What I learned about marketing from making cappuccino

Last year, my partner and I moved in together. Along with him came his professional quality cappuccino machine. He’s a really down-to-earth fellow – with one exception. He’s a coffee snob. He drives across town to buy beans from his favorite Italian importer. Seriously. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I’d seen him make coffees with it dozens of times before, but when the machine arrived in my kitchen, I realized that I’d never actually used it myself. I figured it was time to learn how. It was not as easy as it looks. But now, many months later, I make a pretty decent coffee, if I do say so myself. As I was making myself a latte this morning, it dawned on me that making specialty coffees is not unlike marketing. Here’s how:

There’s a learning curve. You don’t just walk up to a cappuccino machine and make a perfect coffee. You have to figure out what needs to be done and in what order. If you screw it up, the results leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Learn from an expert. My beloved coffee snob coached me through the process. He left a “cheat sheet” posted to the fridge with a magnet so I’d remember what had to be done and in what order. I tried a couple of times on my own (failing miserably). I asked for more advice. Got more coaching. Eventually, I got there.

Failure is inevitable. Suck it up. My first few cups of coffee were, well, pretty putrid. Did I drink ’em? Well, mostly (unless they were really, really bad). Those beans are over $30 a pound. I felt terrible wasting all that money. Besides, I wanted to get a sense of what I was doing wrong and how the taste would change as I learned how to do it right. I didn’t really get all caught up in feeling like a failure. I just took each try as a learning opportunity – even if the end result wasn’t great.

It takes time. Making a cup of coffee with a cappuccino machine does not happen instantly. The machine must be turned on and warm up first. Then you grind the beans. (You must have freshly ground beans, of course.) Then you make your coffee. Then you steam your milk. If you’re about to fly out the door in a hurry, you’re not going to get a nice coffee. Preparations are key to making a delicious coffee, no matter how bleary-eyed you are.

Clean up is important. Besides the fact that coffee grounds seem to get everywhere unless you brush them into the garbage right way, there’s more. If you don’t clean the wand that produces the foamed milk, then all the milk dries inside it clogging it. Once it gets clogged enough, you can’t use it any more. It’s the same in marketing. Following up with contacts, cleaning up after an open house or a trade fair, keeping your database up to date, cleaning out your filing cabinets. These are all good ways to follow up on your marketing and management. If not, at some point, you’ll realize that your whole system is clogged up with unfinished “stuff” because you never followed through.

Take the time to enjoy the reward of all your hard work. Once you’ve put in your effort and cleaned up so you’re ready for next time, take a few minutes to sit back and enjoy. I only have one – maximum two – cups of coffee a day. I have learned that coffee is not for gulping. After I put in all that work, I want to sip on it slowly. It’s the same with marketing. Take the time to reward yourself and your staff for their efforts. Even if it’s not perfect, they’re learning how it all works. That is worth savouring.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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