As the very first employee of Northmill Oy, Ronja Pääkkönen has seen it all. We talk about the early days of the Finnish subsidiary, how AI is taking over marketing and what it’s like to run a vintage clothing shop.
Ronja, tell me a bit about yourself!
I’m 25 years old and live in the woods of Tuusula. I have 3 dogs that I like to go on walks with. As a person, I’m pretty outdoorsy during summer times; I like hiking.
I’m also a very avid binger of TV shows and movies. It’s basically on all the time when I’m at home and doing other chores to clear my mind. Friends is probably my favorite; I’ve binged the entire show more times than I’d care to admit.
What were you doing before Northmill?
I was a pretty recent graduate with a bachelor’s in business before Northmill reached out. I attended a very practical school called Tiimiakatemia, where I was working with other students to build businesses. We got to run a restaurant, a vintage clothing store and a mystery shopping company. Some of these existed already and needed management, like the restaurant. But most of them we started by ourselves, and some are still running, like the mystery shopping company. It was a great experience, and pretty similar to my start here at Northmill - I was able to try everything. I mean, there’s not much in common between sauna boats and vintage clothing stores.
I really liked working with the vintage clothing shop, because we got to choose which clothes we imported from discount shop. I remember when we got this old school Adidas Originals stuff and this Mighty Ducks t-shirt from that era in mint condition. Finding those gems were a lot of fun.
You were the first employee of Northmill Oy – can you tell us a bit about how that happened?
Northmill actually got in touch with me through LinkedIn. I had quite recently moved to Helsinki and they were looking for someone with marketing know-how, and it fit my background with some entrepreneurial experience. While I was hired to do marketing, I got to work in all departments because there was only me and our country manager, who came from the Swedish HQ. In the first few months, the days were pretty long and we were in quite a small office. We had a kitchen, a toilet and an office area the size of a large conference room.
It stayed this way until the beginning of 2016. I think it was in March we had enough employees for me to be able to go full-time into a marketing role, as an “Online Marketer”. We’ve obviously come a long way since then, just recently moving to our third office.
And now your title is PPC Specialist. How did that role come about?
Well, I would say it grew mostly from my interests and of course what was needed at the time. I worked for a year with our country manager with our marketing so we had to do everything, and I saw the wide spectrum of different areas of online marketing. But as a person you can’t handle everything, so we came to the point where I would like to specialize more, which would benefit the company as well. That’s when I realized PPC was the right area for me, as it’s something I enjoyed doing and fit my personal talents.
"When it comes to search engine marketing, I think most people see it being the same as Adwords, which is not the case for someone who’s handling SEM on a daily basis."
For someone who does not work as a PPC specialist, what does that role mean?
It means that I manage and keep track of our search engine marketing, mostly. We do have paid advertising in other channels, like Facebook, but paid search is what I focus on.
When it comes to search engine marketing, I think most people see it being the same as Adwords, which is not the case for someone who’s handling SEM on a daily basis. There’s also the tag manager and Google Analytics, among others. The Google products are evolving in a way where they start working together a lot, so you have to manage a lot of tools - which isn’t as simple as “just” using Adwords. Then, of course, the Adwords product itself keeps changing, so you need to keep up on a daily basis so you’re not wasting ad money.
We’ve talked about SEO in a previous Life at Northmill-piece. Are there any similarities between SEO and SEM?
Keywords are the common denominator. There is a strategic cooperation between the two because you optimize both around the phrases that are relevant to your audience. But otherwise, I’d say they are pretty different.
"As Adwords and other products become smarter, AI and machine learning will eventually outdo people in terms of data-driven decisions on those platforms."
We have also talked about how marketing and technology are merging even more. Do you have an example of marketing tech that will change your workflow?
Probably the biggest changes that I see coming up are in AI and voice search. AI will change how Google designs their Adwords product, which will put the PPC role in a very different direction. Right now, things like bidding and advanced analyses are done by people; but as Adwords and their other products become smarter, AI and machine learning will eventually outdo people in terms of data-driven decisions. At that point, people will have to spend more time on strategy and innovation to stay competitive, and less on iterative optimization.
And in voice search, the keywords will change, because you type very differently from how you talk. It’s very interesting because you can already see in our search results when people are using voice. Right now, that group is too small to be worth targeting but not by a lot. We’ll need to keep an eye on that number pretty frequently so we know when it’s significant enough to invest in.
You have been at Northmill Finland since the beginning and obviously seen a lot of changes - how does it feel working here now compared to when you started?
It’s very different. When I came to our first office for the first time, we had computers and desks set up for two people, but basically nothing else. Now we have a lot more people, there’s always new stuff happening and there’s a buzzing feeling everywhere. That’s definitely good.
With products like our financial hub Rebilla, how do you feel about the future of Northmill?
At Northmill, we’ve always had something big to look forward to in the horizon. There has always been excitement as you know there’s cool stuff coming. We are constantly improving everything, from personal development to our departments and our products. So I’d say I’m very positive.