The Soup Strategy

Today is a rainy, cool day in Richmond, Va. and I’m not feeling particularly well. Nothing serious, just out of sorts.

It’s the perfect day to make a pot of soup and that is what I’m doing. Right now my house smells like Italian chicken soup. All those herbs are getting cozy with the chicken stock in a slow cooker. Later I’ll add the diced tomatoes, mustard greens and egg noodles.

I’m following my late mother’s recipe. Whenever I smell or taste Italian chicken soup made from her recipe, I think of her, so the comfort quotient on this particular pot of soup is sky-high.

Food is a powerful communication vehicle. It’s a folk art, bridging one generation to the next.

As I pondered that fact, I thought back to a visit I paid my maternal grandmother not too many years before she died. Visits to my grandmother’s house always included her biscuits and gravy for breakfast. There was something unique about her biscuits. They had a tender shell to them, not quite crunchy and not at all dry. According to my grandmother, she achieved this distinctive trait by running the pre-cooked biscuits through some form of fat — either liquid Crisco or bacon drippings or maybe even lard.

My mom used my grandmother’s biscuit recipe when she baked them for us, but the result was not the same. Mom’s biscuits were great, but they were quite different from my grandmother’s. So on my visit I asked my grandmother to share her biscuit-baking technique with me so that I might achieve the same delicious success when I baked them.

She sat at the kitchen table and talked me through the entire process. Step by step, I did everything she told me to do, exactly as she told me to do it.

My biscuits didn’t turn out anything like my grandmother’s. Nor my mother’s for that matter.

I was disappointed, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the shared experience among my grandmother, my mother and me. What matters are the memories, the connection and, yes, even the values evoked by the experience of using a recipe that was handed down from my grandmother to my mom, and from my mom to me.

In my work as a communicator, I often am called upon to carefully craft messages so that they convey exactly what my client wants to say, whether it’s a marketing piece, a speech or an employee communication. Words are important; they carry a lot of weight. But what the audience will remember most is the shared experience, the connection that you make, the values you emulate through the communication. That’s why a face-to-face event is such a rich communication tool. That’s why branding is defined as the experience a consumer has with a product or service.

Call it the soup strategy or the biscuit factor or something. If we can get our audiences as invested in some organizational goal as I was in wanting to replicate my grandmother’s biscuits, we’re really getting somewhere.


2 Responses

  1. “What matters are the memories, the connection and, yes, even the values…”

    Oh, My Brother/BFF, you have nailed this thought. I, too, have many treasured memories of my grandmother, who I have written about several times. And yes, she made terrific biscuits in a wooden bowl. I have that bowl, and it retains biscuit smells. I learned many lessons from her quiet strength and resourcefulness.

    Your point for communicators is well-taken: “But what the audience will remember most is the shared experience, the connection that you make, the values you emulate through the communication.” Brilliant and all too timely.

    Thank you for this excellent, thought-provoking post, Robert. I’ll bet your soup was excellent, too.


  2. […] brand had a rich, colorful history that would generate a lot of pride among its custodians today. I’ve written before about the power of storytelling. People remember stories and it helps connect them to a brand in a […]

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