Here in the U.S., the media darling of the year is the 30-Minute Meal perky cooking diva Rachael Ray. It seems that her brand and media presence jumped from a whisper (a few cooking shows and cook books) to a scream (a talk show, magazine, product line, pet advice, etc.) all in a short period of time.
I think she is kind of spunky and I admire her business growth so she doesn’t bother me a lot, but I know that there are some people who feel she is the human equivalent of nails scratching on a blackboard. Maybe there is such a thing as too perky.
Regardless of how you feel about her personally, I think we can all learn a few things about building a brand from her meteoric success:
- Find a real need in the marketplace. So many stressed and overworked Moms and Dads long for a way to cook healthy and fast meals for their families. Rachel saw this need when she started out as a humble manager and cook at a food equipment store in Albany, New York and started offering 30-Minute Meal cooking classes as a way to increase sales. They became so popular that she realized she was on to something big, and started writing cookbooks.
- To get national media, start local. After her cooking classes exploded, she got some local press coverage. This caught the eye of an Albany television producer who invited her to do a weekly 30 Minute Meals segment for the local news. As she was promoting her first book, she got booked on the Today Show, and an interview on a Public Broadcasting Station caught the interest of a Food Network executive who invited her to start the first of her four cooking shows. Many people want big, national media immediately. Start in your own backyard, and you may be surprised when the media heavies come calling.
- Be yourself. I find it hard to believe that her smiling personality is all an act ( or is she really like Martha Stewart behind closed doors? ). A big part of what draws people to Rachael is her unpretentiousness in the kitchen. She doesn’t pretend to be a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, and makes people feel that they, too, could have fun in the kitchen while preparing a quick and healthy meal. Her personality is her brand.
- Build a product set around a core concept. For Rachael, it was the 30-Minute Meals that started as a class, then moved to a cookbook, then a food network show, then a series of shows, then a magazine and a national daytime talk show. Now she is selling kids music CDs on her site which is a little confusing, but I guess it is somehow in the next generation of products. The idea is to take a great fundamental idea and build a whole set of products and services around it.
- Align yourself with influential people who will help get you where you want to go. I am not sure how the introduction happened, but Rachael Ray somehow connected with Oprah. After appearing on Oprah’s show a few times, she struck a deal to have Oprah’s Harpo Productions produce her daytime talk show. I have a feeling that aligning with Oprah was a very conscious choice on Rachael’s part, given the target demographic of Oprah’s viewers.
So while you may faint at the thought of ever using a term like "Yum-o," don’t lose the branding lessons of the most exposed cooking sensation of the year.
Personally, I am fascinated to know if Rachael Ray is really happy. Not just with her financial success, but with her life. What do you think?