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CMO50 2021 #26-50: Kate Whitney

  • Name Kate Whitney
  • Title Chief marketing and growth officer
  • Company Marley Spoon
  • Commenced role January 2020
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 55 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Industry Sector FMCG and retail
  • 2020 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    It’s safe to say before last year, Kate Whitney had never had to manually pack meal kits.

    “When our Melbourne facility shut down for a few weeks and we moved all of our production to Sydney, teams were asked to close their computers and help pack boxes for customers in our facility,” the Marley Spoon chief marketing and growth officer says.

    “No matter what is going on in the background, our number one priority is serving our customers and ensuring they get their meals. Those days I spent in our enormous cool room was a great reminder of what our number one priority is, and how hard that team works to get it done each day. A humbling experience for sure.”  

    Innovative marketing

    Historically, Marley Spoon used customer feedback on individual dishes to construct its menu and ensure it was delivering options that the company felt customers would order and rate highly. This method was culinary focused and customer feedback was used by the culinary team to tweak dishes or understand what customers definitely didn’t want.

    “That method, while useful in building out what we serve, didn’t provide a full scope of what customers were looking for in their meal kit each week, and with more competition entering the space we knew we had to take a more informed and holistic approach,” Whitney explains.

    “Over the last year, by consistent analysis of recipe data, frequent surveying, and an obsession with customer satisfaction metrics, we have identified three core insights that will frame our menu in 2022 and will keep us leading the way in customer advocacy.”

    These include the insight that seemingly small additions, like renaming recipes to emphasise speed and ease, such as ‘Prep in 10, cook in 30’ dishes, are welcomed. The addition of one more fish recipe also helped showcase what customers love about the Marley Spoon service, Whitney says.

    And the group’s NPS scores reflect the positive responses to such changes, with a record +44 NPS score recorded in Q2, 2021.

    Data-driven approach

    As Whitney puts it, Marley Spoon is obsessed with modelling and optimising all programs to reduce the rate of customers skipping orders and the number of customers cancelling with subscription.

    While much of the country has been spending more time indoors due to lockdowns and extended working from home policies, Whitney says her team challenged themselves to create new menu items to keep customers engaged and interested in the brand while new competitors began to appear.

    “We called these new styles of dishes add-ons, and they included snacks, lunches, breakfasts, edible gifts, and monthly specials, like slow cooker options throughout winter,” she says. “The add-on program we developed requires weekly optimisation, constant analysis and detailed data for us to understand and see the impacts the new additions created. Working closely with our culinary team on each new option, we were able to show them how we could improve each dish and what customers wanted to see more of.

    “With each round of add-ons, we’ve consistently been improving upon our sales and over the last 12 months have released our highest rated dishes over our six years in market. Our initial goal for these add-ons was a 3 per cent attachment rate and through optimising every dish with data, we’ve increased the attachment rate to over 10 per cent.”

    Business smarts

    One of the most significant growth opportunities under Whitney’s remit at Marley Spoon, however, was the company’s corporate venture capital deal with Woolworths cemented in 2019. Upon her arrival, the opportunity was yielding little to no upside. What’s more, there were very low levels of knowledge in the corridors of Woolworths of why the deal was struck.

    Recognising the hurdles, Whitney spent first six months of her tenure listening and understanding the architecture of the deal, meeting and working with the right team members at Woolworths “to flex the partnership to its utmost”.

    “It required respectfully walking through previously closed doors and working closely with Woolworths’ stakeholders and key decision makers on the joint goal of growing our business,” she comments. “Within three months, we had built a new, monthly email marketing program to nearly half of the Everyday Rewards membership database, operating under a sophisticated data-science propensity model.”

    By the end of 2020, about 10 per cent of total new Marley Spoon and Dinnerly customers had been acquired by matching their grocery habits with its meal kit proposition through Woolworths-owned channels.

    “We were a pilot advertiser for Woolworths new media business, Cartology, trialling new performance assets within their digital inventory catalogue,” Whitney says. “And we were able to seek advice on over a dozen business critical topics, where trust, open communication and consequent information sharing has been beneficial to multiple functions at Marley Spoon.”

    For Whitney, the moment when the partnership with Woolworths really started to click and a new go-to-market strategy solidified was a great moment for the entire company and one of her top marketing moments of the past year.

    “The strength of this moment has only continued to grow as we track the buying patterns of the new customers we’ve acquired through Woolworths. These customers have proved to be our most sticky and valuable customers in our entire base, ordering more and more frequently,” she adds.

    Customer-led thinking

    Clear and open communication to customers has been another of Whitney’s big priorities. During the early stages of Covid lockdowns in 2020, she notes Marley Spoon experienced significant supply chain issues as the demand for reliable and safe food delivery skyrocketed and customers flocked to our brands. The increased pressure on food supply and logistics on a national level and across industries caused significant shortages of food and delivery delays.

    “In a time when Australians were looking for clear answers around how to stay safe and what businesses were open, we adopted a communication strategy that embraced transparency with our customers, keeping them informed on what we were doing to not only ensure they received their delivery but that the food was safe to consume,” she says.

    “While the idea of transparency is a common one quoted by businesses, customers were incredibly positive about the weekly updates, thanking us for keeping them informed and ultimately fed, through the worst weeks.” 

    When Marley Spoon had a positive Covid case in its Melbourne facility, it promptly alerted customers of potential delivery delays or supply shortages while production to Sydney.

    “A week later, when The Victorian Department of Health announced our facility was an exposure site, our customers were the first people to comment on social media and news articles that they had been alerted a week prior and knew all the safety measures,” Whitney continues.  

    “The positive feedback from our customers we received was heart-warming for our team to see and represents the ongoing and transparent nature of Marley Spoon’s relationship with our customers.”


    When she first joined Marley Spoon, Whitney was expecting to work to reposition its brands, drawing on her years of experience in creating relevant, motivating and unique communication platforms for Australian consumers.

    “What I didn’t realise was that my role wasn’t to re-engineer our above-the-line advertising ecosystem, but rather focus on local opportunities and building the best team,” she explains. “In the last 12 months, by focusing on innovation, partnerships, team support and streamlining processes, I was able to help bring more local initiatives to life.”  

    Among these achievements was working more closely on individual projects with the local team and allowing the group’s performance marketing experts in Berlin to do what they do best.

    “This allowed the local Australian team to take ownership of projects that otherwise would have been stuck in development hell,” Whitney says.

    Examples include systematically improving the box experience through a packaging optimisation program, as well as launching Marley Spoon’s Box Partner program. The latter has generated over $617,000 and delivered nearly 1 million samples into customers’ orders every week.

    Commercial acumen

    As a result of these efforts, Australia continues to outpace all other regions for Marley Spoon in contribution margin, growth and new customer acquisition every quarter - despite the market size and limited public awareness of meal kits. Australian operations contributed 42 per cent towards the company's global contribution margin in the first half of 2021, while the US made up 36 per cent and the European Union 32 per cent.

    “The key to this has been creating more collaboration between our local marketing team and global creative counterparts in Berlin whilst producing each campaign,” Whitney says. “Working together, teams collaborated constantly to develop one campaign for Marley Spoon and one for Dinnerly that had similar themes but were specifically matched with each market to make them feel localised and unique.

    “Our TVCs that launched at the beginning of the year for both Marley Spoon and Dinnerly allowed us to put this localisation into practice and develop new campaigns that showcased our creative flair and on-brand humour. Marley Spoon’s ‘For the Love of Food’ and Dinnerly’s ‘Own Dinnertime’ acquisition campaigns have been our most successful TVCs since we launched.”  

    Key results include increasing active subscribers by 61 per cent compared from the previous quarter as well as the number of meals delivered by 67 per cent.

    People and capability

    Through all of this, Whitney has worked to build team culture and moment. One project she’s particularly proud of is the inaugural Graduate program, which introduced Marley Spoon’s first ever finance and marketing graduate to the company on 1 January 2021.

    Under the program, a new University graduate works within the team, spending six months in marketing then six months in finance. They then spend their final trimester internationally in another Marley Spoon office within their preferred department.  The success of the program can be seen in the Box Partner Program.

    “I developed a Box Partner Program as a key deliverable for our Graduate to own: It has company-wide impact, contributes incremental revenue, and gives our graduates an opportunity to think about the customer experience and values at all times,” Whitney says.

    “Additionally, working on the Box Partner Program allowed our graduates to be incredibly visible within the company and allowed them to understand the function of multiple departments. Not only have they been able to become a productive and contributing member of the team, they have been empowered with a sense of achievement that comes with bringing in consistent revenue and building relationships with new long-term partners.”  

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