Picklefest 2013

The timer just went off, signifying the wind down of my fourth annual Picklefest, the summer tradition wherein I convert tens of pounds of gherkins to sweet and dill pickles. This year I canned 22 quarts, just shy of my 2012 record of 26 quarts. Whew!

You ask: why labor away in a sweltering kitchen in the hot summer?

picklesFirst, because I can. My contacts at Miller Farms, our CSA (that’s Community Supported Agriculture, or farm share), are kind enough to give me a crate of gherkins each year. I sweeten the deal by slipping them a couple of quarts as payoff at the end of the season. Keep that between us.

Second, the task satisfies four urges: creative (honey, I made something!), technical (canning requires tools and a process), conservatory (thou shalt not waste foodstuffs), and philanthropic (pickles make great gifts). I relish the feel-good satisfaction it brings, a emotional uptick that far outlasts the nicks and burns of production.

But today, as I draw the last quarts from the steaming water bath, it dawns on me that canning is a great metaphor for marketing as well. Here are four connections:

1. Start by finding a mentor.

Botulism is never appreciated in a house gift. Proper, non-lethal canning requires that you truly understand food prep and sterilization. So seek out a pro like great aunt Betty Sue or your retro-hippie friend Paisley Windstorm. Then spend a day assisting her latest project, sponging up the “knuckles & know-how” learned through years of mistakes and success. You’ll probably even score a share of the final product. Sweeeeeet.

I’d say the same for any new marketing campaign, automation tool, or content format. The surefire path to avoiding rookie mistakes is to find that expert at or outside of work who can guide you. Suck up your pride, become the student again, and then stand on theĀ  shoulders of giants.

2. Act as the opportunity presents itself.

Fresh produce makes the best preserves but is short lived. When it lands in your hands, you have to act quickly. At the first Picklefest, I waited too long to start canning and woke one morning to a partly moldering crate of pale green veggies. Imagine how much fun it was sorting the remaining decent gherkins from the semi-liquid white ones. Ugh.

Same goes for marketing leads. Research shows that the longer a lead sits without action, the staler it gets. Forrester Research suggests that companies that nurture leads generate 50% more sales ready leads at 33% lower cost (from the Marketo Web site). So…entice them with your newsletter, ask them to subscribe to your Tip of the Week, or send them the piece of content that advances their work. Interact and connect. Just don’t leave them sitting alone, getting old, fuzzy and unusable.

3. Document the entire process.

Unlike baking, canning requires only rudimentary equipment: a large pot, small strainers, a lifter, and lots of jars, lids and screw caps. But just as crucial is a notebook to write down your ideas, mistakes, and insights as they occur. Canning is seasonal, and without notes, you’re likely to forget the best lessons by the time the next crate appears in your kitchen a year hence.

In my experience, marketers rarely make time to document a campaign process or even perform a decent post-mortem beyond a simple ROI analysis. It may seem like overkill, but if you create and complete a standard work template, no one forgets the details and everyone benefits. Add as much color commentary as you can while you remember. Do it for yourself, your team, and those who will one day inherit your role.

4. Know your customer, even if it isn’t you.

Truth be told, I’m ambivalent about pickled foods. I prefer half sours, but I seem to be alone in this; when I survey my family and friends, they tell me they’re most passionate about other varieties. So I am not my customer, and since I can mostly for others (re: the philanthropic urge), I take time to suss out who likes the dills and who likes the sweets, who likes them whole and who likes them sliced. Then I deliver what I know they want.

Before getting too deep into marketing, always remember you must first understand the customers’ needs. My agency friends are experts at this when working with new clients. Don’t (1) fool yourself into thinking that you are the customer, or (2) make assumptions you can’t back up with data. If at any time you begin to be too confident in your assertions, stop yourself, ring a few of your best customers and reconnect with their stories and their language. Then use that knowledge – not your own preferences or predilections – to pitch your prospects.

Otherwise, you may end up with a cellar full of unwanted pickles. Which hasn’t happened to me yet.

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