Why You Should Market Like You (Want to) Cook

Portent Marketing Recipe

Great marketing should be mouthwatering, scrumptious, and satisfying. Don’t you want customers pining for your next email, devouring every bit of information, and anxiously awaiting more?

We don’t always think about marketing in terms of a delicious meal, but restaurants and marketers ultimately have the same goals. Give customers a taste of something yummy, satisfy their appetites, and keep them coming back for more.

Cooks have the advantage because they directly appeal to one of the most basic human needs (nourishment) and there are few things—if any—more satisfying than the perfect combination of dishes (okay, maybe the perfect combination of dishes and beverages). For me, few things beat a perfectly seared medium-rare fatty ribeye steak with a bold juicy red wine.

If we start thinking about the reactions we evoke from customers in the same way that culinary masterminds do, we can appeal more to their basic needs and desires, achieving maximum satisfaction for them while delivering profitability to us.

Here are five ways we can apply the secrets of successful kitchens and gastronomy to our marketing plans.

1. Be creative

Both marketing and cooking encourage and allow endless creativity and innovation. This is the magical allure of each.

But do not abuse the creativity by straying too far from your core competency. Find ways to innovate and expand your audience from within your brand voice and image.

If you’re looking for a new interpretation of the s’mores sandwich—of course, a waste of time because it’s perfect—don’t try to make it more savory with a garlic aioli. When sprucing up a traditional French dish, a Tex-Mex flare might not be the most cohesive approach.

On the other hand, lemongrass matzo ball soup (it even sounds delicious) is a brilliant and delightful play on the traditional dish.

Why You Should Market Like You (Want to) Cook

Courtesy of www.bonappetit.com

That’s what you want to be.

In the marketing world if you envision creating a viral video, a piece of highly shareable content, or something to engage a new audience, think about what’s on your menu. How can you take what you already do well, and elevate it by adding a new dimension?

Starbucks’ #spreadthecheer hashtag on Twitter this past fall is a great example of a discombobulated marketing flavor profile. Yes, it’s a thing. This unfortunately coincided with widespread public criticism of Starbucks’ labor practices and questionable corporate tax policy. Starbucks did not consider how all of the elements would mesh, resulting in the equivalent of a lemon-curd mocha. Cheer was not spread.

Instead, take a lesson from something brilliantly simple like the Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiment. A perfect balance of two things many people like—Diet Coke and Mentos—combined with a few things everyone loves—a sweet bass line, theatrics, and synchronized fountains—yields over 16 million views. That’s tasty!

2. Time it right

Whether cooking a delicious meal or brainstorming marketing ideas, keen awareness of your surroundings is imperative. Both require multi-tasking. When you know what’s happening, new opportunities arise.

Experienced and passionate cooks know that for optimal flavor, it’s best to use the freshest local produce. Ideally, produce should not have a long commute to your table. When selecting vegetables to cook in the midst of Washington (Portent is located in Seattle) winter, discerning chefs try to stay away from corn—it couldn’t have come from anywhere local because it’s primarily a summer vegetable. Instead, one might opt for the kale or apropos snow peas because they are winter vegetables more likely to be sourced closer to home.

Whether taking advantage of the best seasonal produce or a trending topic for your marketing plan, utilize convenience and existing opportunities whenever possible.

If I planned this blog post better, I could have coordinated it with the “Top Chef: Seattle” season finale last month. (There would have been a lot of searches around “top chef.”)

Check the calendar, look for upcoming holidays and identify potential opportunities to coordinate with events that already attract a large audience like the Super Bowl. How about a campaign for donating a percentage of your April revenues to a charity supporting Earth Day on April 20? Do you have a grand idea to coincide with the increasing ads for products and gifts targeted towards Mother’s Day on May 12?

3. Practice good management

Gordon Ramsay has a very distinct approach to managing his personnel and TV show participants: bitch, yell, intimidate, and then deliver just the right amount of sincere praise (when it’s due)—all of it in an entertainingly muddy British accent.


Iron Chef Morimoto is more demure and quiet with a head down approach. (When you make ridiculously innovative and incredible food for that long, people drop everything to listen at a second’s notice.)

The chefs have different styles of communication, but they both balance all of the moving parts of their kitchen with impeccable timing. They know every ingredient and item their sous chefs prepare. This doesn’t come off the cuff; it’s strategically organized so that everyone knows their role.

First choose a solid team able to execute your general marketing idea. Consider the theme of your campaign: what is the flavor profile? When that’s solidified, determine a specific timeline for completion of each piece and decide if that piece is a dish served independently or assembled into a grander meal.

If the campaign involves an aspect of outreach (which it likely should), assign someone to research relevant parties, organizations, and people to contact in advance. But remember: asking people to help or participate never bears fruit immediately. Account for an estimated time frame to hear back from contacts and build it into the deadline for completing outreach.

Are the proper discussion points, graphics, and videos prepared for your social media team to deliver on Facebook and Twitter? Perfect timing requires the timeline and all supporting materials to be ready well in advance.

When cooking, you must ensure the excellence of every ingredient. In business and marketing, if each piece of the campaign isn’t quality by itself, it will only bring down the entire dish. Realistically, things happen on the fly all of the time, but it’s always best to account for error and create as much time for review as possible.

This boils down to another element of timing: if the copy and personnel are in place to contact potential supporters, but the graphics and media aren’t ready, it can’t happen. Everything must be ready at the right time.

4. Adjust as needed

When steak runs out and the kitchen has to 86 (cancel) the dish, great chefs in nimble kitchens see an opportunity to create a new nightly special by using excess available ingredients from other menu items.

For example, a customer writes a scathing review on your Facebook wall. Rather than ignoring it or responding defensively, use the situation as an opportunity to showcase stellar customer service: respond to it directly and apologetically, offering multiple solutions to fix the problem, replace the product, or offer a free trial. This turns what could be a blemish on your profile into a demonstration of high quality, genuine customer service.

Or maybe you didn’t sell all of your discounted flash sale products, leaving you with excess inventory. Instead of leaving it to collect dust in your online store, use each item as part of an advertised giveaway to collect email addresses or increase your social following. Be creative to continue getting value from that inventory.

5. Present it tastefully

Chefs taste as they cook to ensure that all components of the dish and meal (including its marketability) are on point. That means tasty, unique, and cohesive.

The final product is only as good as the sum of its parts, or only as good as the weakest link, or insert other overused business cliché here. (These sayings are overused for a reason.)

Quality control at each step is essential. That doesn’t mean micro-managing and smothering creativity, but there must be adequate time to check every element.

When delivering a dish or final product, make it attractive. People eat with their eyes and their nose before ever putting anything in their mouth. It’s a mélange of the senses building to the most pleasurable and successful experience possible. That is the crux of both brilliant cuisine and marketing.

We don’t want our customers to just “go through the motions” by clicking on our advertisements or entering an email address—both are the equivalent of eating a bland meal.  We want them overwhelmed with excitement to get more information, join our community, or sign up for a trial.

This pork marketing campaign is a great example. A display ad showing an enticing image appears on a cooking site—great initial steps with effective audience targeting and appealing creative.

Caribbean Pork Chops Image
Courtesy of www.porkbeinspired.com

Click on the ad and it takes me directly to the website showing: a great slogan (entirely echoing my sentiments that pork makes everything better), beautiful images of delicious pork goodness, links to a variety of recipes thus broadening appeal (people love options), an easy recipe video, and a call to action inviting users to share recipes.

This isn’t perfect and it doesn’t apply to all forms of marketing, but in essence this contains many of the core concepts we want our campaigns to echo.

  • Targeted audience
  • Enticing creativity
  • Engaging content
  • Succinct and appropriate call to action

These aren’t brand new concepts to us as marketers, but next time you’re planning a marketing campaign, or even a one-off email, try a new approach.

Think about your favorite restaurant (your mother’s kitchen counts) and the feelings you experience there. It can be anything from a dimly lit romantic setting to childhood nostalgia.  Then ask yourself: what do you experience when eating the meal? Can you imagine the presentation, recall the smell and excitement? At the end of the meal do you feel entirely satisfied or crave more?

Now, change your approach to best evoke these feelings and reactions from your customers to get them raving and coming back with their friends.

Please comment, share your experiences and passion for cooking and marketing. Do you know a restaurant or organization that does both well? Can you think of a cooking metaphor I didn’t already abuse?

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  1. Excellent article! There are many other analogies that small companies can use to spruce up their marketing efforts, for example, thinking how a big company would approach the same idea.

    1. Thanks Noor!
      That’s a great point. Vice versa, many large corporations can also benefit from occasionally adopting the management style and nimble practices of smaller companies to diversify their creative strategy and push changes and new ideas on a faster timeline.

  2. This is an interesting and relevant take on this topic. I will try to use this. It does get easy to get stuck in the same routine when it comes to marketing. Trying to mix it up and think about it in a different way like this is refreshing! Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks Neal, glad you like it! I’ve never eaten more while writing because this made me so hungry.

  3. Juicy article Alexander, very meaty and well spiced. Beautiful job of simplifying many complex concepts and making it very meaningful. I am looking forward to reading some more of your posts.

  4. …maybe this is why I made the jump from personal chef & food blogger to social media company? 😉
    I think something else that could be added to your “cook book” – build off the backs and progress of others. No dish is original anymore. Everything’s been done. The same could be said of digital marketing. Use what other’s have come up with and put a spin on it to make it interesting again.
    P.s. a perfectly seared medium-rare fatty (grass-fed) ribeye steak with a bold juicy red wine. Delish.

    1. I’m glad you agree, Kristy! I’m sure your cooking and blogging experience will serve you well in social media.
      You’ve definitely got a point there; while we strive to be unique, intimate knowledge of the strategies and successes of those before you is invaluable. That way we can think about how to innovate and play on those dishes to make them more interesting and relevant for our goals.
      One of my working titles was “Iron Chef Marketing”; being an “Iron Chef” of anything requires deep knowledge of fundamental techniques, historic successes, new trends, and then a borderline risky amount of creativity and originality.

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