Tony Spong just sent me an excerpt from a book he read on holiday.
But one with a difference, an anti-recipe cookbook.
Written by the Italian chef Marcella Hazan, it’s about how most people get it wrong.
They study recipes.
Then they slavishly recreate those recipes.
And they wonder why their food never tastes as good.
They followed absolutely everything in the book down to the letter.
Just like a chemical formula in a laboratory.
But cooking is not like recreating a chemical formula in a laboratory.
It isn’t about tubes of consistent chemicals.
And Tony was struck by the similarity between this and what we do.
How a lot of marketers are just like those cooks who slavishly follow recipes.
Trying to duplicate formulas and case histories.
They can’t allow for the fact that people vary, circumstances vary, brands vary, times, seasons, tastes, finances, moods vary.
Recipes, like case histories, should be a guide, not a strait jacket.
As Marcella Hazan says “One must bear in mind that a recipe is only the congealed record of a once fluid and spontaneous act.
It is this spontaneity that the good cook must recover.
To attempt to reproduce any dish, time after time, through plodding duplication of a recipe’s every step, is futile and tedious, like memorizing a ditty in some foreign tongue.”
And, like any communication, food happens inside the consumer, not inside the mind of the chef, or marketing person.
As she says “Taste, like rhythm, may be described, but it does not exist until it is experienced.”
To this end it’s essential to start in the real world where we want to be received.
What’s happening there?
She says that the actual meal shouldn’t start in a cookbook.
The meal should start in the market.
Instead of deciding what we will cook before we leave the house, we should go to the market and see what’s good today.
What will work today.
Of course we must have everything we’ve learned, all those recipes, in our head.
But we mustn’t become inflexible.
We shouldn’t decide to cook a recipe with aubergines before we’ve even been to the market and seen what the aubergines look like.
We must keep all the recipes in our head so that, if the aubergines look stale but the courgettes look delicious, we can cook a meal with courgettes instead.
We can change to fit the market.
“The market is the place where the idea of a meal best takes place, as our eyes are caught by the good things of the day.”
We can’t just decide on a strategy and then make the consumer fit.
Of course, we have to carry all our learning in our head.
But, when we find how the circumstances vary, how the consumer varies, how the local conditions vary in unexpected ways, we can alter our strategy to take account of those variables.
Then we can start to do our job properly.
As Marcella Hazan says “Once you have understood technique you must stop paying attention to it.
You must stop counting teaspoons and begin to cook.”
That’s what we need to do.
Stop counting teaspoons and begin to cook.
Dave Trott is executive creative director and chairman, The Gate London
Follow him on Twitter @davetrott
This article first appeared on www.campaignlive.co.uk