Marketers Should Learn to Cook

The food, the restaurants, the passion, the creativity, the entrepreneurship — Chef’s Table is incredible. It’s beautifully shot and well worth a binge if you haven’t seen it.

What struck me was how similar the chefs’ stories are to the stories that I heard at Tradecraft. Stories of how spirited founders were building their startups. How keen VCs evaluate the potential of a pitch. How growth teams fervently test pieces of content, a better message, or viral growth loop.

This post is a combination of things. A bit of my learnings from a 12-week immersive course on growth, the passion and creativity found in cooking, and how the process is key to both.


We’re Talking Analogy Here

I don’t mean to say a marketer should literally learn to cook. I merely wish to use it as a simple analogy. Like the popular debate of whether designers should learn to code (or shouldn’t).

What I like about the analogy is how many similarities there are between the kitchen and a product; and the marketing that goes along with it.
And more so, the analogy relates to the broader process of getting something out the door.

And that’s the important part.

The emphasis here is not on whether your team should be more technical. It’s more about how well your team can work together. Like combining flavors to produce something delicious. Which is why I believe the focus should fall more on the process of doing so; whether you add more cooks to the kitchen or not.

From the Kitchen to Product

It all starts with good ingredients. A common credence among all six of the Michelin star chefs in the documentary series: better ingredients, better flavor.

Here’s how I translate the analogy to tech:

  • Good design is a crucial ingredient to a successful product.
  • Engineering is the know-how required to turn good ingredients into a successful product.
  • Marketing is a process that bonds a well built product to market and produces growth. Tweet this.

Design and code working together produce the dish. Marketing is the context and atmosphere surrounding delivery and consumption.

Design Works

Many successful companies are started by “design founders”. Example, Joe Gebbia telling the founding story of Airbnb.

Design is playing a much more prominent role in many of the top companies in Silicon Valley.

“We’re also seeing great examples of design led companies and designers impacting the core of big businesses — like Airbnb, Pocket, Facebook, Google, Slack, and a load of others.” — Joshua Taylor, Designer

I believe design is hugely important, a crucial ingredient. But it becomes even more powerful when combined with engineering and a sound business strategy for interacting with the market.

Lean Engineering Baby

It is true that you can create a minimum viable product (MVP) and go right to market. You may even find a few customers that love you.

This is good news, because it means you don’t have all the engineering kinks worked out from the start. You find your style as you go. The point here is that you just have to get cooking.

In order to grow however, you need to add in your own creativity and incorporate feedback to improve the quality of your product. Iterate through the whole cycle. Expose your product to market, then back to design and then back to engineering. Around and around until it sticks.

Think of a kitchen — well organized teams or individuals, solid leadership, direction, creativity, skill, some chaos, all coming together to produce an exquisite dish.

Creating a Sticky Compound

Once the product is built, the dish is prepared, it’s time to serve.

The general process of serving up what you’ve made when it comes to tech is largely going to be the same at a variety of companies. It’s the scientific method — you hypothesize, test, measure, repeat.

It comes down to execution. And I believe that.

To have great execution means you probably have great process. And part of a great process is strategic marketing.

In order for that dish or the product you’ve built to travel it needs a message that will land and stick with your audience.

Think sommelier, waitstaff, presentation, ambiance, all coming together to create a rich, memorable, delightful experience.

And to deliver that message you need a medium; and you need real conviction and energy to make it happen.

Marketing is a compound. It’s a mixture of ingredients — part message, part medium, part audience and experience. Once the product is delivered, you gather feedback, test, repeat. This process creates growth.

No one has a crystal ball and no one has silver bullets. They might have unfair advantages, and you should leverage those, but nothing is 100%. That’s the best part about marketing, it’s a game.

Play the Game

The game is to cook up something so tasteful that people come back. Not only do they come back they tell their friends and bring them too. Why? Because you’ve made something good. You’ve made something that resonated, that created an emotional experience. You’ve made something nutritious and useful.

Cooking up something good is akin to experimenting and running tests, to figure out what your core market likes the best.

Develop Taste

Cooking involves experimenting and learning which ingredients work well with each other and which ones don’t. You follow a recipe, combine the ingredients, and taste. You taste to see if anything is missing. Is one ingredient is overpowering the other? Is the flavor satisfying?

Same goes for marketing, same for design.

Maybe you’re going for light and fresh or you’re looking to create a sauce thats bold and spicy. It all comes down to taste.

While at Tradecraft I had the chance to hear from Jon Lax. He’s currently the director of product design at Facebook and previously started a successful agency called Teehan + Lax. He said something that stuck with me. His advice to the product design cohort was that they develop good taste. Hard to do, but solid advice.

It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to develop taste. But it starts by actually dipping the spoon in to taste what you’ve made, picking up your pen to write, or building out a design in Sketch. It takes practice to curate good taste.

Mind the Process

To practice you test and repeat. The combination of these individual successes creates growth. If you continue to use the same quality ingredients, good execution, a well thought out process then you can maintain.

But it is worth pointing out that none of the chefs in the documentary made it very far by maintaining or playing it safe.

Many of the chefs’ careers begin to flourish when they started taking risks with their cooking — the risk of straying from the status quo.

They began to create their own process.

Embrace the Risks

Growth inevitably involves taking risks. To transition away from cooking for a second, I’ll tell you more about my story. I recently took a risk. I left my job of 11 years so I could pursue a change in career but more importantly to follow my passion for design and marketing.

I found that following my passion and taking a risk it added a bit more flavor to life.

I decided to go to San Francisco when I was accepted into a fellowship program called Tradecraft. I had the opportunity to do what I felt so passionate about and be around people who felt the same way. I was taught by some of the best people in the startup and venture scene (peers included in that!) and was trained to drill down on process. And that’s my big takeaway.

Process matters, but risk does too.

Risk lives between writing a hypothesis and testing it. You just have to do it.

Great, but what do you do if your test fails? You learn from it and try again.

Keep Going

Iterate towards success and refine your process. And this goes for whether you’re transitioning careers, creating a new dish, or looking to grow your blog or company. Figure out how to make something people want. And make that something good. Take another risk and do it again.


If you want to chat marketing, startups, Tradecraft, freelance, food, leave me a comment or connect with me on Twitter. Thanks for reading. Please click the 💚 below and share!


About me: I’m a growth marketer with a heart for design. Coffee fanatic. Freelancer. Currently learning to cook. You can connect with me on Twitter or visit me on the web here.

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