Digital Marketing as Cooking, Part I



Throughout college (before my career path wound up taking me to the Baltimore office of WhatCounts), I worked in restaurants, holding multiple jobs: Waiter, bartender, bar manager, line cook. Learning from some exceptional chefs de cuisine taught me a lot, not just about how to make food, but about life itself. And there are quite a few lessons which can be applied to digital marketing, as well. I’ll be breaking this into two parts; today’s post will focus upon the fundamentals.

Mise en Place

Mise en place, often spoken simply as “meez” in kitchens, is French for “putting in place.” In practical terms, it refers to setting up your workspace prior to beginning the actual work itself. On a kitchen line, this means you’ve got the vegetables and herbs chopped and prepped, your oils readily accessible, your oven is fired to the necessary temperature, you have all the bowls and vessels ready: Essentially, everything called for in the recipe is at the ready, so you can cook the dish without needing to leave your station.

This holds true in digital marketing. Before you start any sort of campaign, be it a Web microsite, display advertising, email, social, what have you, put everything in its place. While there are far more moving parts in marketing than in cooking, from staff to upper management to resource considerations and so on, it is still incumbent upon you to manage those moving parts prior to execution. If you’re making linguine aglio e olio (literally “linguine with garlic and oil,” a traditional Italian dish), but upon cooking your noodles you realize that you haven’t minced the garlic, your dish is going to be less than ideal. Have you ensured the health of your email list prior to a new email campaign? Have you mapped out the strategy for your new social campaign? Have you set up goals — and goal values — in Google Analytics? Without that setup and preparation, you’re ultimately spinning your wheels and your efforts will not be nearly as efficient as they can.

The Fundamentals

Use the right tools for the right job.

Let’s look at a steak. There are essentially two ways to cook a steak. You can grill it, or you can do my preferred method: Get a cast-iron pan hotter than the surface of the sun on your stove, sear it on both sides to create a crust, then finish in a 450-degree oven for about two minutes per side, then rest for ten minutes. Behold, you have made steak.

It’s the same with pasta. You cook pasta by putting it in boiling water, cooking it to al dente, and then finishing in sauce. That’s just how it works.

Taking email as an example, there are some very clear practices to follow. Honor opt-outs immediately. Listen to your subscriber preferences. Send timely, targeted, relevant and valuable email to people who want to receive it. These are the fundamental rules of how email marketing works. Just as email doesn’t work if you don’t comply with CAN-SPAM and the best practices that work for your particular audience, pasta won’t cook in cold water. Keep to the recipe: Don’t use salt instead of pepper, don’t add canola oil instead of olive oil, don’t send email to addresses that said they don’t want to hear from you.


I’ve shouted this from the mountaintops, figuratively speaking, in webinars and other events: We Are Not Our Audience.

If you’re working the line in a restaurant and a particular dish gets returned several times for being too spicy, how will you respond? Would you say that the customers are unfit for your masterful cuisine, or would you consider that perhaps you may have indeed added too many drops of Dave’s Insanity Sauce? I would certainly hope it to be the latter. Just because it tastes great to your palate doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way.

This applies to all digital marketing, as well. If the opt-outs from your email campaign are far outpacing your sign-ups, if your Facebook and Twitter interaction has suddenly stagnated, if referral traffic to your website has plummeted, don’t automatically think that it’s because the general audience doesn’t quite “get” what you’re doing. It’s entirely possible that your content isn’t where it needs to be — and in the era of Facebook’s always-evolving EdgeRank and engagement-based inbox placement, publishing bad content can be worse than posting no content at all.

Though much of digital marketing is driven by creativity and imagination, there are always ground rules for how we must operate.

In my next post, we’ll take a look at how even though there are certain rules and best practices for both cooking and digital marketing, there’s always an opportunity to mix things up — or, as my friend and fellow Services Account Manager Sean McGarry says, “just get weird with it.”

Tim Brechlin
Services Account Manager, WhatCounts


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