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CMO Q&A: Barbara Martin Coppola, Grubhub

Barbara Martin Coppola truly embodies both the art and the science of marketing. Not only is she a classically trained pianist, but she also started her career as an engineer. She’s spent nearly two decades leading marketing for top technology brands — including Texas Instruments, Samsung, Google, and YouTube
— and currently serves as CMO of Grubhub.

Here, the 2017 Marketing Hall of Femme honoree shares her road to CMO and explains how she applies her life’s passions to her work.

What led you to a career in marketing?  Was it an early decision or a more recent event?

I’m passionate about connecting art and science: humanity, creativity, and emotion with technology and data. 

I studied engineering in school and have a strong background in numbers and analytics. But [I] realized during an engineering internship that I wanted to make a change. I love travel and learning about new cultures, so I joined a rotational program with Texas Instruments specifically for engineers. During [this internship,] I received training in marketing strategy, product marketing, and business development all throughout Europe and the US. I loved spending time with clients and learning how to market products to people. I loved experimenting with new strategies and measuring results. This program taught me how to bridge the gap between people and complex technologies and led to my pursuit of a career in marketing in tech.

Have you always been a marketer, or did you train for a different role prior to that (and if so, what)?

I’ve spent 20 years doing tech marketing, but my road to CMO was not linear. I studied engineering and math as an undergraduate student and realized, [during] an engineering internship, that I was more excited about marketing than engineering the products. I then shifted to NGO work in Spain and South America, where I loved helping others. I’m [also] a classically trained pianist and considered pivoting and pursuing music full time. 

All of these experiences have a positive impact on the job I do today. I’m able to draw from my passions around math and data and connect them with emotional inspirations like music, food, and travel, [all of which] ultimately make me the human and professional that I am.

If you could pick out one thing you find most challenging about marketing, what would it be?

One of the most challenging and exciting aspects of marketing today is moving at the pace of customer expression. In an age of Instagram, Twitter, and other social media channels, life as we know it moves faster — with conversations beginning and ending whether or not your brand is a part of them. 

The days of executing one campaign per quarter are over, and authenticity is now more important than polish. I often tell my team, “Perfection should not be the enemy of progress.” Experimenting with new ideas is essential [to] keeping up with our customers. 

At Grubhub, 30% of what we execute are new ideas that we launch fast, test and measure reactions, and then scale if they work. We also need to engage in a personalized way, which means daily communications through the right channels with the right message to millions of people. Brands need to move at the rhythm of expression of their users to stay relevant and top-of-mind, which results in inspiration from all directions, including your user community.

How important is it for anyone joining your team today to be comfortable with data-driven marketing?

With more data and technology now available to marketers than ever before, marketing is just as much science as it is art. It is essential for marketers to be comfortable with both. An old boss of mine used to say, “If you can’t measure it, don’t launch it.” Technology is an asset in determining relevancy, including which channel, piece of content, and frequency would most resonate with customers. But human touch and an emotional connection will always be needed in order to create the original content that defines your brand. A machine can certainly tell you when to engage, but it takes a human to develop the emotional connection and inspirational content that tells a story and wins brand loyalty.

What’s the single most important component of your marketing stack (by description and/or vendor name)?

The single most important component of Grubhub’s marketing stack isn’t a tool or a technology — it’s the people that utilize it. While technologies certainly help inform our strategy and decision making, we’re marketing to human beings. Establishing a deep connection with users via impactful, emotional, and creative content is crucial to successful marketing. This type of content is created by people, not algorithms.

If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be?

If I weren’t a marketer, I’d be a professor at a business school or top motivator-in-chief to enable the best in people to achieve greatness for humanity.

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