, Qello Concerts SVOD app, HookLogic (now Criteo Brand Solutions), Curious World mobile app, and GO Math! GO mobile app develop, both of these metrics are important. I don’t like to rely on Facebook alone so wins across other platforms like Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram have been helpful as well. YouTube remains a mystery for driving subscription revenue. Also important to diversity beyond social to platforms like Pandora, Liftoff, etc…

How does your output across the different social media platforms differ and why?

Facebook delivers the most volume; however, Pinterest and Instagram are visually stimulating and bring vitality to the brands which is important especially when building newer brands like Serve by American Express, Qello Concerts SVOD app, HookLogic (now Criteo Brand Solutions), Curious World mobile app, and GO Math! GO mobile app. Have also created some exciting experiences around live events like the Grammy Awards with real-time Tweeting and Facebook posting. YouTube is the leader in video but the rest of the networks are all trying to capture their share.

Why has content marketing seen such growth in recent years? How are you capitalizing on this?

The massive adoption of mobile and social networking makes it easier than ever for audiences to publish and consume content. Good content is at a premium so there’s a great opportunity for brands to break through via content marketing. At HookLogic (now Criteo Brand Solutions), we published eCommerce data and indices for trending categories that were closely followed by the relevant media. On the B2B side. On the B2B side, I have read so many Marketing Technology and Growth Marketing whitepapers with valuable insights from the vendors who want my business. On the B2C side for, players like Buzzfeed, Maker Studios, and Future Today have built empires through content marketing. Qello Concerts and Curious World are content-driven businesses at their core so content marketing is natural; it’s merchandising the services. Going one step further at HMH by creating 'parent tips' editorial for our target mommy audience which is an interest complement.

What advice would you give to brands just beginning their content marketing journey?

Know your audience. Stalk their interests using tools like Buzz Sumo, Moz, Google Keyword Tracker, and Sensor Tower. Write shorter pieces to test hypotheses about engaging topics. Then adapt and rollout longer articles once engaging topics identified with statistical confidence.

What is your SEO strategy and how are you optimizing your websites and eCommerce platforms for search marketing?

Having worked on mobile, desktop, and connected TV, knowing your platform is critical. For mobile apps, App Store Optimization (ASO) is the highest priority and SEO of supplementary websites is secondary. For connected TV, metadata is vast, inflexible, and varies depending on the platforms whether it be Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, FireTV, PlayStation, Xbox, etc. For websites, SEO often hinges on website architecture and flexibility so can easily edit/create pages along with metadata associated therewith. Regardless of the medium, the goals are to takeover search term rankings, merchandise product for max conversion, and gain sufficient adoption for default rankings. Regarding search terms, be as relevant as possible and use long-tail ones where can’t secure top ranking quickly.

How do you maintain brand loyalty and meaningful engagement in the over-crowded digital space?

It starts with finding the right audience for your product or service. Qello Concerts customers grew up attending classic and progressive rock concerts and listened to these artists for their whole lives. When they sign up for a service to watch concerts and music documentaries of these same artists 24/7, you just need to respect the artists and present them with authenticity. HMH’s parent customers are bombarded with kids apps and products. They care for their children 24/7 and have zero free time. At every touchpoint we must reinforce our value and trustworthiness especially relative to the vast competitive landscape with so much world class IP behind it. Curious World is a unique platform of games, books, and videos organized into learning areas by 100yr experts in education encompassing Curious George and his many new friends consisting of high-quality original programming with new releases almost every week. So there’s a really interesting story to tell and the raw ingredients to break through the over-crowded digital space That’s the fun of the job.  

How are you tracking your customers journey and have you seen a change in browsing behaviours? (e.g. move to mobile, two-screens, etc.)

I have used a variety of Marketing Technology spanning from the largest players like Adobe, Google, & Salesforce (incl. Radian6 and Pardot) Marketing Clouds to homegrown solutions to medium sized players like Kochava, Segment, Appboy, Tune, Cheetahmail, Sensor Tower, Yozio, Dotmailer, LeadLander, and more to understand customer behavior. At Qello Media Services, I observed users connecting not only desktop and mobile devices but also connected TV devices. Across companies I observe 40%-80% of users reading email on mobile devices. Across companies, there is always much debate about what functionality should be present in web app (not website) that is duplicative to mobile app – such as billing, content viewer/player, etc... Having worked in subscriptions for a while, there is always a 'moocher' challenge. If there is content in front of the paywall, how do you convert that user. Many of the behaviors that were analyzed on website only or even offline persist into the digital ecosystem. I’d argue it’s becoming more expensive in some instances because Internet-enabled services are costly to maintain when customers regularly adopt so many different platforms for Internet.

How crucial is the role that data plays in your decision-making?

Data is paramount. Valuing customers who download/visit, register, sign up for a free trial, make a first payment, a second payment, and so forth as a result of marketing programs is critical to prioritization. For example, affiliate marketing can be the most dangerous because front-end metrics look excellent but backend, whose visibility can be expensive, can look 180 degrees the opposite. Resources are limited for organizations large (e.g. Fortune 500) and small (startups). So visibility into marketing program results data is essential. Investing in a Customer Data Platform ('CDP' sometimes referred to as Data Management Platform 'DMP' whose primary use case is audience-based media buying) can solve these challenges. A CDP will allow marketers to see farther down the funnel to maximize paid ad performance based on longer term revenue, quantify hard-to-measure organic channels such as push notifications, or measure efforts across a large app portfolio which has become increasingly challenging as many software vendors tend to be setup for single products in single instances rather than consolidated into one portfolio.

Are you personalizing your consumer engagement? If so how? If not, why not?

Always. It just takes time and creativity. At American Express, I worked to extend the pre-approved personalized offer targeting engine best known for its use in direct mail to partner eCommerce websites like airlines and hotels during checkout. At Qello Concerts, I worked to personalize the product experience based on your user acquisition campaign attributes, e.g. if you signed up through a partnership with the Country Music Hall of Fame, we’d serve a custom homepage of curated country concerts and music documentary video to all of your internet connected devices. At HMH, it’s trickier because we cannot track child behavior; however, we can personalize communications with parents so we’ll work on some creative approaches once our Customer Data Platform and X-Channel CRM software are implemented.

What strategies are you using to increase your customer lifetime values?

Strategies can span from paid ad targeting, x-selling additional products, adding new content on a regular basis, and more. With Customer Data Platform and X-Channel CRM software approaches can increase in sophistication and sometimes additional product features can be added more easily.

What do you foresee to be the biggest marketing trends of 2017?

Marketing Technology will continue to become increasingly important in 2017, breaking down data siloes. Breaking Facebook’s and Google’s domination of paid ads will be crucial for brands who are still beholden to their drastic price swings. Growth Marketing is penetrating more areas of organizations and will continue to do so, mobilizing organizations for greater progress.

You can hear more from Jason, along with many other industry leading digital marketing executives, at the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit this March 21-22 in New York.

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