Amy Hu grew up in Kansas City, where her parents settled after emigrating from Taiwan. After a college career on the East Coast, to her surprise she ended up back in Kansas City when she was recruited by H&R Block to lead its direct marketing program.
Since 2013, Ms. Hu has served as director of interactive marketing and online media for H&R Block. Her team is responsible for online program strategy, media buying and measurement, as well as international online marketing. Under her leadership, H&R Block's digital team has implemented new online segmentations and launched multichannel attribution measurement.
Ms. Hu is recognized as a trailblazer for leading the development of H&R Block's online lead-generation program and for her fierce commitment to data and analytics, including her use of advanced attribution tools. She has been praised for her attention to the details of digital campaigns and their effect on user experience and brand perception, but also for her big-picture view—of how her media partners can work together for the optimum mix, for instance.
Q: As a Digital Trailblazer, you're doing outstanding work to further digital marketing. Why have you chosen digital as the focus of your career or day-to-day job?
Ms. Hu: I started in traditional marketing—direct mail and database marketing. Originally I was more on the analytics side, then I migrated to the sales side, then to the database/direct mail side. Somehow, database marketing landed me in digital. I always say digital marketing is nothing but smart marketing meeting technology. That's what I tell people new to digital marketing: You know more than you think.
Q: Tell us about a moment in your career that was pivotal and why it affected you so strongly.
Ms. Hu: When I was 9 or 10 years old, I began cooking in my parents' Chinese restaurant. For me that experience was all about learning that you had to prepare in advance—that a lot of success is built on hard work and preparation. As a chef, once you have your prep work done—chopping all your vegetables, preparing all your garnishes and ingredients—you can cook anything. You can improvise. For me, that was a pivotal moment: learning that your ability to improvise, to pivot and think critically, was based on good preparation.
Q: You have received plaudits for H&R Block's lead-generation program. How important is regularly growing your customer base, and what role does data management play in building and maintaining that base?
Ms. Hu: Customer acquisition is the most important thing we do. We have 98% brand awareness. We are at the point where our data allows us to be surgical. That is why I love digital: Data meets technology meets personalization. We can be so surgical now that we don't want to buy cookies—we want to buy profiles. The convergence of all the data we have allows us to learn and test quickly. We use technology in innovative ways so we can be efficient, get conversions at the lowest cost and greatest effectiveness.
Q: Your media partners say you deserve applause for paying attention to the small details of ad campaigns, such as ad frequency and the online environment your ads appear in. How important are these details in the overall success of an effort and, most importantly, to your brand image?
Ms. Hu: The granular details are everything. It's what makes or breaks our efforts. We can't be surgical unless we are precise. Details equal precision. That allows us to execute in the way we want to. Some people will take an old bridge and spray paint it new. People don't know it's a spray-painted bridge that can fall down. We architect. No one appreciates the architecture and the rigor because they are driving smoothly over the bridge. But we can calculate the exact payload it will handle, the rate of decay, how deeply to drive the pillars. That rigor and dramatic impact isn't often seen but often felt.
Q: If you had to offer one piece of advice to someone new to digital marketing, what would you say?
Ms. Hu: The best thing you can do to build your business plans is to learn to story tell with numbers. How do you get them to care about [the numbers]? Tell a story.
Q: How do you stay on top of what's happening in the digital world? Are there people or blogs or magazines and newsletters that help you stay in the know?
Ms. Hu: Reading the Internet and consuming information is the most important thing you can do. Not just trade magazines, but being generally well-read—Mashable, Huff Post, Buzzfeed, everything. Then second, you need to have a network of smart people to bounce ideas off of. In my case, I have my agencies, publishers I buy from and my own team, which is the smartest team in the world. They are voracious consumers and sharers of information.
Q: What new technology or apps are getting your attention?
Ms. Hu: To me, smart TVs are the most interesting things, from a professional perspective. I do also love my photo apps and filters. They make my headshot look better!
Q: You like to watch TV in your spare time. What are you looking forward to in the fall and winter programming season?
Ms. Hu: I am excited for the return of "Homeland" on Showtime, and "The Walking Dead," of course. But now I have to buy it. I cut the cord recently, and it was painful for me. When I had linear TV I would endlessly watch HGTV and Food Network. I miss them a lot. But most of the things I was watching were available online and much cheaper. I have tried to use this experience to make my TV viewing more disciplined.
Q: You also say you enjoy reading. Do you use books, an e-reader or audiobooks—or a mix?
Ms. Hu: I was a classics and lit major. In college, we read and read and read, serious stuff. Now I make up for that and I read trash. I love Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games." I love Harry Potter. I read like a teenage girl. But lately I have been trying to elevate my game. The last books I read were "The Martian" and "The Girl on the Train," which I enjoyed. I mix it up between traditional books and e-books. I still like to crack the spine of a book, and I like the way they smell. Reading for me will always be meeting, on paper, the people you always wanted to be your friends. I like to own my books. We live in a world where reading is for pleasure. That is a privilege. I like to surround myself with books to remind me of that.
About the Sponsor
The Digital Trailblazers Series profiles some of the industry's most visionary digital executives—those pushing the boundaries in digital marketing. For more on this series, including intelligence and insights from Quantcast, visit the Digital Trailblazers Hub.
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