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Engineering Authentic Stories That Feed Customer Engagement

Educated as an engineer, GrubHub CMO Barbara Martin Coppola discovered her passion for marketing right as she launched her career.

During an internship Coppola realized that she liked sharing stories about her technical products even more than she liked building those products.

Since then, the trilingual Coppola has logged more than 15 years of technology marketing experience in nine countries for Samsung, Texas Instruments, and Google. Here, she shares the tasty GrubHub marketing story and discusses its mission to Move Eating Forward.

What’s your marketing passion?

I’m passionate about bridging the complexity of technical products and people’s everyday life. I’m an engineer by background, and I’m comfortable designing and making technical products, but what I really enjoy is telling the story of those products and how they’re embedded in people’s lives. I always work for companies whose offerings I deeply respect and believe in. When I really love the product, I can tell the most compelling and most authentic stories possible.

At what stage  did it occur to you that you might prefer marketing to engineering?

When I was growing up in Spain, I always wanted to know how things work.

Later, I realized that I spent a lot of my five years of engineering studies explaining to my father, who is not an engineer, what I was doing and discovering. I had to simplify the concepts I was studying and tell a real story to convey how exciting my experience was.

When did you make the professional shift to marketing?

When I was finishing my engineering studies with an internship in a highly technical field.

There was a moment when it occurred to me that I was actually spending more time internally presenting the benefits of my projects than I spent coding my projects. I then realized that my real passion was storytelling.

After that internship, I decided my first real job was going to be in marketing. I joined a rotation program at Texas Instruments that required deep technical knowledge to market effectively.

You joined GrubHub last year from Google. What attracted you to online and mobile takeout ordering?

One of the reasons was food. I come from a country where food is a genuine joy and where food often represents a moment of unity and intimacy with other people. As a marketer, I couldn’t think of a better field in which to express stories about moments that matter in people’s lives.

Tell us about what GrubHub does.

GrubHub connects hungry diners to a vast selection of local restaurants throughout the U.S. by providing a convenient, accurate way of ordering exactly what diners want when they want it.

When a restaurant works with GrubHub, its takeout business increases by an average of 30%.

How does your passion for translating complex offerings into compelling stories come into play?

In this case the complexity relates to the challenge of getting people to try the product in the first place. Ninety-five percent of people in the U.S. still order takeout via a paper menu and a phone call.

Another reason I was attracted to this job is the challenge of getting a lot of people to try, and then love, our service. Addressing this marketing challenge requires great stories.

How do you get your team to keep storytelling top of mind?

It’s essential to create a vision that inspires and motivates everybody at GrubHub.

We created an internal philosophy called Move Eating Forward. Our mission is to deeply consider what eating means for diners, for restaurants, and even for society as a whole. Our people visualize what Move Eating Forward means, and then we try to bring that vision to life for our users.

The importance of storytelling is reinforced by reminding ourselves what we are, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.

You point to storytelling, knowledge of your customers, and analytics as keys to marketing success. Are there any other success factors?

Data not only allows us to analyze our users’ behavior, it also shows us how well we communicate with them. We have a strong culture of A/B testing and aspire to increase personalization and relevancy with every touchpoint.

So much of marketing is now digital that we can quickly see the results of A/B testing, learn, and move forward with a better approach. Another success factor is having a team that’s not afraid to fail.

I want my people to take risks and to go for bold campaigns. To be honest, failure is part of taking risks. And I believe that people who fail from time to time are the most valuable because they tend to learn the most and continuously improve. At my previous company, Google, we celebrated the biggest failure of the week, as well as the biggest success of the week.

Failure remains an experience that many skilled professionals avoid. How do you ensure that your people aren’t afraid to make mistakes?

How you react to failure, as a leader and as a team, is critical. When somebody fails, we sit down and analyze what went wrong so we can learn from what happened.

And then we share those insights with the entire department, so the failure becomes a learning opportunity for everyone. As a leader it’s important to say, “Thank you for taking a risk. Now, go ahead and apply the learning to what you do next.”

Living in Silicon Valley also helped because it showed me that people fail at their startups almost every day. And they just start up again. I saw that investors sometimes sought out people who have failed because that experience made them stronger. That has influenced how I behave as a leader.

How do you see the CMO role evolving in the next few years?

One of the primary changes relates to authenticity. CMOs have a big challenge and opportunity when it comes to incorporating meaningful values and meaningful content into stories that connect with people on a deeper level.

CMOs should be involved in ensuring that their companies behave — internally and externally — according to the values that companies espouse.

I also expect the responsibilities of many CMOs to expand inside the company. CMOs are the biggest advocates of the customer in a company, as well as the people with the most knowledge about the customer.

This knowledge should influence every customer touchpoint throughout the entire organization. As an example, GrubHub’s marketing function created our Move Eating Forward mission, which is now applied across the whole company.

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