Katie Herbst enjoys travel, accountability, and rigorous prioritization. What she does not enjoy: mustard, wasted time, and flip-flopping. Katie has a deep, abiding love for efficiency, and manages to embody a number of the traits used to describe seemingly mythical candidates on job reqs (‘self-starting,’ ‘low-ego,’ ‘detail-oriented,’ ‘results-driven,’ ‘multi-tasker’–to name a few).
Remarkably, Katie really can sweat the small stuff and still see the forest for the trees. She evaluates problems based on their impact and relative importance. Where Katie sees a tier one problem, she sees a project, and its logical flow. This ability makes Katie exceptionally good at–for lack of a better term–running sh*t. At Mixpanel, she runs Mixpanel.com.
It’s not an easy job. At business-to-business startups, website management has many of the trappings of a product role with the expectations of a marketing one. The website is often the sole public-facing representation of the company, and as a result, most employees–regardless of their function–react as strongly to a change to the website as they would to a change to the product.
To understand, coalesce, and act on (sometimes conflicting) feedback, Katie works closely with stakeholders in each function to understand their team’s needs and then uses data to prioritize the website changes that will make the biggest impact on user experience. At the same time, Katie has to balance an exceptional site experience with driving two of marketing’s key metrics: driving conversions and generating leads.
But what makes her role challenging also makes it uniquely suited to Katie, who has experience working in both the product and marketing worlds. In her current role, she bridges the two.
Like most marketers, Katie relies on a mix of gut instinct and experience to tell a cohesive brand story through an engaging, beautiful site experience. Then, like a PM, she uses user analytics to thoroughly test her assumptions–and the assumptions of others–to eliminate favoritism, prioritize the most impactful changes, and select the content, copy, and designs that drive the highest results for the business.
The origins of order and analytics
Long before she joined Mixpanel, Katie cut her teeth on account management and content marketing at a creative agency. There, she helped Fortune 500 companies analyze industry trends, understand their core audiences, and build content marketing strategies from the ground up. Her time at the agency not only equipped her with the ability to adapt quickly to new environments but also taught her how to communicate and work closely with designers and engineers. Very early into her career, she was helping manage campaign production end-to-end.
“The agency gave me a lot of responsibility very quickly, which was a really good opportunity right out of school to learn how marketing operated at very different organizations–from retail to finance to government agencies. I liked working with their teams to think through what kinds of content would resonate most with each audience, as well as the best channels to reach those audiences. I learned strategy by developing strategy, which is a rare opportunity to have so young.”
Two years later, Katie decided she wanted to work in-house. American Express hired her for what began as a marketing role, but eventually evolved into a product management role. “They had us complete an intensive training program to become a product manager on the digital customer experience team. After that, I was spending a lot of my time in their web analytics platform. I used data to measure ad performance, to personalize customer experiences, experiment with new features and campaigns, and build a case for new projects.”
At American Express, Katie relied on data to prioritize the customer experience improvements based on their relative impact. “My leaders gave me the sage advice to focus my attention on the 80 percent of site that are most critical from a visitor and conversion perspective. In order to do that, I had to identify which parts of the customer experience actually made up that 80 percent and which were the more negligible 20 percent. Then, I could focus my time on optimizing the 80 percent that really mattered, instead of wasting time on the imperfections in the 20 percent.”
Katie goes to startup land
Katie’s ability to relentlessly prioritize projects primed her for incredible success at a startup, where the potential to improve and expand existing assets and processes is limitless. At Mixpanel, Katie uses Mixpanel to understand where to put her focus to drive cross-functional goals.
“Perhaps more than in any other role, managing the website at Mixpanel has really pushed me to think critically about what changes or additions to the site experience will be most impactful for the business and how I’ll measure that impact. I have to prepare myself to answer to leaders when they ask: ‘Why did you choose this project over this one? Why does it matter?’ Always being able to answer the why is critical.”
The ‘why’ behind Katie’s decisions is data from Mixpanel. She uses the tool most days on the job, which is why Katie opted to complete the entire month-long training for Mixpanel support engineers, instead of the typical week-long onboarding.
“The support training was really helpful. I mean, the Mixpanel support team is incredible–everyone here knows that. They’re very thorough and precise, and the training was the same in that respect. I developed a very well-rounded understanding of the product, how it functions, who it serves, its power, and a range of use cases.” Katie used the information to first understand and then expand the Mixpanel marketing team’s Mixpanel instance, Project M, to provide even more context on website traffic and conversions.
“The tracking plan helped me understand what I could measure on Project M, what properties, events, and variables I could set, and what gaps we needed to fill. Rather than spinning my wheels trying to figure out why I couldn’t measure navigation clicks or something, I could reference the tracking plan. Then, I mapped out the goals I wanted to achieve, and the measurements I absolutely need to reach those goals.”
To reach her goals, Katie needs a thousand foot view of site traffic and a deep understanding of visitor behavior. Mixpanel’s Dashboards give her a high-level view which she can review daily, share monthly with leadership, and review in regular operations meetings to keep everyone informed.
“I set up this marketing dashboard that gives me a bigger snapshot of traffic on the site. I can quickly answer questions like: What are the trends in traffic, signups, and inquiries this week? What countries is the traffic coming from? What marketing initiatives are driving it? I also look at year over year trends to understand what is changing due to seasonality versus a particular marketing initiative. Without that benchmark, I don’t have the context to understand how we’re performing.”
Katie also regularly reviews a site health check report to make sure that updates don’t denigrate site performance. “I look at visits by page category, where conversions are the most likely to happen, and then I look at the page load time, among other metrics. I’ve found that higher page load time has negatively impacted sign up submits directly, so I really try to make sure that, even as we continue to launch new pages and more interactive elements on the site, the core performance isn’t affected.”
Site growth not only can impact performance but also creates interesting challenges around scaling that Katie works cross-functionally to solve. “Recently, we realized the site navigation was not spacious enough to accommodate all the awesome new content the marketing team was producing. And as Mixpanel grows as an organization and we expand our audience, we’ll need to make room for that on the site.”
Katie used analytics to understand the impact of the scaling issue and used A/B testing to see which elements and features would resonate most with different audiences. “One of our designers, Ryan, and I took on what proved to be a very big project. We ultimately vetted dozens of options for the navigation before we decided on a design and the content we would include. We’re continuously testing and implementing changes to make sure that we don’t rest on our laurels and let the design get stale.”
Continuous experimentation is a core part of Katie’s approach to building out and updating the website. “I don’t make shifts to messaging without first A/B testing to understand what language resonates most with each segment of our diverse audience. I also work closely with Emily to make sure that new changes don’t harm us from an SEO perspective.”
Katie is also cognizant of the impact that site optimization can have on user experience and overall look and feel of the website. “The the goal of the site is conversion, right? To educate prospects and educate customers and ultimately convert prospects into customers. But even though that’s essentially the primary goal of the site, I would never just like plaster huge pop-up boxes saying sign up everywhere. I’m always trying to perfect the balance between brand and user experience and generating demand for our product.”
From chaos to calm
In order to strike the right balance between UX and marketing’s bottom line, Katie has to factor time in time for testing, reassessing mid-project, and conducting a thorough retrospective on her projects. That way, she has time to understand–and act on–the data.
“When I am at my most frazzled, facing up a formidable project, I have to step back and break it down into smaller pieces. The more actionable and accessible each step is, the more I can approach it with an open mind, and really understand what the best move is from a data perspective. If I’m overwhelmed and just trying to get it done, I’ll just do what is easiest, instead of what is right for both site visitors and the business.”
Once she has had time to dig in and uncover insights, Katie strategizes on the best way to share the information in a digestible, actionable way, that brings others onto her side. By centering the conversation on data, her conversations with leadership never devolves into a competition of who shouts the loudest or stalemate.
“It’s much easier for me to generate productive conversation when I have something to back up my recommendations. If I just make a big lofty claim, and there is no data attached to it, it’s just my opinion against someone else’s. And to be frank, if there’s an entire team of executives with much more experience, they arguably have better opinions than me. So being able to use data to drive awareness and agreement is pretty critical. Basically, data rules!”