Sep 30, 2016
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Grubhub’s CMO creates organizational agility to collect diners’ real-time presidential preferences

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What does food delivery have to do with the presidential debates? Well, up until a few days ago, many would have said nothing. But not Barbara Martin Coppola, chief marketing officer of Grubhub.

“Food is personal, and presidential preferences are personal, too,” she told us. “We knew that our community would be racing home to watch Monday night’s presidential debate, so we decided to put a little fun in their dinner orders. We gave them the option to show their preferred candidate support with a code—either IMWITHHIM or IMWITHHER — and get 5% off their order.’”


Grubhub inspires diners to cast their vote (© Grubhub).

The votes are in (results below), and Grubhub now has a juicy new database of voter preference!

So, how does a food delivery organization go from filling food orders to actively engaging a community in real time and becoming a data powerhouse? Coppola joined us for an interview to share her winning recipe.


Barbara Martin Coppola, CMO of Grubhub (© Grubhub)

Q: Barbara, you joined Grubhub a little over a year ago. What was it about this CMO opportunity that lured you away from Google?

It was an opportunity to apply my passions: to connect food to community, to develop a whole new approach to storytelling by building out our data science capabilities and to inspire a culture of innovation.

Q: Let’s break that down, as all three are key ingredients to your success. Grubhub, with 7.4 million active diners, delivers 271,000 meals a day. Tell us about how you created that connection between food and community.

I’m Spanish and French by heritage and grew up experiencing how food brings people together. And, as I shared recently with the ANA, food is the second-most shared and pictured item on the internet, after friends and family. So we know the food community is a rich space to tell human stories and can use digital and mobile to extend the experience, rather than provide a shortcut.

We started by thinking hard about how to connect better with what people crave and what people talk about. And we knew that, collectively, we wanted to build our capabilities to reflect our community’s passions. With that, we created a whole new look to the Grubhub site and started creating new inspiration vehicles, like The Crave, a new content hub which provides local and national stories within the food community.

Q: Clearly, you capture a lot of data. How do you make the most of that data, and how did you build out the analytic skills on your team?

I’m an engineer by training, and I believe that the best marketing combines data and storytelling. It gives you a way to appeal to the emotional side of people.

When I first came to Grubhub, we had data capabilities, but we weren’t focused on what parts of that data were most relevant. Today, we have a whole new data science team that creates new algorithms to get to the heart of the story. For instance, what inspires our diners and how does that vary by location?

We also believe in partnering with companies like Google to supplement our own data and are constantly testing out new ways to embed our brand into the conversation, as we did with custom emojis around the language of food. All these interactions create new opportunities for us to learn.

“I believe that the best marketing combines data and storytelling.”

Q: You mentioned culture as your third ingredient. How would you describe the culture of Grubhub today, and how is that different from when you started?

We believe that to truly connect with our diners, we can’t just do big campaigns once per quarter. We need to be having daily conversations. To get to that goal, we needed to change the way we did “marketing,” by finding the right people and the right tools to marry up with a new environment of agility and risk-taking.

On the talent side, we look for people who are passionate about food and passionate about the job. We want people who have fun coming up with new ideas, testing and learning.

We empower everyone on the team to develop their own ideas and test them out. If something fails, that’s OK, but we learn from it and don’t make the same mistake twice. If it’s successful, then off we go. We fund the concept and go to market in a fast, scalable way.

On the tools side, we needed to build out our capabilities to capture results from everything we test, so our data science team is focused on not just data analysis, but true data mining.

“We empower everyone on the team to develop their own ideas and test them out.”

Q: In what others ways has your organization evolved?

When I started, I inherited 65 people on my team. Today, I have 75, but the team design is very different. We continue to have a Brand team, an Acquisition team, an Engagement/CRM team and a PR team. But we added four new teams that are all centers of excellence: Product Marketing, Research, Data Science and Analytics & Strategy. The Analytics & Strategy group is critical in steering all the departments towards our goals.

Not everyone who was on the team initially chose to be part of the new environment. We never asked anyone to leave, but I was very upfront and honest about what traits would be successful, and I spent time with each person to truly understand what their passions were and if these passions were aligned with the new company vision.

We had a person doing creative (developing emails) who wanted to expand his skill set. He transferred to the brand team and is now excelling at delivering great brand moments.

We had another person who dreamed of being a data scientist but was only just starting as an analyst. She is now a key part of that new team.

As we reorganized, we filled new roles with a mix of existing employees and new talent. We have new success metrics to ensure they each feel like valued innovators on the team. For instance, we expect each person to spend 30 percent of their time innovating and 70 percent of their time scaling programs to optimize the ideas that work.

We test ideas immediately and if they work, they go into the 70 percent bucket. And if it doesn’t work, we capture learnings.

“We expect each person to spend 30 percent of their time innovating and 70 percent of their time scaling programs that work.”

Q: What was hard about the organizational transition?

Change is hard. People have to learn new skills, embrace a new culture and learn to work together differently. We wanted to ensure that every person on the team knew how valuable they were to the future of Grubhub.

We also recognized that employees across Grubhub, inside and outside of marketing, were hungry for an opportunity to brainstorm and develop creative product and business ideas that perhaps were not directly related to their job function. GrubTank was launched as a unique opportunity for each willing team member across the company to pitch their ideas and potentially get funding to bring the idea to life.

Q: How is that approach working so far?

As you can see from our latest campaign on debate night, we are now able to achieve huge goals as a team. Many of the aspects of the “Delivery Votes” idea were only born last Friday, and the team was so inspired, they were able to deliver it on Monday.

All the marketing teams collaborated — brand, creative, data science and product development. And we knew we needed to be prepared to harvest the tremendous insight from our community.

The results from the campaign were overwhelming! Diners were hungriest to support “IMWITHHER” — that code got 82 percent of votes, while “IMWITHHIM” got 18 percent.

We can also see trends in food preferences that align with candidates. The “Her” side was very diverse in their orders, with Indian cuisine being exceptionally popular. The “His” side largely ordered Chinese cuisine, as well as American and Italian cuisines.


Q: When you hire new people on the team, what do you look for and how do you ensure you’ve found the right fit?

We’re always looking for attitude rather than knowing the job in a traditional way. Can this person adapt in any situation?

For example, I just hired a person from banking to run marketing strategy and operations. He is extremely positive, has high energy and will jump at any new project. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t come to us from the tech industry. He has the right attitude and emotional intelligence.

We create exercises to see how candidates respond on the spot without preparation. An example is “How would you launch a fork in China? What do you need to know for your strategic plan? And secondly, what do you do at the moment of launch?”

It sounds random, but you can apply a lot of common sense in your answer even if you don’t know the product or country. Some people find it overwhelming to quickly come up with answers, and others enjoy it.

We also want to know what inspires someone outside of work and what past achievements made them proud. It reveals so much about their passion and energy levels.


  • Success comes from knowing your consumers’ passions, being innovative in the way you engage them and having a team that collaborates across all aspects of the consumer experience delivery.
  • The best marketing in the world combines data with storytelling. With science, you can be relevant and timely. With art, you can emotionally engage your audience.
  • Change is hard for everyone, but focus on how you can provide new opportunities and create a better culture.
  • Don’t assume you know your team until you really spend time exploring their passions. Then provide an encouraging forum for them to excise their natural gifts and creativity.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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