Gain Loyal Brand Ambassadors: Tips from 1 Smart Cupcake

When attending industry events (in this case, #SES2010), folks sporting the “Press” badge may tell you that food is a coveted reward. Our proud mission is to churn out quality coverage in a timely manner, and it’s one we take quite seriously. Sacrifices must be made. Sometimes, that sacrifice is breakfast. Sometimes, lunch. So yes, food can become coveted, almost revered. Free food even more so. Cupcakes? We may as well erect a 50 foot shrine.

Perhaps this is the reason why oodles of live-bloggers (as well as general conf attendees & speakers) packed into Mari Luangrath‘s solo presentation, deliciously titled: Shoes, Cupcakes and Social Media: Building an Army of Brand Ambassadors. Or, perhaps they were just super jazzed to soak up the tactics & takeaways sure to be shared in this hour-long social media marketing case study from planet awesome. When we weren’t drooling over the 7 boxes of cupcakes stacked on stage, AIMCLEAR live-tweeted this  session (via @beebow). Full coverage resides below…

After a thoughtful introduction by Jackie Ortez, Conference Program & Training Manager, SES Conference & Expo (who is also in the cupcake delivery biz…), Mari took the stage. A bit about Mari:

  • Mari Luangrath is Head Cupcakeologist at Foiled Cupcakes. If her job title sounds made-up (albeit fabulous), it’s because it sort of is.
  • She launched her cupcake delivery business by talking about shoes. If that strategy sounds bizarre, it’s because it sort of is.
  • Mari admittedly knew zilch about SEO, SEM, PPC, RSS, CMS or other industry acronyms & concepts many marketers consider integral.

Sounds like a recipe for a short-lived online business venture, right? Not this time. About a year and a half after the launch, Foiled Cupcakes’ portfolio includes “more than a hundred Fortune 500 companies, a dozen wholesale and restaurant partnerships, and a healthy list of Chicago’s influencers, surpassing revenue goals by more than 600 percent in a year.” Her secret? A ridiculously simple & infectiously effective  3-fold strategy for success through social media:

  1. Contribute to relevant conversations.
  2. Facilitate fun.
  3. Do it again. (And again, and again.)

Simple, right? Let’s unpack the goods & explore what it is about this streamlined mixture that works so freakin’ well.

(Leaping down from the #SESSCHI stage in swank 3″ stilettos, Mari said: “I don’t do ‘standing up here things, so I hope you guys don’t mind…”)

Mari began by explaining that when Foiled Cupcakes launched, she employed a conservative & traditional projected sales model, expecting (& hoping for) a slow and steady increase over a 3-5 year period. Unable to grab a snapshot of the graph she shared, we generated a rough though accurate MS Paint recreation:
Mari then showed a graph of how things actually played out (again, an MS Paint recreation, drawn remarkably to scale):

On yeah – and of all the sales Foiled Cupcakes has made since its launch 18 months ago, 93.7% came directly from social media.

Oh, baby.
Mari: “People always ask, ‘How did we do this?’ We don’t do PR, we’re not social media experts.”
So how did they do it?
Mari: “It was all thanks to shoes.”
Um, what?
(At this, Mari kicked off  her sleek stilettos, places them on stage  & began to walk around barefoot.)
@FoiledCupcake’s Twitter Strategy: Invade Conversations & Don’t Talk About Cupcakes
Mari created a branded Twitter account & began following people in the Greater Chicago area (her company only delivers within a certain geo-location). Her objective was to invade conversations… to listen, then talk back. But remember, Mari knew nothing about social media marketing (and actually, nothing about cupcakes… or even baking…). She wanted to chat about things she did know. Like… shoes.
Ergo, Mari jumped into tweet-threads about shoes via @FoiledCupcakes. Suddenly, this cute cupcake avatar was chatting back & forth with “Nancy” from North Center who’d just bought pumps from Nordstrom’s, or “Izzy” from Irving Park who was salivating over the latest line of UGG boots. The conversations were natural, non-gratuitous and 100% non-commercial. Soon enough, people were curious about the chick (or was it a company? It was hard to tell…) behind the cupcake.
So, they asked her:
  • “What do you do?”
She, happily, explained:
  • “We bake & deliver cupcakes in Chicago.”
Et voilà! The softest form of branding there is.
  • “Awesome! I love cupcakes. I gotta tell my GF about this. We’re hosting a party next week…”
Social Media Stalking Strategy: Troll LinkedIn
So then–  it’s no secret Mari thinks “Twitter is great for stalking people you don’t know yet!” (a statement she immediately qualified with a smooth: “By the way… I’m not, like, a freak…”). Many social media experts will agree that’s a terrific strategy for, among other things, increasing brand visibility, popularity and friend/follower count. But the deep marketer will tell you that social media is more than just making friends & that at the end of the day, a company’s investment in social media should ideally translate to measurable profit. Speaking to this, an additional layer of Foiled Cupcakes’s social stalking strategy incorporates LinkedIn, where Mari “stalks” upcoming events in the Chicago area.
If an event & its cause seems relevant, she reaches out to the organizer with a casual, friendly message: “We want to give you cupcakes for your next event.” Who’d say no to that?
Foiled Cupcake’s Facebook Strategy: Be Friendly & Genuinely Engaging
After they were established on Twitter, Foiled Cupcakes hopped on Facebook. Many of their tweet-pals became FB fans, which was a nice way to get started. As far as sharing content & stimulating engagement, Mari found tremendous success from posing different questions to fans.
Sometimes, the questions were about cupcakes.
Sometimes… not so much.
Regardless of  topic, this tactical process fostered engagement & activity (and steered away from hard-selling). In doing so, Foiled Cupcakes continuously built people up genuinely. There was no room for fans to suspect they were talking to a bland brand robot. This resulted in increasing trust, enthusiasm & the birth of a loyal army of brand ambassadors.
Newsflash: Doing Humanitarian Stuff Makes You Seem More Human
The next step in Mari’s social media campaign was to get involved with charitable causes. (Doesn’t get much more genuine than that.) But even this tactic was sort of set into motion unintentionally. “This morning, I tweeted that I felt like giving away cupcakes,” wrote Mari in the Foiled Cupcake blog back in January ’10, two days after Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Among many responses ( “Give me free cupcakes!” “I’ll take ‘em!” “Drop them off to my house!”) came a direct Twitter message from @rickmurray. Essentially, he proposed to Mari that he would buy a dozen cupcakes for the next five people to donate $100 to Haitian relief via the Red Cross. Savvy of social media’s power to spread news in a jiff, Mari re-purposed Rick’s offer & pitched it to her friends, followers & fans: Donate $100 to the Haitian relief effort through the Red Cross. You’ll get 2 dozen cupcakes. Simple. Easy. Fun.”
The results, Mari reported, were beyond what they could have expected. This experience also whet her appetite for other charitable activities.  “ILO mailing out Christmas cards, I’m thinking about donating 250 to a local charity. Thoughts?” Mari tweeted one February day. Once again, the response from the community was overwhelming. Chicago Soup stepped up to the plate, along with dozens of other Chicagoland food businesses until they had collected over 3,500 pieces of food (most more nutritious than cupcakes). By the night of Thursday, February 25th, at a ceremony centering around the fundraiser, Chase Bank threw an extra $100,000 into the pot.
Yes, really.
Third-Party Blog Engagement
Next, Mari branched out of cupcake-world and began some holistic blogger outreach. Keen to the concept that “the more links you have the better it is for your, like, search result thing,” Mari left relevant & valuable comments on various articles & blog posts- some mentioning Foiled Cupcakes, some not. This resulted in her getting on influential bloggers’ radars & a boost in overall brand awareness. Her general advice to the crowd: be sure the comments aren’t spammy. Aim to add significant value.
Foiled Cupcakes Strategy for Connecting the Community: Host Events
  • Photo Shoots One day, Mari woke up & realized the Foiled Cupcakes website was in serious need of product photos. While little can help sell a cupcake like a perfectly-frosted glamor shot, Mari thought beyond the cupcake to the community. She put out a call for Cupcake Models– real live people to pose with cupcakes for the photos that would be put up on Mari’s team brought volunteers to a swank restaurant for free noms & a professional photo shoot. Afterwards, they wrote a massive blog post highlighting each cupcake model (complete with the “fruits” of the photo shoot, of course).
  • Fun Runs When @FoiledCupcakes broke 5,000 followers, community ideas poured in for how they should celebrate. Some suggested running a 5k. Thing is, Mari’s no runner. (In fact there are many things she’d do sooner than run, including “sing karaoke in front of thousands, kiss a snake, eat stinky cheese…” and the like.)  But with the encouragement of Foiled Cupcake’s fans & the help of a marathon training iPhone app, she ran/walked the 5k, drew loads of attention from Foiled Cupcake’s loyal fanbase, & blogged about the whole experience.
  • Cupcakes & Pedicures – Foiled Cupcakes occasionally invites people (men & women) to eat some cupcakes & get their feet massaged. Why not? It’s a good time, & one more event to blog about.
  • Black Tie Events – Foiled Cupcakes even hosts fancy-pants black-tie events, inviting customers, friends & companies out for a swank night on the town. Cupcakes are often served, naturally…
  • Costume Contests – Foiled Cupcakes put fans to the ultimate test: make a costume entirely out of tin foil & model it at a party. Most creative costume wins. Winner gets free cupcakes for a year.
Overarching Social Media Strategy: Create a Community of Connected Cupcake Lovers
Mari’s biggest piece of advice to companies looking to build a community across any social media channel is to “connect with your fans, and help connect your fans to each other.” It might seem like a no-brainer but some companies forget that a greater objective of community management beyond getting  people to like the brand is to get the people who like the brand to also like each other.
To achieve this, Mari makes a commitment to read the bios of new followers & fans in order to find out what they like & what’s important to them. Storing this info in a steel-trap brain (“Database? No, I don’t do those…”), she retrieves it when she meets someone new with similar interests. Then, she hooks them up.

Real Live Demo!
Mari pointed at a dude in the third row of the session room. “What do you like?” she asked. He replied, “Snowboarding.” She asked people to raise their hand if they like snowboarding. Someone in the back of the room put his hand in the air. “You two should be friends,” Mari said, “you both like snowboarding.” Sounds elementary,  but the invaluable benefits are two-fold: company gets a connected community built around its brand; customers make friends & bask in the simple pleasure of personalized shout-outs.
Never Underestimate Good Old-Fashioned Courtesy
One key ingredient in Foiled Cupcake’s success has nothing to do with the Internet:  good old-fashioned courtesy. It stands to note that Foil Cupcakes has no storefront. All transactions are done online & the goods are delivered to the customer’s door. Because her company had no physical presence, Mari knew they needed to go above & beyond with everything else to convince customers they’re legit &  rock really hard. Foiled Cupcakes has a clean, pretty & functional website and their product is nom-tastic… but it’s the little touches that help them stand apart from the competition:
  • Every time an order is placed through, the customer gets a phone call to the tune of:
    • “Hey, got your order! Wanted to make sure we had all the info right. Has anything changed?”
  • Before every delivery goes out, the customer gets another phone call…
    • “Hey! Still on for tomorrow? Anything change? Great, see you soon!”
  • After the delivery is made, the customer gets a hand-written note thanking them for their purchase…
    • “Hey! We really appreciated your business. Hope you enjoyed the cupcakes!”

Foiled Cupcakes Top Social Media Takeaways:

  • You don’t have to spend 24 hours a day on Twitter & Facebook to be effective. Mari dedicates 3-4 hours/week to social media, which is pretty doable.
  • Leverage tools to take care of repetitive & tedious parts of social media, monitoring keywords, scheduling tweets & pushing out blog content to Facebook & Twitter feeds. Mari’s platform of choice is TweetDeck.
  • Out-do the competition. Research top competitors, find out what they’re doing with social media. Learn from their successes & pounce on areas of weakness.
  • When someone engages your brand on Facebook, Twitter, wherever- ALWAYS respond regardless of sentiment. NO EXCEPTIONS. Include names (everyone likes to see their name!) & be personal.
  • Take negativity offline – RIGHT NOW! If someone complains about your company, products or services, attempt to contact them privately (DM, FB message, email) to get the matter sorted out.

Thanks to Mari for a refreshing & down-to-earth look at social media marketing… and for sharing her company’s fabulously tasty cupcakes with the audience of #SESCHI 2010.

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