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Innovative Marketing Ideas: How Sprinkles Took a Big Bite Out of the Baked Good Market [CASE STUDY]

There are trends in almost everything.

Clothes, values, television, the terrible music kids listen to these days… and in baked goods, too!

Yes, that’s right, even desserts as iconic as the wedding cake get a little nervous when a new, sweet young thing comes to town and gets all the attention.

But that sweet little thing doesn’t have it so easy, either!

It just wants to be taken seriously and receive all the respect (and business!) afforded to any other confection.

Nope, it isn’t easy being a cupcake – or any new player in a crowded, competitive market.

In fact, until just a short while ago, the idea that cupcakes could threaten a market incumbent like the wedding cake would have been crazy…

But Sprinkles Cupcakes had some innovative marketing ideas up their sleeves.

It Doesn’t Look Good for Cupcakes…

The cupcake craze had begun before Sprinkles Cupcakes opened their doors in 2005; A Sex and the City episode had featured the cupcakes of New York City’s Magnolia Bakery, and people were mad for them.

Apparently, though, they weren’t that great – they certainly weren’t something you’d feed to 150 of your closest friends and relatives at your wedding.

Candace Neilson thought she could do better, by putting the decadence and quality of a wedding (or other special event) cake into a bite-sized luxury treat.

This was considered a very high-risk business at the time; wedding cakes were, and still are, a very big deal, and the no-carb craze had led to a 4 year decline in baked good sales!

Budgets were tightening, and couples looking to celebrate their special day were cutting back on expensive baked goods, opting instead for grocery-store sheet cake.

This may sound risky to you or me, but to Candace, it sounded like opportunity…

Could Cupcakes Be the Middle Ground?

Candace and her husband took a good, long look at the baked goods market, saw the current interest in cupcakes, and questionable quality of the options that were available at the time.

Then they spent two years developing the perfect cupcake recipe…

Hired a famous interior designer to create the look of their store…

Got a former Martha Stewart employee to create beautiful logos and packaging…

And opened a store in Beverly Hills.

The store’s performance was excellent from day one, selling out their entire inventory, and as many as they could make over the first week.

Word of mouth took over, line-ups out the door led to another location, then online ordering and delivery, and then mixes available in stores.

And then, finally, mass orders of cupcakes for weddings.

The cupcake had arrived!

Sorry sheet cake! Sorry tiered monstrosities!

Looks like the unassuming little cupcake has become an industry powerhouse!

Great Things Come in Small Packages

Sprinkles is just one company, representing the wider cupcake-vending world.

They have had great success with their venture, succeeding where many cupcake stores have failed. And despite the successes and the failures, one trend has definitely stuck:

Cupcakes are getting more and more and more common at weddings.

They’re easier to serve.

They minimize the mess.

There are no “slicing” fees.

They cost significantly less than a traditional wedding cake, and are just as beautiful.

Sprinkles, and other cupcake bakers, looked at the problems caused by a traditional wedding cake and all but eliminated them!

In the minds of customers the world over, cupcakes are the perfect alternative to a wedding cake: all of the sweet decadence, with none of the old-fashioned fuss.

Now, don’t get me wrong; weddings cakes are still selling at a good clip. But the cupcake trend is entrenching itself more firmly each year, and all of the people who purchase them for weddings and other events are doing so instead of a more traditional confection.

That’s market share lost to the wedding cake makers!

But Convenience and Quality is a Tough Combination to Beat

Markets can seem impenetrable in the beginning, and new ideas risk being just a flash in the pan, but all changes have to start somewhere.

After all, real changes to industries don’t usually sweep in overnight; it takes time for people to get used to them, and accept them (Twitter may seem like an overnight success now, but it’s been around since 2006!).

It’s hard to know in advance if the world is ready for a particular idea, and you’ll never know for sure. But if you take a page from Sprinkles, and have a firm grounding in the value you’re offering, and who’s going to best appreciate it, then your odds are success are as good as they can be.

Now of course, lots of press, celebrity endorsements, requests for interviews and the like don’t hurt either. These things, however, tend to reinforce trends rather than cause them. An endorsement from Oprah may spike traffic to your website, but a cousin’s delicious wedding cupcakes will make you consider actually buying!

You must never sacrifice quality when trying something new. If you’re going to convince someone of the virtues of a bunch of cupcakes – the dessert of grade-school bake sales across the globe – you’d better make sure they’re damn good cupcakes!

If your offer is good enough to do that, though (and we know that it is!), then, like Sprinkles, you’re poised to claim a huge slice of the market.

How to Bring that Sweetness to Your Business

Okay, let’s get down and dirty with the recipes for success. Here’s what I want you to do, right now:

  1. Schedule time every six months or so to evaluate what’s going on in your industry and in the wider world around it.
  2. Read websites on your topic, set up Google Alerts to monitor the web for mention of your keywords, and scan the news for anything relating to you or your target market.
  3. Take a look what your competition is up to. Have they launched new products, changed their messaging, or made any interesting partnerships?

Now ask yourself – how happy are the customers of your competition? Are they like buyers of wedding cakes – happy with the product, but open to something that’s a little more hassle free, or just more innovative?

You’re probably very comfortable with the differences between you and your competition, so why not take the time to highlight those differences in a new way! Put yourself out there, both to your target market, and to the people that your target market looks up to – you never know what might happen (the only way you definitely won’t get a newspaper review or celebrity endorsement is if you never ask!).

So find out where your competitors are leaving their customers, and swoop in to steal their market share. It’s just business and innovative marketing ideas, right? And the victory will taste so sweet! 😉

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