What can cupcakes teach us about marketing?

I recently had the pleasure of attending Cupcake Camp LA at Los Angeles' Music Box Theater. This delicious event, devoted to celebrating the cupcake, brought together more than 50 of the city's bakeries and independent bakers to give the public a sample of their goods. Great way to spend an afternoon, right?

Upon entering the venue, I was taken away to a land of happiness! Balloons, pastel doilies, glitter, and everything frilly. Gorgeous cupcakes were everywhere, many labeled with cute names meant to entice people into tasting them: Root Beer Float, Marshmallow Hot Chocolate, Lemon Tart. Marketing at its best!

For your admission ticket, you were allowed five cupcakes. I wandered around, trying to decide on my five when I heard an announcement that there were more bakers located upstairs. So, upstairs I went.

On the very dark second floor there were about eight businesses represented. I squinted to see the cupcakes better, but the lighting was terrible (it was a theater, after all, and not an auditorium). At the last table, one without any decorations and a chicness rating of zero, I saw a messy looking cupcake. Something that looked so homemade that I thought it had to be good. I surrendered my ticket and took the cupcake.

To my delight, that homely little goodie was the best thing there! So amazingly chocolaty, moist, and flavorful, I heard myself moan a little. I went back to the booth to ask for a business card because this cupcake will undoubtedly be on the menu for my next soiree. (Yes, I throw soirees! Or at least I want to.)

The teenager at the booth handed me an old looking card that had creases in it. Looked like a GI had carried it in his pocket through the Gulf War. I asked her who did the baking and she told me her aunt did, but she had gone downstairs for a minute. She said they were from Compton (a gang-riddled community ranked the 15th most dangerous city in the U.S. by the FBI in 2008) and I got the impression the woman baked in her home.

As for the fancy cupcakes I selected from bakeries in elite cities such as Beverly Hills, Studio City, and Burbank, they were mediocre. Heck, two of the beautiful cupcakes from the main floor I didn't like at all (one was so dry, I simply opened my mouth and let the cake tumble out before it sucked all the moisture from my tongue!). The woman from Compton with the sad little table up in the dark got my vote for best cupcake! As a matter of fact, I went back and used my last ticket to get another one of her delicious delights! 

Now, some fancy pants baker downstairs with a table glamorous enough to be in Vegas won "Best Cupcake" at the event, as voted on by attendees. But I suspect many of those people didn't venture upstairs, into the dark, to the plain little table to taste a little bit of heaven. If they had, my favorite baker would have won; hands down. (I'd link to her in this post, but she doesn't even have a website.)

So, what does this teach us? I suspect this talented, but underrated, baker was simply sticking with what she knows: baking. Granted, she couldn't do anything about the theater's lighting, but the table presentation was within her control. Maybe not her area of expertise, but could she have brought in a friend with a keen eye to help her frilly up things and make everything more inviting? On the flip side, were some of the other bakers more about flash than substance? Their tables and cupcakes were beautiful, but the product itself was unimpressive.

So, I ask, is your product and your marketing in sync? Do they both represent your absolute best? Are you losing customers/clients because you're skimping on the quality of your product/service or the way you promote your business?

A more polished presentation could have drawn in more attendees for our Compton baker. And, for better or worse, appearance matters in this world. You can make the best cupcake on the planet, but what good is it if no one comes by to taste it, right?

* Thank you to the lovely Claudia Yuskoff of Mmm, Me Gusta - A Little Cooking Show and Babette Pepaj of Bakespace.com (the event host) for the tickets and the lovely day at Cupcake Camp LA! 


  1. Sampling cupcakes sounds like a fanastic afternoon activity to me. And like you I would look at all of them before making up my mind. There are two ways at looking at this post, one is don't judge a book by it cover it, could be the best one you have ever read (tasted), or two, just like most things these days every thing is judged by looks. If it looks good it must be good?! Sometimes simple is better but a little extra goes a long way. Great blog, Amber! Happy New Year!

  2. Thank you, Dee! Yes, it was a delightful way to spend the day, thanks to the generosity of Claudia and Babette!

    Your point is so true. We should NOT judge a book by its cover, but, unfortunately, most people do. Quite a conundrum!

    I only got to try five cupcakes. In the grand scheme of things, that sounds like a lot! But, at this event, it was a drop in the bucket. I'm sure there were more than a few who had the marketing and the baking just perfect. I'll have to search them out at the next Cupcake Camp! ;-)

  3. This is a wonderful post, Amber! I think I tried the one from Compton, and yep, it was damn good. The event was a ton of fun. I enjoyed sampling all the great cupcakes. As for your fave cupcake lady, well I sure hope next year she gets a better spot.

  4. Claudia, this woman made the cupcake I told you about when I saw you in the seating area! She was an angel sent from Heaven to make the world a more delicious place! ;-)

    As I said in my comment below to Dee, I'm sure there were many more bakers there with fabulous cupcakes. Unfortunately (or many fortunately!), I only was able to taste the five that were allotted. And, two of them were the same cupcake from this woman I mentioned in the post.

    Babette of Bakespace.com has created a very special event! It's a great opportunity to sample the big names in the cupcake arena, and to stumble onto undiscovered talents who bake up scrumptious edibles!

    Thanks again for the great day at Cupcake Camp LA, Claudia!

  5. First of all, I now want a cupcake even though it's only 7:30 am. Second, I'd love an invite to one of your soirees. I'm especially as fond of those as I am of tasty cupcakes. Wonderful post, Amber, and excellently illustrated wisdom through this simple example. I imagine the baker from Compton couldn't afford a table on the first floor. But, you're right - a little investment in the display, perhaps a sign on the first floor pointing up to the darker floor - that might have helped. Fortunately, the best cupcake there did achieve something - your WOM marketing. I wish they had a website.

  6. Hi Jean: It's ALWAYS time for cupcakes, my friend. Always ;-)

    What I didn't have the space to get into in my post was that this was a charity event. Bakers brought their goods for free and the proceeds from the event went to three charities. A wonderful event!

    Cupcake Camp is a worldwide affair and is sponsored locally in many large cities. Check out the main http://cupcakecamp.org/ site and maybe one will be organized near you! Or, they're always looking for local organizers, too (hint, hint)!

    In any case, I don't think anyone paid for a table. Just a bit of bad luck, perhaps, to be put upstairs. Or maybe the independent bakers were up there. Hard to know for sure. But, you are correct, if I ever have the opportunity to order cupcakes, this gal is at the top of my list!

    And, of course, if my soiree comes together, you'll be on the invite list ;-)

  7. Just went to their website. Now I really want a cupcake! Love the idea, too. There are so many ways to raise money for charities that don't have to involve being drummed by your company's favorite charity org or being hassled at a cash register for a buck. You're post has really spurred me on to be less anonymous this year. I struggle with getting myself out there because: 1. I'm an Introvert; 2. I was raised by Catholics who believe it's improper to brag on yourself; 3. Fear of not failing, but being dismissed. But 2011 is the year to change it all. I'm so glad to be part of your growing circle.

  8. Great comment, Jean! I agree on the fundraising stuff. Creativity makes such a difference, doesn't it?

    As for you getting out there:

    1) You're tweeting with people and leaving blog comments, so perhaps you're less of an introvert than you think! ;-)

    2) Bragging is a turn off, but there is nothing wrong with being confident. You're talented, you blog, you tweet! No reason not to share your work. It's not bragging; it's being accessible.

    3) There will always be people who dismiss you (and me!), but if you start to form a community, especially through social media, you will find you have more supporters than you knew about!

    Stick with it, Jean. You're doing everything right. Maybe it's just time to ramp it up a little bit! ;-)

    Go get 'em!

  9. Good for that baker from Compton! I have a soft spot in my heart for the CPT because I worked there for many years.

    Most of us are overly dazzled by looks, but keeping things as presentable as possible is never a bad thing. I hope that Compton baker keeps her business going.

  10. Thanks for taking the time to chime in. Oh, that gal had such amazing talent! I hope she can make a go of it.

    Cupcake Camp LA was just such a frilly, pretty, magical environment that, unfortunately, anything ordinary just looked dumpy by comparison.

    I'm glad, though, that I saw the wonder in her cupcake. My taste buds were overwhelmed with glee!


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