What My High School Job in Fast Food Taught Me About Marketing
I lead an agile marketing team, one where we all contribute to a goal every two weeks, but we each serve that goal through our own specialty. One person publishes the social posts, another does the copywriting, a few people create visuals, another creates video, and somebody else pulls the numbers. We cross lines frequently, but each person has his or her specialty.
Despite the shared goal, at times it can be easy to feel a little lonesome in an area of specialty. I know (from experience) that spending an afternoon scheduling social posts for the weekend can feel uninspiring at times. We’ve all been stuck tweaking a blog post for the fourth day in a row, wondering where our original inspiration came from. Fixing bugs on the corporate website is hardly the creative endeavor most of us sought while job-hunting, right? I’d like to think we shatter the threat of monotony with a wholesome amount of fun team interaction and a casual environment, but the fact remains: the work can feel a bit dry at times.
As I said, I lead the team, so I feel it’s my job to do what I can to help my team recognize and challenge the reality of work being tedious. I decided against proposing more team-building, more snacks, or sillier games in our already frequently stimulating environment (not that those aren’t still encouraged). Instead, I drew on two pieces of advice from my first job.
A couple weeks before my sophomore year I got a job at a well-known fast food burger joint. I don’t have any awful stories — this really isn’t that sort of article. On the contrary, I gained at least two valuable perspectives from one of my trainers that have followed me into my careers in both business analysis and marketing.
Lesson 1 — Don’t Expect Praise for Consistency
I remember a few weeks into my BK experience, after mastering the grill and the fryer, I was assigned to the burger line. I was paired up with a veteran, a college-age gal with several years of experience. After showing me where the various ingredients were kept and how to maintain stock levels for the impending dinner crowd, she watched me make a few burgers. I must have been slow, because she imparted the first piece of wisdom I still carry with me:
“Listen to me. In six years of working here, I have never, not one time ever, had somebody come back up to the counter and say, ‘This cheeseburger was just beautiful; thank you so much!’”
I got the point: don’t be precious about how much mustard hits the bun, or whether the cheese is perfectly square on the patty. Nobody is paying to wait for craftsmanship; they’re paying for a known quantity of pre-portioned ingredients in a wax-paper wrapper. A few missing sesame seeds on the bun won’t stop them from getting $1.25 worth of enjoyment.
I took this lesson to heart and dramatically increased my output. For those of you who are cringing at the likely decrease in quality that resulted, read on for lesson 2.
Lesson 2 — Don’t Forget that Your Work is Going in Somebody’s Mouth
It was that same evening, my first on the burger line, an hour or so into the rush. I thought I was doing pretty well for my first shift, hastily fulfilling family-size orders of bacon cheeseburgers while shouting patty orders back to the grillers when my supplies were low.
That’s when I got a bit of balancing feedback from my trainer. It started with an, “Okay, how are we doing back here?” which I came to learn was code in this work establishment for, “Why are you messing up? What don’t you understand about what you’re doing?”
When I answered, “Pretty good, I think.” I knew right away that it was the wrong answer.
She set me straight:
“I know I said you needed to work faster, but what you’re making is going into somebody’s mouth. Don’t get so wrapped up in clearing your order screen that you forget that. I’ve had two people complain that their burgers were sloppy.”
And therein lies the balance: don’t be precious, but don’t be sloppy either.
Applying These Lessons to Marketing
I think of lesson 1 to this day when I consider speed and consistency. I don’t want my team considering every nuance of what they’re doing to the point of paralysis. We have to look at the data, make an assessment, and take action. The resulting data from each new experiment is worth more, in my estimation, than the best brainstorming sessions or hours of endless revision. We need that data to make the next idea better. We need to get the work out to know how we should work better next time.
In your rush to gather feedback and data from the market, you can’t forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. That’s the power of lesson 2. If you work in marketing, the things you craft probably aren’t going into somebody’s mouth, but you do have a buyer out there who is taking in what you create. They deserve to consume quality. They deserve work that helps them make a purchasing decision, even if that decision is not buying what you’re selling.
Balancing Speed and Quality on Your Team
Beyond sharing the glory and wisdom of my days in fast food, I try to help my team balance speed and quality by keeping these lessons present in our work.
Lesson 1 reminds us that consistently doing our job is just what’s expected; if you’re waiting for a celebration every time you post a good looking picture on Instagram or publish a well-researched blog post or knock out another bug on the website… sorry, guys, those are just the things we do.
Lesson 2 is trickier. Remembering why we do what we do, which is to help somebody buy (or not buy) our services, has to inform the ways we execute. I guess you could make the case that there is monotony in eating a fast food burger, but even people in a fast food chain went out of their way to pick a place to spend a few bucks and do that thing most people love to do: eat. People who consume our marketing, even the ones receiving sponsored or paid ads, deserve quality in exchange for their attention. Does that change how you craft social posts to run over the weekend? It might!
We have a slew of daily and weekly activities focused on breaking up tedium. Maybe I’ll post some of those as well, but for now, keep these principles in mind. They stuck with me since the midpoint of my current lifespan, and I imagine they’ll be rattling around in my head for years to come.