CMO profile: Marley Spoon’s Kate Whitney on recalibrating her thinking to be the right kind of CMO

We deep dive with the mealkit provider's marketing chief to understand how she's adjusted to her role to drive brand growth and navigate the COVID crisis


A year on  

2021 of course, is a fresh story and one that will see Whitney benefit from these learnings. As Australia enters a post-COVID climate, Q1 is a remarkably different quarter in terms of relationships, team building and productivity for Marley Spoon.

“There is no tension between what we should and shouldn’t be doing, we’re just getting on with it. And it’s because I got out of my own way,” Whitney says. “I realised where the value needed to be added, and that was leading and supporting a pretty new team in Australia, making sure we had a focus on our existing customer base – so using my loyalty and CRM skills and sharing moments with the Everyday Rewards team, the kings of loyalty – and ensuring we did great work with engaging the base and in retention activities.”

The retention emphasis centred around innovation and partnerships to constantly improve the in-box experience. As a result, Marley Spoon active subscribers increased by 60 per cent and the number of meals delivered increased by 83 per cent in 2020, showing more customers are ordering overall, and customers are ordering more each week.

“Both boutique local producers plus big consumer brands would love to work with us and put ingredients in our boxes,” Whitney comments. “We have access to customer doorsteps many FMCG brands don’t have access to, so it’s a win-win situation for both customers and brands we work with.

“And we’re monetising the box at the same time, which was lovely to step in to. It wasn’t something I came into the business thinking I’d be doing, but I am having a lot of fun – and success – doing it. You are always learning something new and finding revenue growth opportunities where you’re least expecting them.”

Personalising experiences

To continue to meet ever-increasing customer expectations, Marley Spoon has launched predictive artificial intelligence to better personalise the suite of recipes every week suited to each customer’s tastes based on previous behaviours and insights.  

Whitney refers to such customer retention activities as “inoculating the base”. “You are essentially protecting your base from an attack from the competition,” she says.

“The mealkit market is rife with this – there is a voucher game going on and people are switching brands. But if I can truly inoculate my base by providing solid, trusted delivery and meet expectations week in, week out, consumers are less likely to be swayed by a $40 voucher.

“For us, that one extra ingredient and extra technique with our meals makes it more special. Marley Spooners understand that distinction. That premium twist is hard to explain in the mealkit space, but we will get there.”   

2021 plans for growth

Things are clearly looking positive for Marley Spoon in 2021. For one, the online grocery market is still a relatively small sliver of the pie despite rapid acceleration of ecommerce and food delivery purchasing online over 2020.

This year, the company has aggressive growth targets upwards of 25 per cent year-on-year. “You won’t get that by standing still. We’ve got to push and the motivation is there to keep growing,” Whitney says.

One way is by pursuing the distinct opportunity mealkit providers have against grocery providers. “Our ability is not just to provide a box of ingredients, but a service inside the box,” Whitney says. “We’ve done the thinking for you, tested the recipe, made it into six simple steps, timed and optimise it, and with zero waste, we’ll deliver it to you.”

As to marketing programs of work, Whitney’s team is focusing on taste credentials and making sure Marley Spoon’s two brands have consistent and distinctive messaging.

“Dinnerly has that sense of humour and is aimed around at value segment who are not necessarily looking for cheap but are more your ‘scrappy adults’ whose lives are very busy,” Whitney says. “They don’t want to forsake nutrition in the burden of making dinner and don’t want a $4 pizza, but they also don’t want Ubereats every night. It’s a problem solutions brand.”

More broadly, the company roadmap is about improving that box experience, base engagement, and leaning into the surprise and delight of customers by just being better. Whitney says Marley Spoon can have a new experience to customers in 20 weeks from go to available and delivered. The guiding force is continuing to ask if things can be done better and to have a plan B.

“I couldn’t tell you the five key projects we’ll land this year – we might have two, but three others turn up and things we haven’t thought about yet,” Whitney says. “The thing I’d say about Marley Spoon is we are ridiculously efficient and pragmatic about making decisions and you never try something for the sake of trying something. You have a problem statement on something that needs to be solved. It’s all about customer-first, with efficiently being key and data at the backbone on every decision we make.”  

Meanwhile, a new fulfilment centre opening in June in Wetherill Park will become the largest and most advanced fulfilment centre in the network, allowing Marley Spoon to serve Australian customers more accurately with a better outcome. It also lifts the group’s sustainability credentials, with the site expected to be fully powered by solar on a sunny day.

“We have more coming down the line in terms of sustainability and emissions – our mission at lowering food waste at our end plus customer fridge drawer,” Whitney says.

Whitney also highlights a continuing emphasis on locally sourced products, noting a fresh partnership with SPC Ardmona so all canned tomatoes in its mealkits are from Australia.

“The roadmap between now and 2025 is awesome both here and internally to push ourselves to be better,” she says. “The best part of this business is pragmatism, learning from good bad and ugly, and turning it around into a cracking 2021.”

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