The Quest For The Perfect Steak: An Argument For Experimentation And Analysis
May 29, 2014
I started grilling steak in college, junior year, if I remember correctly. There was something about a warm evening spent outdoors, preparing food and hanging out with friends that hooked me. That, or I finally burned out on the endless cycle of ramen noodles and fast food. The steak wasn’t great at first, but it was still an improvement over what I was used to. My process stayed the same for a few months, but eventually I started wondering what I could do to improve the end result.
I started my experimentation with the vast array of pre-made marinades at the grocery store. I tried liquid marinades, seasoning packets and dry rubs. They were different, but still not quite what I was after. One evening I decided to make my own marinade. I started with a little salt and a black and red pepper blend. Nothing too complicated, but it worked. Over the next few months I experimented some more, trying out various spices, butter, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco – I even tried Coca-Cola. After countless iterations, I finally had it down. I bought some rib eyes from the store, and shared the fruits of my labor with my friends.
Before we all get too hungry, I suppose it’s time to rein this metaphor in. Let’s think about what I learned during my journey and how this relates to the world of content marketing.
We operate in an ever-changing landscape. New tactics and ideas are being introduced seemingly weekly. To compound this rapid change, user behavior is evolving as well. In a landscape this dynamic, remaining static is choosing to dissolve into irrelevance. It’s important to ask questions. It’s important to pay attention. It’s important to pursue deliberate, strategy-driven evolution. Here’s the part where I make my case for experimentation and analysis.
Argument #1: Discover New Opportunities
If I had settled for the first steak I ever made, I would never have had the experience of tasting the first bite of that perfect steak. More than that, I would have missed out on all the learning experiences along the way. That’s a pretty boring possibility.
While it’s easy to see the benefits of periodic culinary experimentation, we often fail to translate this type of thinking to the professional realm. If we continue to do things exactly the way they’ve always been done, we will never improve. That creates a bleak-looking future for any company in today’s economic climate.
Argument #2: Empower Yourself And Your Employees
Creative thinking is fun. It’s exciting. It’s also challenging. Creative thinking pushes the envelope of possibility. It encourages evolution and swings for the fences. In allowing myself the creative license to experiment with my food, I allowed my brain to run wild. I made some bad calls (dill weed), but I also made some good ones. This freedom to experiment made the process fun. Cooking transformed from a chore into a hobby. I began to look forward to it. Imagine the motivational power an open creative license can have in the workplace.
Argument #3: Make Informed Decisions
This whole experience would have been fruitless had it not been for analysis. With every iteration, every trial, came the time to assess the finished product. I smelled – I tasted – I noted. While I enjoyed the journey, I had a goal – to discover the recipe for the perfect steak marinade. By collecting notes and recording the process I was able to learn from experience and keep the quest moving in the right direction.
This is a crucial business lesson for us to learn as well. Analysis is how we measure the results of our efforts. The reason it’s important is that it keeps us from repeating past mistakes. It allows us to identify when something is broken, and experimentation combined with analysis allows us to identify when something can be improved. This combination takes us from relying on gut instinct to data-informed decision-making.
Think about all the measureable efforts in today’s digital marketplace, from something as large as content strategy to something as small as font size or background color on a call to action button. All of these can be methodically improved using experimentation and analysis.
Disclaimer: Operate With Parallel Paths (Experimentation vs. Execution)
Before we throw execution out the window in exchange for indefinite experimentation, I want to add a word of caution. It’s possible to get so distracted by the potential of a better result that we struggle to make final decisions. Experimentation isn’t an evil craft, but eventually we do have to call it good enough and make a decision.
For this reason, it can be helpful to operate with parallel paths of execution and experimentation, with one team focusing on executing marketing efforts while another team focuses on how to improve them. This model allows for testing in live environments, like a customer-facing website or email campaign. While I was refining my recipe, I was still cooking and eating. I was accomplishing a more important goal of sustaining myself. It’s important to keep the execution portion of the process in our marketing strategies as well in order to prevent our businesses from starving.
While I talk about my quest to develop the perfect steak marinade in past tense, it’s something I’ll always be doing. Sure, I found a recipe that I like, but for the same reason I started this journey I can never call it complete. I’ll always be experimenting with ingredients to see if I can improve my recipe. This same ever-present dissatisfaction should be applied to our marketing strategies as well. It’s what pushes us to continuously strive for improvement.
Without further adieu, I present the final (subject to change) result of my quest to discover the perfect steak marinade recipe.
Tony Chachere’s Famous Creole Cuisine Original Creole Seasoning, McCormick Perfect Pinch Cajun Seasoning, Texas Pete, Worcestershire sauce, chocolate habanero sauce
– In bowl 1: Mix 1 part Tony Chachere’s seasoning, 1 part McCormick seasoning
– In bowl 2: Mix 6 parts Worcestershire sauce, 2 parts Texas Pete, 1 part chocolate habanero sauce
– Add bowl 2 contents to bowl 1 until thick liquid viscosity is achieved (think: gritty 5w-20 motor oil)
– Coat steaks thoroughly, rubbing marinade into steaks
– Grill to desired temperature
– Taste and make notes
I’ve always liked taking things apart. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized how much fun it could be to put something back together. It’s something special to dissect something unfamiliar, learn how it works and make it better than it was before. I like to bring this approach to any project I work on. My focus at Centerline is content strategy. When I’m presented with a problem, I rely on a formula of targeted observation and analysis to guide me towards the goal of providing valuable insights and recommendations.