A Cookbook Editor's 7 Tips for Editing Brand Recipes
You're at a specialty food company, and you want to encourage people to use your product. Recipe marketing is the obvious and classic answer. Through strategic recipe development, you can give people new and interesting ways to use your product, and you can encourage people to keep your product in their kitchens and use it more often.
As a cookbook editor, I’m a big advocate of recipes as a content marketing tool for food companies—they’re the ultimate call to action, they give people an opportunity to have a hands-on experience with your brand, they can be an extension of your brand voice, and recipes can be good tools for your SEO, too.
But, you also want to make sure people have a good experience with every recipe. If you let them down—if a recipe doesn’t work, or if you lose a home cook along the way, then you lose trust and credibility. And in today’s social sharing and online environment, both triumphant and disappointed home cooks will let their friends and your customers know about their experience.
Here are 7 guidelines for writing and editing brand recipes:
1. Use enough of the product to justify buying it.
When you ask people to buy a product for a recipe, make it worth their money. Don’t ask people to spend $17 on a specialty food product if the recipe only calls for a tablespoon. Most people might look for a substitute or wonder if the recipe really needs the ingredient.
So, use either the whole container, or enough of the container to justify the purchase. If you do use a portion of the container, try to use an amount that will allow the customer to do something with the remainder. For example, if you sell tomato sauce in 20-ounce jars, create a recipe that uses 10 ounces, and that way the customer has enough sauce left over to make the same recipe again—or to make another recipe you’ve created that also uses 10 ounces. (Aren’t you clever!)
2. Make sure every recipe has a benefit for the home cook.
People not only use recipes for a meal—of course—but they also use recipes because they want to learn something.
If your recipe can help someone learn a technique, such as how to braise, then help them master that skill, and you have become that much more valuable to them.
People also use recipes because they want a flavor adventure. If you can give people a recipe that introduces them to interesting ingredients or dishes from another country’s cuisine, tell them about the origin and culture of the dish and indulge their culinary wanderlust. Give them a great journey, and your customers will come back to you for more.
3. List the ingredients in the order the home cook will use them.
Help make the job of cooking easy, especially for people who will have their attention divided. (You know this happens: kids who need help with homework, a spouse who’s asking for help looking for the keys, the TV’s on, the dog’s barking, your sister wants to FaceTime you…)
List the ingredients in the order that they will be used in the recipe. Before you publish the recipe, be sure to read through the method and check off everything in the ingredient list to make sure everything is used.
Then, do the reverse: Read through the ingredient list and check off to make sure everything is mentioned in the method, to make sure nothing was left out of the steps.
It’s tedious, but taking this extra step makes sure your customers won’t get frustrated halfway through a recipe with no idea what to do next. You’ll have wasted their time, their money, you’ll leave them hanging, their families will be hungry, and depending on the recipe, they might have to get a takeout pizza. Not cool.
4. Give the recipe to someone who has never seen it before and ask them to cook it.
After you’ve finished the recipe, you need to test it. You can hire a professional recipe tester, who will make sure the recipe works.
An important note here: Make sure your tester is using what your audience is using.
- If the person who created the recipe is a chef and they created the recipe in a professional kitchen, the recipe needs to be tested in a home kitchen for home cooks. Home kitchen equipment and energy currents are different. Plus, restaurant recipes can't simply be mathematically scaled down for home use.
- If your audience is in another country, then you need to make sure your tester is using the same kind of oven and kitchen equipment with the same energy current, and that the tester is using the ingredients that people in that country will find.
If you can’t afford a professional recipe tester, give the recipe (with free ingredients) to a home cook who is willing to test the recipe in their home kitchen for you, and who will be honest about the results. Make sure that person follows the recipe to the letter—they should not make any substitutions, and they should follow your times, temperatures, and amounts exactly to make sure your recipe works. Have them take notes so you can make any necessary adjustments. If the recipe has some significant flaws, you’ll need to go back to the drawing board to readjust it. If that happens, test again before you publish.
5. Pictures are a must. Video’s almost a must.
Absolutely include at least a picture of the finished dish. Today’s home cooks like having pictures as a guide to help them know what they should end up with when they cook. Use photos of the finished dishes to create a visual recipe index on your website to entice people to cook. (And of course, they’ll need your product.)
Use photos and video to help provide instruction if you’re showing a technique, and also use both to help promote the recipe in social media. Video isn’t a must now, but it increases engagement tremendously, and the use of video is going up.
6. Give each recipe its own URL.
Each recipe needs to have its own address on your site. This is better for search engines and, therefore, your SEO. This also makes it easy for people to bookmark, save, reuse, share, and post.
The other key here is "on your site." Don't put your original recipes on a third party site such as Tumblr or Medium. You're giving away your web traffic gold.
7. If you’re creating healthy recipes, hire a registered dietitian.
Healthy recipes are a large enough subject that I’ll promise a separate post later. But for now, if you’re creating recipes for special dietary needs or if you need nutritional analysis, hire a registered dietitian.
I know there are free, handy tools online where you can type in your ingredient list and amounts and get a nutrition analysis, but those analyses only give you an estimate and are not exact. Plus, government nutrition data is updated frequently, and you may not know whether the data on the free analysis sites has been updated, too. For these reasons, I don't advocate using them.
For an accurate analysis, certain things in recipes, such as alcohols and some fats, need to be hand-adjusted. Also, certain cooking methods make a difference: brining, for example, changes the sodium content in a food. Marinades also change the nutrition content of food, depending on what’s in the marinade and how much the food absorbed. Exactly how much alcohol cooks off in a dish depends on how long it was cooked. An RD who is familiar with recipe analysis can help.
Once you publish your recipes, take this bonus tip: Interact with your audience. Part of the pleasure of publishing recipes is knowing that you're making someone's day special. The recipe you create might become a family favorite. It might be the recipe that becomes a part of a holiday tradition. It might be the recipe that sparks off a romantic evening that ends in a marriage proposal or a baby announcement! And you get to be a part of that. So don't cut yourself off from conversations with your audience, whether they are asking questions, telling you about their improvisations, or sharing how they've incorporated the recipe in their lives. It's all good.