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Here at Seven Oaks Consulting, “pot roast marketing” is an in-joke. It refers to how companies often fall into the trap of doing the same marketing year after year just because it’s always been done that way.

  • They go to the same trade show every year because they’ve always gone…despite the fact that they haven’t gotten a lead there in years.
  • They produce YouTube videos because someone said “everyone in your industry does this” and so they do them even though it’s a struggle.
  • They send the same emails out because the CEO loves them.

The Marketing Metaphor of the Pot Roast

The term pot roast marketing comes from an old story I was told many, many years ago. In this story, a young bride cooks a pot roast for her husband for the first time. As he bites into the first forkful, he chews thoughtfully and says, “Honey, this is the best pot roast I’ve ever eaten. But why did you cut the roast in half before cooking it?”

“I don’t know,” she answers, “but my mom always cooked it this way, so that’s what I do, too. Let me call her and ask.”

So the woman phones her mother, and her mother doesn’t know the answer, either. “Well, that’s the way Grandma always made it, so that’s how I make it, too. Let me call her and ask.”

When the two women get on a call with Grandma, Grandma bursts out laughing. “Oh my dears,” she laughs, “the only reason I cut the pot roast in half is because I didn’t have a pan big enough for the full piece. I had to cut it to make it fit. Don’t tell me you were making it this way all along and didn’t know why?”

That’s what happens in marketing departments. The “pot roast” is a project, perhaps a campaign, that someone initiated years ago. Once, it was successful, and so it became standard operating procedure. No one has questioned it since. But, when examined carefully, it reveals itself as a drag on time and resources, and underperforming activity that can either be set aside or changed to go with the times – and be a productive campaign once again.


A Real-Life Example of a Pot Roast Marketing Strategy

Company Made 5X Investment Once They Fixed Their Marketing Problem!


I experienced the phenomenon of pot roast marketing many years ago. A company I was working with had a direct mail piece that was a ‘prime’ example of pot roast marketing. It was stale and tired. It cost them a bundle to mail each year – and lost around $30,000 in the process. But they insisted, to the last breath, that they had to keep sending out that mailer ‘because it’s always been done this way and everyone in our [target market] expects it.”


Even though it’s not considered best practice to change multiple things in a direct mail piece at one time, I did it with this one because they had nothing to lose – it was costing them money and they weren’t getting the desired results. I asked their creative director to change the appearance of the piece, giving it a modern edge. Their list broker cleaned the list, removing duplicates and adding new audience segments. We even changed the timing of the piece, moving it back a few weeks.


The results? This old pot roast that originally cost them $30,000 each year now made them over $500,000! In simple terms, for every $1 they invested in the production of the direct mail piece, they received $5 back in product sales. And we saved $100,000 in mailing costs by cleaning up the list.


This small example shows you how pot roast marketing can stall even the best companies. This company was supportive of their marketing and invested heavily in all channels, including direct mail. Yet they had a pot roast on their hands. It took an outside voice – me, a marketing consultant – to help them sniff the pot roast out from their midst.


Key Marketing Insights: Takeaways

Look for every opportunity to get the pot roast out of the oven – to identify marketing activities that are among the annual tactical plan simply because it’s always been done that way or it’s a pet project of an executive. Question everything. Analyze the data. If it’s not helping you meet your acquisition, retention, or brand loyalty goals, change it or sunset it. But don’t keep doing a marketing activity because “it’s always been done that way.”

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