VP, Brand Marketing & Creative

Grubhub Brand VP on Being a Source for Good and Growth

Grubhub Brand and Creative VP Jessica Burns credits her non-traditional career moves and diverse experiences to making her the marketer she is today. And as she leads the food-delivery brand through Coronavirus challenges, Jessica is staying laser-focused on finding authentic ways to add value for consumers. Here, she shares the importance of putting people first and how she's spearheading the brand's pivot (not departure) from its core marketing strategies to drive immediate impact.

How did you get to where you are today? 

There are three factors that have guided me throughout my career journey. First, a great foundational network that I started building during my first job at Grey Advertising. I was lucky to work alongside a powerhouse group of female marketing executives (like Debby Reiner and Madonna Badger) who have shaped the way I lead to this day.  This network has stood the test of time. … I tell young marketers all the time that this industry is incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly challenging to navigate, so building your network bench early on is essential.

Second, I’ve embraced the mistakes, or what I like to call them “detours” in my career. … I think too often in this industry, marketers are typecast, expected to tick all the boxes of a perfect CMO role, but I value the folks that have made detours, embraced mistakes and gathered non-traditional experiences to build their careers.

Third, and I think this is the most important piece, is that I’ve always put people first—both the people I’ve been lucky enough to manage and the people who have made the brands that I have managed part of their lives. This means putting people on top of my to-do list every day. This also means taking a consumer-first approach to my work, being more consumer-in.

What’s currently happening in marketing that you’re most excited about?

"We’re finally seeing more brands embrace the fact that they can be a source for good and growth."

We’re finally seeing more brands embrace the fact that they can be a source for good and growth. Brands, big and small, are out there standing up for culturally relevant issues and leveraging innovative strategies to fundamentally disrupt established ways to drive awareness and fundraise. We created Donate the Change, a round-up feature that allows our millions of diners to round up their order to the nearest dollar to support organizations in communities that we serve. Since integrating this simple feature into our platform less than two years ago, our diners have contributed more than $18M dollars to organizations like No Kid Hungry, American Red Cross and our RestaurantHER program in partnership with James Beard Foundation’s women’s initiatives. … I think we’ll continue to see the industry go beyond just promoting products and services—it will be about changing our communities and the lives of consumers for the better.

How have you adapted your marketing strategies amidst the Pandemic?

Like many brands, this virus has completely transformed our business, and we’ve had to pivot our marketing strategy in what seems like overnight. We’ve gone from delivering meals from the nation's largest restaurant network to helping save the industry and ensure our drivers and diners are safe in the process.

To help drive awareness around these new efforts, we’ve launched an integrated national campaign across TV, social, and our owned channels focused on saving local restaurants.  The heart of the work is telling the stories of these amazing small business owners, the cornerstones of their communities, and how important it is to support them with orders at this time.  Alongside our national campaign, we created the Grubhub Community Relief Fund, where 100% of donations from Donate the Change will go toward supporting restaurants, drivers, and communities impacted by the Covid-19 health crisis.

Anything new you’re exploring?  

For the past couple of years, we’ve seen success in partnering with gamers and e-sports teams in live streaming events on platforms like Twitch and Mixer. “Grubhub and gaming” was the new “Netflix and chill” for us. So, last year we decided to branch out on our own and created Soundbites. But instead of top gamers, we partnered with chart-topping musicians (knowing music ranked high on our diners’ interests) to perform live concerts broadcasted on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. We built an exclusive experience for those that were local while giving virtual access to our diners nationwide. … This year, as live streaming experiences gain in popularity, we plan to continue the Soundbites tour in Chicago with a home-town musical legend. We hope to make another stop on the west coast before the year is out.

How are you thinking about customer retention right now?

Consumers have more delivery options than ever before, creating a lot of promiscuity within the category, so we’ve been focused on driving Grubhub brand love through a robust offering of rewards. The flagship feature is Grubhub+, a new membership program that offers unlimited free delivery and exclusive benefits like 10% cash-back, Donate the Change donation matching and first dibs to experiences, like our Soundbites concert series.

In addition to Grubhub+, we also promote daily offers through Perks and we’ll continue to develop innovative ways to provide the most value back to our diners. As the nation continues to face the uncertainty of Covid-19, being able to reward Grubhub diners for the meals that they love and continue to support local restaurants along the way is something that we care very much about.

What is one skill that you think is currently underdeveloped in Marketing?

Data-driven creativity. While I believe creative should be built with empathy, storytelling, cultural influences and other aspects beyond algorithms, data can help inspire creative ideas or make existing creative even better. For example, we take a very agile approach at Grubhub when it comes to developing TV commercials, which are traditionally difficult to modify.  We leverage the data from syndicated research tools and direct response measurement platforms to help us understand which variables are impacting the performance of a spot, so we can make running optimizations if needed.

How do you pick and develop the talent on your team?

Grubhub and Seamless Marketing teams
Part of the more than 100-person brand and growth marketing teams that lead both Grubhub and Seamless brands.

I am drawn to folks who are: 1) naturally curious with an insatiable desire to learn new things and develop ideas and 2) great collaborators who understand that their ideas are made better with a diverse team to strengthen and support them.

The delivery industry and marketing have one thing in common: both are constantly evolving at a crazy clip. What was seen as a sacred cow one day is quickly dismissed the next.  That’s why I promote building my team’s emotional adaptability (AQ) which focuses on a growth mindset and being open to failing, learning and iterating.

What has helped you maintain your creative spirit?

Daniel Pink wrote a book titled When that I’ve been evangelizing and have been putting into practice the last couple of years. He is super critical of the periods of the day when humans are the most productive. He categorizes people into three types: an early bird, a night owl, or you’re somewhere in-between—kind of a third bird. I’m very much a third bird, and I use that to control my schedule during the day. And I have to tell you, it’s been pretty life-changing.

This is my third-bird schedule: In the morning, I do all of my critical thinking. If I have to make big decisions during a meeting with my team, I do all of those before noon. That’s when my brain is the most active and my critical-thinking skills are at 100%. Around noon, that’s when I’m at my all-time low from a mental-capacity perspective. That’s when I do a lot of my administration stuff, like check emails, make notes for myself, schedule meetings. Around 3 pm, I have a creative rebound. That’s when I’ll schedule brainstorms to think through new opportunities with my team, new campaigns, big ideas. I know that sounds crazy-regimented, but it’s been pretty transformative for me to just be able to be a productive human being throughout the day.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don't stop being human. I think as marketers, we can sometimes get too consumed in the work and lose sight of the person who’s actually receiving our messages.  In order for the messages to truly resonate, we need to scrap the salesy, marketing jargon and talk to them as if they were a friend or family member. Would your mom understand this?

"...your brand is not at the top of their agenda."

Also, being human means continuously putting yourself in the shoes of your consumer, and being humble enough to understand that these folks have busy schedules and your brand is not at the top of their agenda. So, it’s critical to find authentic ways to insert our brand in conversations to add value to their lives.