A year in the life: Building trust so marketers can ‘embrace the chaos’

Freshly chief marketing officer Mayur Gutpa
When we launched ‘A year in the life’ last month, Mayur Gupta shared a close-up look into his first three months as chief marketing officer of Freshly, a subscription-based, fully-prepared meal delivery company focused on healthy eating. He spent much of Q1 laying the groundwork needed to build trust within his team and across the organization. Trust and transparency, he asserts, are foundational to the success of both.
This month Gupta shares what he accomplished in April, including the steps he’s taken to cement that trust and the initiatives his team has launched across branding, customer acquisition, and diversity. – Ginger Conlon, US editor

Team dynamics

In Q1 we hired quickly and made a lot of organizational changes, so focusing on the culture in April was essential. When you're moving fast, it’s important to have people trust the changes you're going to make. That allows you to grow fast. So, the goal is not to shut down chaos, but to harness it. That can only happen if you have trust and a culture of transparency through communication.

That communication includes monthly marketing all-hands meetings, so everyone knows what's happening and why. We bring cross-functional leaders to those meetings, as well, to talk about what's happening in other parts of the company.

We’re also communicating to the broader organization what marketing will accomplish on a quarter-by-quarter basis, so everybody is aware of our goals and has an opportunity to give us feedback. This ensures that our marketing initiatives are not built in isolation. A big challenge for marketing is that nobody understands what the heck marketing is doing. We want to make sure that, as a company, we hold marketing accountable for clear and measurable outcomes.

We kicked that off through a roadshow in April visiting with other teams. The feedback was tremendous. People were impressed that marketing made an investment going around the company and clearly sharing what to hold us accountable for.

The road show was also an important way to clarify the difference between orchestration and ownership. We wanted to make sure that this process of building our brand and reinforcing our purpose and mission does not end up becoming a marketing-only thing.

We want to ensure that, while marketing is the orchestrator for the brand, driven by the core brand team, everybody and every single function in the company has to own the brand. That's a subtle difference, but a massive difference. Similarly, marketing is the orchestrator for growth, not the owner of growth. Everybody contributes to growth — from the product team to engineering and beyond.

All of that is about creating an open, collaborative culture. My personal mission to ensure our culture becomes the glue that hold us all together, because if you don’t have transparency and trust, no matter how great your strategies are and how much incredible talent you have, you will slow your growth trajectory as a company.

I cannot emphasize enough that we will continue to make sure that we are customer-obsessed on the outside and people-obsessed on the inside.

Brand building

Nearly the entire executive team came together and spent half a day with our brand agency, Wolff Olins, which was fantastic. Along with all the brand work they’ve been doing for us, they’ve conducted some call research to understand our audience and the core problems we’re solving for them.

We’ve established our content organization to support building the brand through the power of content and storytelling. We’ve hired a head of content, Cristina Tudino, and a creative director, Clifford Borress. And we’ve launched our own content studio. The team has already started shooting there; a week ago we shot our first chef's video.

It's a big investment that we've made. Content is going to play a massive role, especially in our category, not only to create excitement about our products and our meals for demand generation, but also to provide education and awareness. We want to tell the stories behind every single meal and share the inspiration for creating them. These are not just menu items — there is a rationale, there is emotion, and there is functional value behind each one of them. Content is going to become our strongest lever to communicate that to our consumers.

We also launched a blog on Medium, where our executives will share their perspectives on what makes Freshly. We want Mike [Wystrach], our chief executive, to share his perspective on the industry and the consumer landscape overall.

Thinking beyond acquisition

The big thing we've done in April is solidify the acquisition and retention pods, which are driven by marketing. Pods are what we call our cross-functional teams.

One of the challenges with customer acquisition that you face in growing companies is too often acquisition stops at the point of acquiring a user through a registration or subscription. Then, when your retention is a challenge, people say it's because you're bringing in a lot of crap users instead of focusing on the quality users that you bring.

So, we've changed the core KPI for our acquisition pod. They are now accountable for not only registering users, but also for the repeat order rate, up until the second order. Historically, the acquisition team was accountable for order number one, which is when someone signs up for a subscription. We've given them one more step. Now they have to focus on the quality of users they bring on, not just the volume of users.

Retention for any company is always a critical focus area, so our retention pod folded three or four different retention plans into one retention strategy with tangible KPIs for 2019. We have a leader who's driving that and it’s going well. We’ve seen a 120% increase in returning customers year-over-year since April 2018 and we’re hoping to continue on that cadence with the help of our retention pod.

Diversity at the core

We launched our diversity and inclusion lunches with two in April, and it’s already become much more than a meal together to get to know each other.

We are keeping it a group of three or four of us, just get to know each other. I feel that, as a leader, my responsibility is to understand every person on the team and have them understand me as an individual. We don't talk about work at all. We just talk about our passions and our ambitions and our backgrounds. Where we grew up. Do we enjoy doing this? There is not enough time to do that if you don't consciously make an effort to make that happen.

At the same time, we've created a small group that we think exemplifies our diversity within the marketing world. That group will become our nucleus to continue to drive diversity and inclusion within Freshly.

The first team meeting will happen in May, during which we’ll determine how we’ll define and measure diversity and inclusion. Then we’ll be able to say, ‘This is where we are today, let's see where we are three months from now.’ We’ll also discuss some of the conscious efforts we’ll make; for example, we may push our hiring team to focus on diversity, even if that means we are going to take four extra weeks to hire the right person. The more conscious we can be on driving this, the better.

We strongly believe that most diversity and inclusion efforts require a conscious effort — especially at a time when it isn't organically happening. It's not in our DNA just yet. There has to be a plan until it becomes organic.

Sparking partnerships

One thing I feel especially proud of is the focus on the horizontal partnerships and the horizontal teams. I've seen a lot of companies struggle with that. I have a strong partnership with my peers, including the chief product officer, the chief technology officer and the chief of HR. Because of that, we were able to make a big change within Freshly in the span of four weeks that in any other company would have been a chaotic mess.

We basically reorganized Freshly into three different kinds of pods — our cross-functional units that have accountable outcomes and our core objectives. We quickly realized that to keep our pace of growth, we had to grow in all three areas: the underlying platform, which is engineering, so the chief technology officer drives that; the features and functionality, led by the chief product officer; and the core experience that we're building to drive growth, which I lead.

The three of us are going to have our first strategy and planning session in May. We’ll each bring what we’ve accomplished in the previous quarter in each pod and discuss our plans for next quarter. When you’re running as fast as we are to drive growth, you need to make sure there is cross-functional collaboration and transparency.

Planning for May

Of course, we’ll continue to drive forward in all these areas.

One project we’re kicking off in May is customer research to dive deeper into the causality of the user behaviors we’re seeing — the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ We know who our highest loyal and highest value users are. We are now trying to answer why. How do we bring along other users into that same quarter of high value and high loyal? What are the drivers? What emotion, functional challenges and problems are we solving for them, or not solving. That’s going to be a big focus area for the next month and a half because, ultimately, what we do in terms of our acquisition and retention strategies will be influenced by the answer to that why.

How did we get here? Read about Gupta’s priorities and accomplishments from Q1.

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