Digital Marketing Redux   //   December 21, 2023

ButcherBox CMO Kiran Smith on how she overhauled a startup-y marketing team

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Most people say the subscription box era is over. Then there’s ButcherBox.

The Boston-based meat subscription company has been bootstrapped since it launched in 2015. The company is profitable. And it continues to grow — it brought in more than $600 million of revenue in 2022.

What made ButcherBox work for the first eight years was its scrappy mentality — one that focused on profitable growth. Now, the company is reaching its adolescence and brought in a veteran marketer to lead the charge.

Kiran Smith was named CMO last year, coming from companies like iRobot, Arnold Worldwide and Brookstone. Her mandate was to systematize the entire marketing schema for the company.

“What I found when I arrived about a year ago is that marketing was spread across six different teams, across multiple people within the business,” Smith said on the Modern Retail Podcast.

This wasn’t a bad thing, but for a scaling company, it meant that some workflows had to change. “That’s why I was hired,” Smith said, “to help build us for that next stage of growth.”

Part of the focus was on figuring out the latent potential. “There’s so much ahead of us, in terms of capabilities that we can build out as marketers,” Smith said. But the biggest focus this year was on recreating the marketing organization. “I would say it took up most of the first year,” she said. It involved figuring out how to make six different teams work under one leader, as well as creating a cohesive roadmap that fits the overall goals of the company.

But even with this daunting task, Smith said that much of ButcherBox’s marketing is already in place thanks to its rabid fan base. “That helps a lot — that we have our members’ belief in us and in our products,” she said.

With that, Smith said this was the type of job she’s always wanted — a company that’s growing but isn’t hampered by the patterns and bureaucracies most billion-dollar companies face.

“I didn’t find it daunting,” she said. “I found it exciting.”

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Bringing multiple teams underneath one leader
What I found when I arrived about a year ago is that marketing was spread across six different teams, across multiple people within the business. From a coordination standpoint, that made sense at the time. A startup is a typical roll-up-your-sleeves, get-done-what-needs-to-get-done [atmosphere]. And that got us to where we are today, which is incredible. It got us to [more than] half a billion dollars. But as we look at where that next half a billion is going to come from and how we organize ourselves — how we look at who our partners are and how we’re thinking about the marketing investment capabilities that we’re building — we had to take a look at the organization itself. And that’s why I was hired — to help build us for that next stage of growth.

ButcherBox’s focus on word-of-mouth
One of the unique things about ButcherBox is — and I don’t say this lightly — we have an amazing product. As a marketer, to be able to unapologetically talk about how great our meat and seafood products are gives us a leg up against a lot of competitors, honestly. … We have our own members … who are around their dinner table saying, ‘Oh, this meal tastes great.’ And they’re the first ones to jump in and say, ‘ButcherBox, you’ve got to try this.’ And they give a litany of reasons why. That belief that our members have in us and in our products helps a lot, in terms of being our best marketing tool. … The second part is that going grocery shopping is a habit. It’s something that people do weekly, maybe a couple of times a week. Therefore, food, for us on the subscription side with meat, fits into that pattern.

The company’s marketing mix
Social continues to be a very important channel for us. Affiliates and influencers continue to be a very important part of our mix. We’re on TikTok, we’re on all of those, with a variety of messages. We’re learning every day, in terms of what works and what doesn’t. And we are maniacal about testing. Email continues to be an extremely important part of our communication mix of how we talk to people. … So, [the marketing mix] is nothing surprising. Streaming continues to be a part of our media mix, as well. It’s a variety.