Author: Mark Kusionowicz
I may have been watching too many episodes of Masterchef recently but, while cooking up a mean curry at the weekend, I got to thinking how many similarities there were between the process of preparing and serving a meal with the creation and execution of marketing and business development strategies. This might just be stretching an analogy too far, but don your chef’s whites, pick up your favourite knife and let’s get going!
Planning is essential
And that last sentence illustrates my first point – you would never rush into the kitchen, start chopping and mixing at random with the first things that fell out of the larder or had the brightest packaging. But that is exactly what many people do with their marketing – they see the latest shiny thing (social media, for example) and just go ahead and randomly spend time doing stuff without thinking about a strategy or what they are trying to achieve first.
You need to have thought through actions, timings and resources before lifting a finger.
Everything has a process
Both marketing and cooking can involve a number of individual activities that come together, hopefully, to deliver an enjoyable experience for your ‘diners’. Just as with any complex programme of activity you need to define which activities need to be done in what order, and where the cross dependencies are.
I like to divide the role, or process, of Marketing into 3 phases of a continuous cycle: Understand – Build – Engage. I would suggest that the same could be said of the process for providing a meal.
Understand the market
In the amateur culinary world you begin by having a reason, or target, for your meal preparation. It may be a quick bite to eat for you during the working day, a family Sunday lunch, a dinner party with friends or even providing the local school fete with food to sell. Whatever it is will greatly impact what you need to produce, how you will produce it and how much you need to produce.
It’s just the same with your marketing strategy – you need to understand your target market. Too many start-ups, and even established enterprises, rush headlong into building products and promoting them when there is no real market wanting to ‘eat’ what they are producing.
Before starting to cook anything you need to know who you are preparing the meal for – do they have particular food likes and dislikes, are they vegetarian, are they trying to lose or gain weight, have they any food allergies? In the commercial world you need to understand your buyers motivations, needs, likes and dislikes in just the same way and you create a ‘buyer persona’ to illustrate this.
As well as understanding the buyers themselves, you also need to understand how they buy in order to appeal to them – in business this would be called the ‘buying cycle’.
When preparing meals you need to know how they are to be consumed – will it be a long leisurely meal at a dining table, a TV dinner on a tray or a snack on the run? This influences what and how much you prepare as well as how your serve it.
The Understand phase of the cycle, culinary or marketing, can often be the most important for success – it is a vital step before you even get into the kitchen.
Build for the market
Now we come onto the actual cooking. But hold up – you need to know what ingredients you have available, or can buy, before deciding on your final menu. It might be obvious to state it, but you can’t cook lobster thermidor without having lobster. And you can’t expect to produce delicious pulled pork in just 30 minutes.
Similarly, in the marketing sphere, you need to understand what assets, people and resources you have access to before deciding what product or service to build.
Using what you know about your diners, from the Understand phase, and the ingredients you have, you create a meal plan or menu that you think will appeal most to them. You do the same with your product or service development plan – match your solution to your target buyers rather than building it just because you can.
You now go ahead and produce your meal. Whether you are creating everything from raw materials using just a knife, a pan and a couple of utensils or you have every last kitchen gadget that the celebrity chefs have recently been advertising, you need to know what the techniques and processes are doing to your ingredients that turn them into delicious dishes. One of the hardest things to do is to gauge the cooking of the perfect steak! You will need to have ‘recipe’ instructions, even if those are in your head because you have created and cooked this many times before. You will need to be able to cope with changes or unforeseen incidents – that jar of essential spice you thought you had, well it’s empty – what to do instead?
You approach the development of your commercial solution in just the same way. Even if you have the latest and greatest development tools you need to have a good design, an effective development process and to understand what those tools are doing for you in order create the perfect end product. Many production teams are now using ‘Agile’ processes – these are approaches that can be utilised in a small start-up with limited budget just as effectively as in a major corporate with huge resources.
Engage with the market
You would not serve a five-course dinner party menu if you have not yet invited your guests and they have said that they will come. In the business world you can’t just build a brilliant product and expect the customers to come without communicating with them – this is the Engage phase of the marketing cycle.
If you were a commercial restaurant you would need to describe the dishes on your menu in such a way that clients will actually want to eat them. Even at home you wouldn’t ask your partner if they would like to eat pig innards, fat and cereal grains ground up in intestinal lining served with something you’d dug up from the garden rather than saying “would you like sausages and mash tonight?”
In just the same way, for your marketing, you need to create a Value Proposition – a description of the solution you are creating that appeals to the needs and wants of your target buyer and that illustrates what they are going to get out of it. This is not a description of the technicalities or constituents of the product – a mistake often made by technology companies both large and small (and some trendy restaurants unfortunately).
Depending on your desired guests and how they like to communicate with you, you will have called them by telephone, emailed them or set up a Facebook event and told them about the party you are planning. However, you probably would not invite your grandmother with a Twitter message if she hasn’t even got a computer!
In the business world you also need to communicate your proposition to your target buyers and to do that you need to use the communication channels and mechanisms that they want to use. You need to include a request to do something, a ‘call to action’ as its known, just like asking your invited guests to confirm that they will come to your dinner party. Modern technology does come to our aid somewhat here. Just as my children’s generation have found that it is so much easier to organise a party through a Facebook event rather than multiple phone calls, in business you can use novel new mechanisms such as INNOVOs global commercial network to communicate with, and make offers to, potential buyers just when they are at the point of ‘being hungry’.
And now we come to the meal itself. Do you just plonk pans with the cooked food, starter, mains, sides and deserts all together on the table in front of your guests? Of course you don’t. You set a table, with the glasses, cutlery and ancillary items needed to ensure the guests can enjoy your meal at its best. You may have pleasant music playing in the background. You then serve the food, a course at a time, nicely displayed to whet their appetite. It’s not just about the dishes, but also about the whole experience of the meal.
That’s the same in business. Obviously the actual product or service has to be good, but often it is how it is packaged, delivered and serviced that ranks as highly as the content itself in the minds of your buyers.
The result to hope for in both cooking and marketing is a group of very well satisfied ‘diners’ who will come back for more some time soon. How do you tell? Well, with the cooking you get the comments after the meal. Similarly you need to seek feedback in the world of marketing by measuring the levels of satisfaction in your clients. The only real difference is probably that the customers of your marketing will hopefully have not gained a few extra pounds weight as a result of the experience!