The Sweet Mix of Customer Experience and Branding: Sugardaddy's Mark Ballard Spills All

Mark Ballard
Posted: 09/15/2009

Hardly a day passes that I don't get asked by one or more of our customers or other business leaders, "How has Sugardaddy's Sumptuous Sweeties® built a solid, successful brand and business in a relatively short period of time?" Or, "How has Sugardaddy's been able to garner national accolades and endorsements that have propelled the business with the acquisition of new customers?" Or, "How has Sugardaddy's continued to retain customers and grow during a down economy?"

In response to these questions, I enthusiastically reply, "By strategically and painstakingly creating and ensuring, every day, the best-of-the-best customer experience—every customer, every product, every interaction, every time!"



Creating the Best-of-the-Best Customer Experience

These three words—the customer experience—sound like a silver-bullet to some and an elusive, abstract concept to others. At Sugardaddy's Sumptuous Sweeties®, the customer experience undisputedly equals business success.

In straightforward terms, creating the best-of-the-best customer experience means creating—or recreating—your business completely from the customer's perspective.

How do your customers actually "see" your business? In their eyes and minds, how do customers rate your products? Your "value proposition"? Your products' relevance to their wants and needs? Your products and pricing in a changing economic environment?

What is it really like to be your customer? On a daily basis, what customer experience is your company delivering? How does it feel to shop your store(s)? to call the 1-800 number? to shop and check out from your online store? to open a package delivered by your fulfillment service? to use/enjoy your company's products?

Or, what's it like to be greeted by your company? to be remembered? to receive helpful shopping suggestions—in store and online? to get everything exactly as it was promised? to be confident that the answers and information that you’ve been given are best for you and are true?

As an outsider looking in, Sugardaddy's Sumptuous Sweeties® looks like a story of good luck. What few people know or understand is that Sugardaddy's strategy and planning began long before the business was ever launched. Sugardaddy's was never a "we'll-figure-it-out-as-we-go-and-hope-that-we-make-it" business. Instead, Sugardaddy's was a conscious, ambitious strategic initiative to be the best-of-the-best gourmet brownie company—ever!

Eat Like the Customer

As Co-founders of Sugardaddy’s, Tom Finney and I spent three full years developing the Sugardaddy's brownie and blondie recipes and products, packaging, branding, service elements and channels—all from the customer's perspective. We thought like customers from every angle. We gathered customer feedback from target customers about every aspect of the "proposed" business. We analyzed our competition, both retail and online, as we literally ate brownies (and cookies, cakes, chocolates and pies, too) from New York to California.

We asked ourselves and target customers, "What were the stand out elements, what weren’t, and why in the sweets/baked-goods/gifting categories?" Every detail and every aspect of this proposed business required intensive thought, planning and flawless execution to create a fresh-baked brownie brand unlike any other brand on earth!

Best-of–the-Best Product

I had the opportunity to work for mega-brand Victoria's Secret Catalogue in the 1990s. Then-president Cindy Fedus (a great merchant, I might add) was famous for saying on a daily basis, "We have to get the product right!"

The measure of your product being "right" is the demand that it creates and the corresponding sales. No marketing efforts can ever make up for poor product. Moreover, you have to be clear about your products' value-proposition over your competition. By value, I don’t mean price alone, but the total worth of what you are selling, including the emotional value too.

Is what you sell the same, better, or best over the competition in terms of quality, quantity, price, convenience, innovation, style, service or a combination thereof? How does your competition compete on these tenants? What is their formula for acquiring and retaining customers?

Know Thy Customer

Most importantly, who is your customer? What will make your customer want, or need, your product over the competition or a related player in the market? All aspects of the product life cycle—from idea generation, product design and development, market research, and marketing—should have the goal to grow market share.

At Sugardaddy's we sell gourmet brownies and blondies. Not just any brownies or blondies. Rather, luxe, modern brownies and blondies in 17 flavors. The appearance, taste and texture of Sugardaddy's brownies and blondies are completely unique to this category and the result of a carefully articulated, holistic design.

The ingredients and baking techniques are executed flawlessly. Brownies and blondies are packaged and shipped the same day they are baked (i.e., we don’t use freezers or preservatives). For mail orders, all brownies and blondies are baked the day prior the selected delivery date and are shipped overnight to the recipient—insuring our promise, "Oven to door in 24. Freshness. Guaranteed."

But, there's more to Sugardaddy's than luxe, modern brownies and blondies. Sugardaddy's has strategically extended its line.

Green Branding

Sugardaddy’s Trifles and Truffles are made from the "cut-aways." There’s no waste at Sugardaddy’s; customers love our "green" approach.

It’s not merely chance that Sugardaddy's, in it's second year of operation, eclipsed the nation's brownie competition to be named "Best of the Best" by Food Network and "Winners" of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Sugardaddy’s continues to be featured as editor’s picks including: Desserts Magazine, Chocolatier, The Washington Post, The Nibble and more.

All Aspects of the Customer Experience Should Transport

Packaging should contain, protect, preserve, transport and inform customers about the product it contains. It should also support the brand’s image. Moreover, it should sell your product. In the gourmet food world, customers eat first with their eyes. Therefore, packaging needs to be both beautiful and functional.

At Sugardaddy's we saw an opportunity to be innovators in the marketplace with packaging. Not for the sake of innovating, but to think differently—to think like the customer regarding packaging our fresh-baked brownies and blondies. For example, we did not fall prey to the trap of the proverbial gift basket or gift tin approach in endless skus. From the customer perspective, what if the customer likes the assortment, but not the packaging? Or, what if the customer doesn't like the packaged assortment, but likes the packaging? Or what if the customer wants the ribbon or bag to be a different color than what’s offered? Why not put the "sku" in the hands of customers?

At Sugardaddy's, customers create their own custom assortments and gifts, i.e., skus. Customers choose their brownie or blondie flavors, the quantity, packaging options—including colors of bags and ribbons, monogramming on the bags, and delivery date. Sugardaddy's customers love the packaging as much as they do the product. The fact that it's all about creating your own assortment is a big part of that. (Our competition is following our innovative lead!)

Winning on Quality

As a result, Sugardaddy's packaging and products have been named "best" by InStyle, InStyle Weddings, Modern Bride, Bride and Bloom, Food 411 and many, many more. In the words of the producers at The Ellen DeGeneres Show who selected Sugardaddy's for three years in a row—for the Green Rooms of her celebrity guests, "We fell in love with Sugardaddy’s before taking a bite and knew we had to have Sugardaddy’s brownies and blondies in the green rooms. Then we ate one and fell in love again." Or, in the words of the editors of Instyle, "Sugardaddy’s is the perfect balance of beauty and taste."

Best-of–the-Best Presentation

By presentation, I mean branding. Brand experts distinguish branding by the both the psychological and the interactional aspects. The psychological aspect, sometimes referred to as the brand image, consists of all the information and expectations associated the company, product or service. The interactional aspect consists of the sum of all touch points with the brand and is known as the brand experience.

Sugardaddy's distinguishable pink and brown logo and brand motifs appear in a unified way on Sugardaddy’s products, packaging, stores, online, and in all collateral. These components support the idea of this brand being upscale yet accessible, playful, fresh and premium.

An online review/quote from a Sugardaddy’s customer best illustrates the brand image and experience. "Shop Sugardaddy’s stores—both retail and online—and you’re in for a real treat. You definitely get more than great brownies. It’s an experience!"

Best-of–the-Best People

At Sugardaddy's our goal—in store, on the phone, and online—is to always accelerate the customer's ready-to-buy emotion. This integral service element is fueled by best of the best talent: our people. Therefore, everything we say and do is strategically designed to support this goal. Converting customers to buy and increasing order values are the key measures. That means greeting, attending, listening, interacting, solving, and fulfilling each and every customer's needs, wants, and desires for gifting and dessert.

With store and phones, hiring and training are paramount keys to this goal and success. Online is all about navigation customization and interaction, too. Everything must be accessible, transparent, consistent, and of course easy to shop—regardless of channel.

Summary: Sugardaddy's Best-of–the-Best 4 Ps

Sugardaddy's four Best-of–the-Best Ps are the foundational pillars upon which the Sugardaddy's business and the brand is built. Customers are acquired, retained, and converted based on these fundamental principles that continue to be executed flawlessly daily—every customer, every product, every interaction, every time.

In a time when many brands and businesses are retreating, lessening their quality for sake of price, and playing smoke and mirror mark-up/mark-down games that leave the customer en route to defection, Sugardaddy's remains unrelentingly steadfast. There are short cuts—easier and less expensive ways to do business. In the end, the customer votes with his/her wallet.

Delivering a seamless, consistent best-of-the-best customer experience does makes a difference. Designing and ensuring complete focus on the customer experience creates real value for customers who in turn become advocates of the brand. That’s a recipe for success.

First published on Call Center IQ.

Mark Ballard
Posted: 09/15/2009

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