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  • Nalani Jay

What Can a Wonderful Food Experience Teach Marketers?

When our creative shop came together to talk about our rebranding to The Craftsman Agency last year, we went deeper than talking about our shop’s mission and vision. We also each shared how we are individually craftsmen. Take me, for example. Both on and off the clock, I’m a craftsman with words. However, I’m also an avid baker and cook—and while I’m by no means close to a professional level, I do think of it as one of my crafts.

Why is cooking so important to me? I love creating something to be savored, of course, but I also love how one of my creations can connect me to my friends and family.

Wait, you may ask, what does this have to do with marketing?

I’m glad you asked. You see, crafting a wonderful food experience can teach you a lot about crafting an amazing marketing experience. And in this day and age, it’s more important than ever to create a marketing experience that really resonates and helps you stand out.

Here are six marketing lessons you can glean from crafting a wonderful food experience.


1. Push the boundaries—but do it well. You may have heard of Noma, which has been named the best restaurant in the world four times. It changed the world of fine dining. Noma focuses solely on Scandinavian ingredients and devotes an enormous amount of time and effort to transforming many of those ingredients with fermentation. Recently, they divided their year into three “seasons”: vegetable, game and forest, and seafood.

When Business Insider reporter Will Martin visited during Noma's vegetable season, he was initially apprehensive but found that the experience opened his mind “to the incredible possibilities that vegetable-based cooking can achieve.” Will even loved the ice cream sandwich made from a pancake of moldy barley wrapped around plum seed ice cream. He called it a “perfect snippet of Noma’s goal in pushing the boundaries of what we eat.” In marketing, we also want to think outside of the box to catch the audience’s attention and create a lasting impression. Of course, you also need to execute flawlessly. (If Will’s moldy pancake didn’t taste good, his review would have been quite different.) This is difficult, but there are a lot of great campaigns that show it can be done: for instance, Nike’s “Dream Crazy” ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, Elon Musk’s double marketing coup with SpaceX and Tesla, and Ryan Reynolds’ use of wry wit for his out-of-office emails and fake product review. Want even more examples? Check out our list of six other inspiringly creative campaigns.


2. Tell an incredible story.

When food tells a story, the experience can really touch the heart of the person eating it, providing a deeper understanding of the creator. In season 16 of Top Chef, Kelsey Barnard Clark leaned on her roots to make it to the finale, bringing her Southern culinary culture to the table. She even took her grandmother’s cast iron cornbread pans to Macau and used them in the finale. Her first course was cornbread and buttermilk with fruit, pickles, and crawfish, inspired by the matriarchs of her family and summers in the south. The judges seemed to really enjoy it—both for the food itself and the story that went with it. (Spoiler alert: Kelsey won.)

Similarly, it’s important to tell a story in our marketing, tapping into the brand’s purpose while making a deeper connection by stimulating the audience’s imagination and evoking emotion. We did this with our “Art of Deception” animated illustration series for the film Murder on the Orient Express, inviting people to play detective in 14 pieces of art, one for each main character. The images included hidden iconography and motion assets that revealed part of each character’s story, connecting to the film’s theme of intrigue while captivating a global audience with its beauty and sense of wonder.

Need a little help with your brand storytelling? Check out this blog post for a few tips.


3. Use the best ingredients and dig deep into your craft.

Asparagus risotto, a crunchy batard, and sautéed mushrooms are all pretty simple things to create—but you can’t just slap them together and have them turn out well.

When I make something that inspires people to hum to themselves contently as they eat, something they’ll request that I make again and again, it’s because I’ve taken the time to learn how to truly craft that dish. I also use the best ingredients I can find.

For the meal mentioned above, my risotto is perfectly creamy from frequent stirring while the asparagus, added later, is still a beautiful spring green. The dish has oodles of Parmigiano-Reggiano with just a hint of lemon peel shaved in at the end to round it out. If I can find carnaroli rice, that’s what I’m using. And while created from simply flour, water, and salt, the batard has that perfect open and tender crumb with a burnished, substantial crust. (Thank you, Chad Robertson, for sharing the Tartine recipe that took years to develop!) The mushrooms are transformed into earthy deliciousness by dry-toasting them in a cast iron pan before sautéing, coaxing out their ultimate flavor. (Of course there’s a nice wine to accompany the meal, but I can’t take credit for that.)

You want to dig deep into your craft and use the best ingredients for your marketing experiences too, so that your consumers hum to themselves in pleasure over your gorgeous imagery and eye-catching design, your profound or witty copy, your immersive activation where all the details come together like perfection. Each part should be finely honed and considered. Each part should also work with the others to make a greater whole. Like my asparagus risotto, it may need some tiny last touch to perfectly round it out. Over time, these elevated experiences build trust, and your audience will turn back to you for more.


4. Gratify the senses.

Food isn’t about taste alone. Its allure can be extended by the rest of the senses as well. To make an incredible food experience, you need not only the taste to be delicious but also the aroma to be divine, the textures delightful, and the visual presentation appealing. For many food experiences, sound also plays a critical part in the experience—for example, the crack of a creme brulée or crunch of bruschetta can add to the diner’s enjoyment, but not if it’s drowned out by environmental noise.

You want to also gratify the senses when you’re creating a great marketing experience. A successful sensory branding strategy uses these senses to create a brand image in the customer’s mind. For in-person activations, you need to consider how the smells, sights, tastes, sounds, and tactile feelings contribute to what the audience takes away, carefully crafting a truly immersive experience with rich layers. And if you can add another sense to your experience that helps build that brand image, definitely think about adding it. Liberty Mutual, for example, recently tested new car-scented ads to sell insurance. With smells helping memory formation, the new-car scent is expected to make car shoppers subconsciously think of Liberty Mutual while taking a test drive.


5. Evoke memories while blowing their minds with something new. Restaurateur, author, and television personality Dave Chang has this theory about how to create a great dish, one he calls The Unified Theory of Deliciousness. He came up with it while chasing, in his words, “that split second when someone tastes something so delicious that their conversation suddenly derails and they blurt out something guttural like they stubbed their toe.” What does he think separates good dishes from utterly delicious ones?

When you eat something amazing, you don’t just respond to the dish in front of you; you are almost always transported back to another moment in your life. It’s like that scene in Ratatouille when the critic eats a fancy version of the titular dish and gets whisked back to the elemental version of his childhood. The easiest way to accomplish this is just to cook something that people have eaten a million times. But it’s much more powerful to evoke those taste memories while cooking something that seems unfamiliar—to hold those base patterns constant while completely changing the context.

This might be why Will responded so favorably to Noma’s version of an ice cream sandwich. It’s nostalgic yet surprising.

Amazing marketing experiences can do the same thing, creating a strong bond between the participant and brand by combining exciting new elements with something beloved. This could be nostalgia marketing like Spotify’s Neverending Story campaign, but it can also be an experience that builds on what people love, such as quality branded content from an authentic influencer or artist collaboration. One example that shows how delicious food and marketing can actually intersect is our work with Godiva to promote its partnership with Fox for Murder on the Orient Express, tapping the Chocolatician to create a jaw-dropping chocolate replica of the famous train that we showed off to over 2 million users through in-person and digital activations.


6. Perfect your timing.

For food, timing is crucial. Bon Appetit calls it a ballet of sorts. For excellent restaurant experiences (and some at-home experiences, if you’re lucky) , it’s not only the timing of each element of a recipe that the chef needs to perfect, it’s the pace of the meal. In his article on Noma, Will notes, “Massimo Bottura, the owner of Italy's Osteria Francescana, the current number one restaurant in the world, speaks of a meal in terms of an opera—it should ebb and flow, with peaks of excitement, periods of calm, and ultimately, a grand finale. Redzepi and his team at Noma clearly subscribe to a similar philosophy, with the pace of the meal changing around four times over our three-hour lunch.”

Similarly, whether you’re creating something smaller like a content series or larger like a campaign strategy, you need to have flawless timing to really resonate and create the ultimate impact. You may have a great story, but if you’re presenting it at the wrong time during a customer’s journey, it won’t connect. You also may have fantastic content in your marketing efforts, but if you either overwhelm your audience with constant posts and ads or have long lulls between, you may lose them. However, like a chef with a sharp focus in the kitchen, if you’re paying attention to how the campaign is going, you may be able to recover with some nimble adjustments.


I could go on, but I’ll leave you with these lessons for now. As with food, sometimes it’s better to reduce the number of ingredients on the plate, or it all becomes a muddle. (OK, you got me—I snuck in a secret lesson No. 7.)

If you need any help implementing these tips, just drop us a line. We’d love to have a conversation over a delicious meal. After all, we craftsmen are here to help.


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