Menu-Planning Your Marketing Mix

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Thanksgiving in America is about giving thanks – for family, friends, jobs … all our blessings.

And eating. Thanksgiving is about lots and lots of eating.

Any host, and most guests, will know that a big part of Thanksgiving planning is creating the menu of what will be served at each stage – from savory appetizers to sweet endings. A savvy planner thoughtfully considers phases and balance. The right menu is part savory, part sweet; part light, part heavy; part dainty, part decadent. Too much of any one thing – gravy, dairy, turkey, sweet – can tip the balance. The menu maker also must think about individual guest needs: vegetarians, gluten-frees, or lactose-intolerants, for example. The food must give guests what they need to satiate and delight.

So why am I talking about food? I’m actually not. Planning a meal menu is a whole lot like planning a marketing mix.

Are you with me? Let’s break this down.

Marketing mix: What’s in the box?

First things first. A skilled cook knows to fully read through a recipe – to check the ingredients, ensure she has everything on hand, and understand the timeline for each step. She also may need to read some boxes to check ingredients, taking care they only include things her guests can eat.

So, too, we must talk about what’s inside the box of the Marketing Mix. Historically, the phrase “Marketing Mix” incited marketers to spit out the 4 p’s: product, price, place, promotion. These are an excellent foundation; but the truth is, many newer-school marketers have a different set of tactics.

In the newer Marketing Mix are things like inbound/outbound marketing, promotion vs. organic traffic, events, and all the digital choices available on your buffet. You may also encounter non-digital channels like direct mail, radio, skywriting, and event sponsorships. We’ll get to all the tactics in a moment.

Making our metaphor

Let’s get our metaphor cooking. I promised this post would liken a holiday menu to a marketing mix. Here’s my thinking:

First, you have the individual components. These are like the ingredients that comprise a recipe. For marketing, you have your individual tactics like blogs, print, events.

To turn ingredients into a recipe, you must combine them. Likewise, you combine individual elements of a marketing mix to form a marketing campaign for a singular result (a product launch, for example).

The next step is combining recipes (or dishes) to put together a menu. This is where those aforementioned considerations (balance, weight, texture) come in. This is the finished product – the individual elements creating foods that sit on a table and fill your guests. Likewise, your individual marketing campaigns, stacked together, create your overarching marketing calendar for the year.

Now let’s roll up our sleeves and start planning.

How big is your budget?

Next up is money. How much do you have to spend?

For a big party, you need to know how much is in your wallet so you can assess what vibe and ingredients you will serve – apple cider vs. Veuve Clicquot, a veggie tray vs. passed hors d’oeuvres, etc. These are differences in tone, and money.

Similarly, you need to know how much you can spend on your marketing efforts. This will determine if you go scrappy, relying on low-cost or free marketing like word-of-mouth; or if you have budget to alight the Goodyear Blimp with your message.

If you’re a caterer (or have been on the customer end of party-planning), you’ll be familiar with the concept of “cost per guest.” You might break down your marketing efforts the same way. For example, how much will it cost per viewer to run that skywriting campaign? (A related cousin to this question is ROI.)

Consider your audience

Who’s coming to dinner? That’s the first step when you are planning a menu. You need to know general data, like how many of them there are and what time they’re coming over. You also need some specifics, like if they have dietary restrictions.

So, too, you want to know about the audience to whom you are marketing. Consider how big is your target audience, where they are from (domestic or international), what types of media they consume. Make sure there is something for everyone on your list.

Acclaimed chef Julia Child said: “I think careful cooking is about love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.”

If you know what your guests want to eat, or your audience wants to buy, you touch them.


Now let’s get nitty-gritty. Ingredients are the backbone of any meal. You’ve got staples and specialties. How you weave those together in differing combinations and ratios can create different results.

For example, staples. In the kitchen, those are things like sugar, butter, flour, salt. You form those individual components into delightful treats. A satisfying recipe can be forged from these – such as a sugar cookie. You can also add specialty ingredients like spices or artisanal butter, demerara sugar, and varying types of flours, to create something even more unique.

Us marketers, too, often work with the same ingredients over and over. It’s how we mix them together that creates the different result. Our staples are things like the following:

  • For digital marketing, you have channels like websites, emails and e-newsletters, banner ads, webinars, podcasts, and blogs. You may also write white papers or e-books
  • On the print side of things, you have traditional advertising (newspaper/magazine), posters, direct mail like postcards, catalogs, letters, and leave-behinds like brochures and pamphlets
  • Social is basically its own category. While digital, it also has the element of participation. In this category of ingredients are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, and so many more new ingredients blooming as we speak
  • There are direct customer engagements to consider, like conferences and trade shows, meet-ups, phone calls and presentations
  • And there are those more non-traditional but perhaps trendy things to consider, like skywriting or event sponsorships or swag

There are a lot of ingredients available to modern marketer, much like there are a multitude of ingredients available at modern groceries. It’s up to you to decide how many you want to chase after, put into your cart, and master. 


Now it’s time to have a little fun. This is the creative playtime where you get to mix and match, pulling your ideas and ingredients together to form treats that delight and entertain. To take the individual sometimes disparate, components and turn them into a dish. Or, marketing effort.

For the meal, this is when you set your menu.

For the marketer, this is where you decide on your marketing mix.

Write it down

At this stage of menu planning, my dining room table is usually full of dog-eared magazines and Internet printouts and stacks of cookbooks. I’ve got a visual plan in my mind of what the meal will look like – and in what order it will all be served. But I’ve got to write it down before it escapes me. Here’s when I start scribbling, dividing my planned recipes into categories – appetizers, sides, mains, desserts, drinks. I also cross check my initial guest list to ensure that there is indeed something for everyone to eat and enjoy. I make special marks for anything that I need to remember as I shop and execute my meal – for example, if I want to pick up a special bottle of wine, or try that new brand of dark chocolate discs in my cookie recipe.

So, too, this is the time to write down your marketing plan. Take note of how many print, digital, and social elements you intend to use. Also, make special marks for any of the individual components – if you want to run a social media contest, for example, what is the prize?

A note on timing

Timing is, as they say, everything. Ensuring all the dishes come out of the oven at the same time is one of the biggest struggles of a Thanksgiving hosts’ day. After the menu is planned, the groceries purchased, and the house cleaned, it’s wise to put a timeline into place. I’ve seen my family members create timelines – clearly outlining what must be started and in the oven by what time to ensure it all comes out correctly. I consider this a best practice in the kitchen.

As a marketer, you also need to carefully plan and outline the timing of your efforts. For example, put timestamps on when your email invitations must go out before your event, when you will start your social media campaign, and what day/time your television ads will run.

And a related tip: Just as cooks need to remind themselves that the pie is in the oven so that it doesn’t burn, so to you must remember to pull down any time-sensitive web banners or TV spots as soon as your campaign ends.

Take some risks

While the tried and true recipes – or marketing elements – may work, they can also get stale. Sometimes it is necessary to take a risk, integrating a new ingredient into your menu or trying a new recipe. Etiquette may tell you it’s not wise to try a new recipe on guests – you should practice it first. That idea may make sense (after all, it may not come out as flavorful as you like, or may not set up correctly). But it’s also really fun to take the risk and try it anyway. It may turn out perfectly and be the star of the menu.

So, too, with marketing. If you come up with a wild new idea or want to try a new marketing channel, your boss may want to see a concrete plan. How it will work, what are the fail-safes, and so forth. But sometimes there isn’t time for all that. You want to blaze that trail and try that new idea now. It may fail and burn. Or it may be a huge success and become a new staple. Allow yourself the playtime. Take the risk.
One of my favorite celebrity chefs, Anthony Bourdain, has a wise thought here: “Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund.”

Enjoy the feast

Congratulations! Your marketing mix is well underway (your Thanksgiving menu wheels may be turning, too). Now is the time to get cooking and to enjoy the show. Cheers!

P.S. Don’t forget to thaw your turkey.