Julia Child and her colleagues, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking for the “servantless American cook” — re: the 1950/60s American housewife who had become dependent on her can opener, Jello molds, and Fluff.

Until I read Julia’s biography, My Life in France, I had no idea that Julia and her colleagues spent eight years testing recipes, ensuring French ingredients could be found in American supermarkets, and writing instructions that could be easily followed by anyone who wanted to cook French food but wasn’t sure how.

I’ve had a copy of the cookbook (second printing!) sitting on my shelf for close to 15 years and not once had I cracked it open. After reading My Life in France and becoming inspired by it and the movie, Julie and Julia, I decided it was time to start cooking.

It was while cooking (and eating) that I realized that the lessons I had learned from Julia could also be applied to marketing:

1. Read marketing books — Before MTAOFC, I had never made a hollandaise sauce. Reason? I thought it was too difficult. Nothing is further from the truth — in fact, it takes all of five minutes following Julia Child’s instructions. (Be sure to make poached eggs to go with it. Yum!)

It’s the same for marketing. These days nothing with regard to marketing is a “secret” — all it takes is effort on your part to read and follow instructions in just a few of the hundreds of marketing books and blogs available.

2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes — My first batch of hollandaise turned out perfectly. My second batch was a dud.

Marketing campaigns often follow a similar pattern. You send out a direct mail letter, for example, and get leads galore. A few months later you conduct another campaign that ends up costing you big bucks for little ROI.

Just because a campaign doesn’t do well doesn’t mean you’re a bad marketer or that direct mail is dead or whatever “wisdom” is bouncing around the Internet. What it does mean is that you tried something, it didn’t work, and you need to try again.

3. Make notes in the margins — After you cook a fabulous meal, take a few minutes to note in the recipe margins why it worked. For example, Julia Child says hollandaise can sit for a half hour or so on low heat, so I made it first, then made the poached eggs. Big mistake. My hollandaise fell apart in minutes. Note to self: make the eggs first.

When you conduct a marketing campaign, take the time to evaluate why it worked or didn’t. Write out your strategy, the vendors you used, or any challenges you faced during the design or implementation process. Writing notes “in the margins” will help you remember what to do “right” the next time.

4. Don’t stop testing — The glory of Mastering the Art is that Julia and her colleagues tested every single recipe, repeatedly. Then they tested variations. In fact, Julia even tested different methods for cooking asparagus. (The best way is to peel each stalk, bundle a half dozen peeled stalks together, and boil them until tender. Superb!)

One person who has the testing thing down is Anne Holland. Not only did she test, test, test while at MarketingSherpa, she’s now featuring people’s marketing tests at her new venture, Which Test Won. The results of these tests are sometimes surprising — which is why it pays to test, constantly.

5. Invest in the best tools you can afford — Nothing is more wonderful than super sharp knives that can cleanly cut meat, fish, bread, and veges. A dull knife leaves delicate fish ragged and makes it hard to skin and debone a chicken.

Lots of marketing tools exist that help you do your marketing job better. Whichever tools you use, make sure they provide the data you need to make informed decisions.

6. Invite your friends to dinner — The best part of cooking is sharing a meal with your friends and family. (You can make the meal even more special by including a cheese course. Hint: pull the cheese out a half hour or so before you eat it, especially if you’re serving brie cheese. Include some grapes and crackers and be sure to have plenty of wine!)

You can invite your friends to your marketing party by writing a blog, opening a Twitter account or hosting a Group on LinkedIn. Share your marketing triumphs and mistakes — your openness will show others they can share their insights as well.

7. Show your passion — Julia Child states in My Life in France that she was a “scientific cook.” All science aside, Julia was also passionate — about food, cooking, and sharing her joy with others.

Too often marketing becomes bogged down in numbers and ROI. We can all use a dose of Julia’s enthusiasm and joie de vivre — in our copy, our campaigns, and our lives in general.

So tonight, stop at the market and buy fresh veges, fish, really crusty bread, some gooey smelly cheese, and an excellent bottle of wine.

Bon appetit!

  • Holland’s WhichTestWon is nifty. I was wrong on my first guess. Bah!

    Great post – I’ll share amongst my folks.

  • Phil,

    I’ve guessed wrong, too. That’s why I love the site!

    I’m using Google’s Web Optimizer for a page and am surprised at the results.

    Glad you liked the post. Thanks to Julia, I must have gained 10 pounds over vacation due to eating all that butter! 🙂

  • Fabulous analogies, Diana! You are so right, in every respect. I especially appreciate the note about passion, and not getting so bogged down in metrics that we stall out. Advance your goals but have fun at the same time! Now there’s a strategy I can execute.

    Now I think I have to spend the long weekend in the kitchen…. 🙂

  • Debra,

    Thank you! Glad you liked the post. Be sure to buy lots of butter before you start cooking. 😉

  • Very cute, Dianna – entertaining and on target. Thanks, and have a great Labor Day weekend!

  • Anne-Sophie Dankens


    Great analogy!

    I am always looking for ways to broaden my marketing skills and because I love cooking and just saw the movie, I will easily remember your tips.

    Thanks for the marketing books’ suggestion.


  • Anne-Sophie — My pleasure. Isn’t the movie a hoot?