Profile: Rachel Smith, Assistant Vice President, Shopper Marketing, The Coca-Cola Co.

Charlie Menchaca
Managing Editor
Charlie Menchaca profile picture

Rachel Smith’s networking has benefited her both personally and professionally. While still at agency DraftFCB (now FCB/RED), she met a colleague’s friend for tea. The friend liked Smith’s background, so he introduced her to the person who would become her first boss at Coca-Cola. The friend also took a liking to Smith: They have been married for 12 years.

Tell us about your early days at Coca-Cola. 

SMITH: I started with Coca-Cola in our sports and entertainment marketing activation division. I loved the role because I have been a sports fanatic forever and worked for marketing agency Paragon Sports and Entertainment for years.  While working on activating events with Coke’s sports partners, I collaborated with our shopper marketing team to apply marketing assets in creative and meaningful ways to drive the customer’s and Coca-Cola’s businesses. I loved the focus on creating solutions for shoppers and building plans to change their behavior. I was hooked and have been working with retailers, brand teams and commercialization teams ever since.

Describe your current role. 

SMITH: I lead our shopper marketing team dedicated to the drug and value channels, focused on four key customers – Walgreens, CVS, Dollar General and Family Dollar – across our entire portfolio of Coca-Cola Co. beverages. My team identifies opportunities to drive category growth with our retailers while driving engagement for our brands. We start with building long-term strategic plans and translate them into annual plans. Since we understand our retailers’ points of differentiation, as well as their shoppers, we can build impactful shopper marketing programs that build their businesses and ours. I am fortunate to work with great customers and fantastic employees within Coke. I also have the privilege to leverage and help build beloved brands.

How are you addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in your marketing? 

SMITH: Job number one is always to understand your shopper, so we had to hypothesize and quickly study the change in shopper behaviors. How are trip missions and behaviors evolving? How do those differ by customer and shopper segment? For sure we are identifying new opportunities with omnichannel commerce, building on successful programs we have launched in the past. As shoppers look to limit trips in-store, we are taking key beverage occasions that centered on in-store activation and expanding to a full connected-commerce shopper marketing activation through last-mile delivery, curbside and even drive-thru. 

What motivates you most in your current position? 

SMITH: The ability to bring value to our retailers and our great brands in new, innovative ways, like our Coca-Cola/USO program at Dollar General, “Coke Happy Hour” at Walgreens, smartwater Hydration at CVS, and Coca-Cola Boys & Girls Club at Family Dollar. The retail environment is so exciting with all the new ways that shoppers can make purchase decisions. As a shopper marketer, I am motivated by the opportunity to figure this puzzle out. How do we influence shoppers in new ways, capture impulse purchases and provide a seamless experience for shoppers with our retailers?

Every day I am inspired working with my team of really passionate individuals and marketers with the opportunity to build future leaders in this space. 

What is the shopper’s greatest need today? How is Coca-Cola working to meet that need? 

SMITH: The shopper is looking for a frictionless experience, and shopper expectations have never been higher. As brands and retailers, we need to make it easy and personalized while also anticipating the shopper’s needs. At Coca-Cola, we have a tremendous insights team and proprietary shopper tools to help us understand how and where to link our brands with consumers to best influence their purchase decisions. Then we collaborate with retailers on shopper marketing programs that truly inspire the shopper – driving conversion and loyalty.


SMITH: We had been building big 2020 Summer Olympics shopper marketing plans for over a year. When the Olympics were postponed, we had to pivot. We quickly looked at the role of our brands during the summer months in the new COVID world. Our brands bring people together, and summer is the first chance for many folks to come together. Our new shopper marketing programs will now enable togetherness, celebration and community during these unprecedented times.