Profile: Kelly Marsh, Director, Industry Affairs and Capabilities, Nestle Starbucks Coffee

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Profile: Kelly Marsh, Director, Industry Affairs and Capabilities, Nestle Starbucks Coffee

By Institute Staff - 01/15/2019
Photo by Lindsey Wasson

Kelly Marsh started her marketing career at Starbucks in the early 2000s. She held a variety of marketing roles to build the brand both nationally and locally. As Starbucks exploded with new store openings across the U.S., Marsh developed plans to introduce the brand in new markets throughout Texas and Louisiana.

Marsh was then asked to move to Indianapolis to support growth in the Midwest and develop the brand through community sponsorships. Afterward Marsh jumped into the world of shopper marketing when she began to work on plans for Starbucks coffee shops located within bigger box retail customers such as Kroger and Target. Driving conversion along the path to purchase when the shoppers were in those retail environments was the goal, although at the time Starbucks did not have a traditional CPG marketing team.

As Starbucks started to further build out a CPG team and begin selling direct to retailers, Marsh was offered the newly created shopper marketing role on a customer team in Minneapolis. She then became the director of shopper innovation and experience, leveraging her strong brand understanding and shopper passion.

What are your current responsibilities?

MARSH: During my role as director, shopper innovation and experience, I was responsible for leading the permanent merchandising strategy and collaborating with retailers in FDMC to reinvent the coffee category through innovative experiences. My team led the entire initiative from developing the strategy, designing the merchandising solutions and the installation in-store. I recently just completed a six-month assignment as director, shopper marketing, for Nestle Starbucks Coffee. In that role, I led the team that is responsible for collaborating with retailers to develop marketing plans that drive conversion along the ever-changing path to purchase. I am just beginning the start of a new journey as director, industry affairs and capabilities, for Nestle Starbucks Coffee.

Describe the structure of your organization as it relates to merchandising, including how you interact with shopper marketing and with insights.

MARSH: I led the dedicated team that owns the in-store experience. Collaboration with shopper marketing and category development team members is critical to our success as an organization. Everyone has a responsibility to know the shopper and retailer insights intimately and we all co-sell the solutions together.

How does your company define success for its in-store marketing programs?

MARSH: Like with all shopper marketing programs, KPIs vary depending on the program objective. However, the critical components for all of our programs are ensuring there is a win-win-win for the retailer, the shopper and the brand simultaneously.

How has the emergence of the omnichannel shopper influenced your overall approach to merchandising?

MARSH: The omnichannel shopper continues to keep us on our toes and constantly evolve our go-to-market plans to ensure we intersect them at the conversion opportunity. It has made the work of delivering on in-store experience more critical than ever.

What are the important characteristics of a mutually beneficial merchandising collaboration between a manufacturer and retailer?

MARSH: Alignment to plans that support category and brand growth while laddering up to the strategies of both companies.

How has merchandising changed recently?

MARSH: Within the last year, I have recognized more openness from retailers to try something different in-store beyond traditional grocery runs, gondolas and adjacencies.

What trends are happening now?

MARSH: We see many retailers testing new concepts and ideas with some moving toward disruptive nontraditional floor pad designs and traffic flows. As the brick-and-mortar and e-commerce spaces begin to blur and blend together, I see many retailers starting to integrate technology with in-store merchandising to continue to stay relevant in this rapidly changing space. It is a very exciting time to be in this industry and to be a part of history as things evolve.

What role do you foresee the physical store playing in the future?

MARSH: It is not just the physical store to me. Rather, it is the human, sensorial, emotionally connected experience within the physical store space that has become increasingly more important. I think of grocery in this space as most critical. Food is sensorial and tactile. We have a responsibility to balance getting the experience right while allowing the shopper to explore, with organizing the traffic patterns in store in such a way that allows them to quickly find what they want so they have more time to explore and potentially add to the basket.


MARSH: The most successful merchandising of my career has been within the last few years when I have been able to see such strong partnerships across several retailers. It has worked best when my team and I have been able to roll up our sleeves with the retailers and problem solve with them. We diagnose challenges and develop solutions to grow the category through changing their in-store experiences. We have co-designed solutions that fit seamlessly within their in-store environment from a design standpoint yet are disruptive just enough to create a cause for pause in the shopper’s journey. This pause is enough to encourage the shopper to explore the category in a new and different way, thus driving engagement and ultimately category growth.


MARSH: My most recent successes have been through retailer collaborations to address flat-to-negative category numbers for the first time in years. Through proprietary research our team identified shopper challenges and began to put together merchandising solutions. To solve the challenges, I hosted several workshops with the retailers where our cross-functional teams dug deep into the issues. We co-designed the right merchandising solution for the shopper bringing in lighting elements, coffee shop-inspired design elements, kitchen countertops and coffee shop recipes to inspire shoppers. We had so much fun in these sessions, with the key being that we always focused on the shopper’s problem to solve and had our full cross-functional teams working fluidly together.

Our solution led to returned category growth and strong brand growth. Not only that, it also led to improved retailer perceptions indicating just how important in-store experiences are to shoppers. This was some of the most rewarding work I have ever done for three reasons – the retailer’s growth, the brand growth and ultimately, to hear the shopper tell us how much they liked these in-store experiences and how it hit directly on the brief of the shopper problem to solve.