Five things you can learn about brand building from a cooking class

The culinary world has always fascinated me. After watching Sarah Graham’s “Food Safari,” I ordered my first Lodge cast iron skillet. These days, if I am not wearing my brand consultant hat, you will find me curiously researching and shopping for my next big meal. In fact, during my last holiday in Cambodia—apart from visiting temple ruins and museums—I even managed to squeeze in a cooking class. Pure delight! And while the class was superb, the most interesting part of all was the aha moment I had while cooking. My revelation: Five key principles of good cooking are also five critical rules for building strong brands.

Hard to believe? Let me explain.

1. A grand meal needs a good plan

True, I have cooked one-pot meals with leftovers from my fridge. But think of a grand meal that you invite friends and family to. From entrées to desserts, each dish is planned meticulously based on your guests’ tastes and preferences.

Building a brand is no different. You need a clear vision for the future. You have to know what you want to achieve, what you want to be known for, and whom you are catering to. Just consider Nike. From its earliest days, Nike’s leaders had a clear plan. They wanted to inspire the “athlete” in every one of us. And they’ve succeeded.

2. The right ingredients make all the difference

Almost everyone would agree that the best meals come from the finest ingredients. Quality shows. Just imagine hollandaise sauce without great eggs!

To bring your vision for your brand to life, you need to identify and invest in the right inputs. Is it technology? Is it service? Is it the experience? I know frequent fliers who swear by Singapore Airlines’ flying experience. You have to figure out which components make up your brand’s secret sauce.

3. Precision in execution. Consistently

It takes seven minutes to get a perfectly hard-boiled egg. Gordon Ramsay actually tests all of his chefs on making the perfect scrambled eggs. Without precise basics and consistent execution, everything else comes undone.

Branding is no different. It is critical to think through every touchpoint in a systematic and precise manner. Your brand’s messaging should be consistent, no matter which platform it is on. Take a look at Amazon, an extremely customer-centric company. From its product range to its buying experience to customer service, every interaction is deliberately and thoughtfully customer-focused.

4. Add a little magic

It may seem counterintuitive to mention magic after precision, but would you enjoy Jalebi caviar if it weren’t for creativity and imagination?

Once a brand has its bearings, it’s time to take a leap of faith and expand its horizons. Create new experiences. Push boundaries. Who would have thought that you could customize your own pair of Vans online, or have them personalized on-site in just 15 minutes?

5. Patience

“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”

Julia Child, My Life in France

Just as cooking requires time and patience, brands aren’t built in a day either. No one campaign or initiative is enough to establish a strong brand, just as no one meal can possibly define a great chef. Clear vision, relentless execution, and passion for possibilities help build an agile brand that is strong, relevant, and differentiated. And patience is the glue that helps cement the brand.

The pièce de résistance

When I think about the great chefs in the world—be it Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, or Nigella Lawson—they all have a few things in common. Unadulterated love for their craft, dedication and discipline, and a clear, distinct style that shines through their books, shows, and websites. They are brands in their own right. As a brand consultant, the meals I create and chefs I learn from act as constant sources of inspiration that I apply to my work every day.

Here’s to joyful meals and successful brands!