4imprint, LLC

| Updated: November 04, 2021

Creating an irresistible brand is a dream for most companies—building a brand that people will line up for outside a storefront is the icing on the cake. Or in this case, Johnny Cupcakes®. The brand has leveraged its unique promo T-shirts so deliciously that they have customers salivating over every sale. Keep reading to learn about Johnny Cupcakes’ marketing success—and how you can apply their techniques to your business.


1. Create a sweet customer experience

If you haven’t heard of Johnny Cupcakes, you’re in for a sweet—and we hope inspirational—surprise. In fact, some customers who enter a Johnny Cupcakes storefront are indeed shocked to find out the retail location, despite smelling and looking like a bakery, sells no cupcakes at all. This brand is doing things differently and its marketing strategy has cooked up some very sweet results.


2. Be deliciously different and memorable

Johnny Cupcakes’ flagship location in Boston, Mass., is designed to look and smell just like an old-fashioned bakery. Oven doors from 27 vintage ovens open and close randomly, mystifying customers. At the checkout, customers pay at a stovetop where an artificial fire flickers. Happy customers leaving the store are seen carrying cupcake packaging. But some customers who get in line hungry for cake are shocked to find Johnny Cupcakes is actually a T-shirt store, selling unique shirts emblazoned with an equally unique logo of a cupcake over crossbones. The whimsical logo has captured the imagination of customers around the world; many fans collect the funny promotional shirts with a logo. But, more than that, the company says thousands of customers have gotten a tattoo of the Johnny Cupcakes logo—now that’s brand loyalty!


3. Apply street-food smarts to promo T-shirts

Though Johnny Cupcakes has effectively drawn crowds to its store locations with a unique shopping experience and limited-release promo T-shirts in high demand, they’re also revolutionizing the shopping experience by taking their cue from the street-food movement with pop-up shops. Brand founder Johnny Earle even personally sells promotional shirts out of suitcases while road tripping through major U.S. cities in a move reminiscent of his early days of starting the company. In addition, the company is known to toss unexpected items into its packages. When customers open a cupcake box, expecting to see their funny logo T-shirt, they’ll also find random items as a bonus: a doll head, batteries, or even a $20 bill!


Takeaways to make customers hungry for your brand

How can you leverage the lessons of Johnny Cupcakes’ brand strategy to sweeten your marketing? Unique promo T-shirts may help, but there’s more.

  • Be original. Offer something no one else has. Johnny Cupcakes sells unique T-shirts that cannot be found anywhere else. And they have limited-release items, which creates a sense of demand and excitement. Hundreds of customers have been known to stand in line for hours, even camping out overnight, for those T-shirts.
  • To draw customers to retail locations, create a shopping experience. Johnny Cupcakes’ unique approach develops demand for a limited-release product and makes the in-person shopping experience fun and memorable.
  • Invest in packaging. Founder Johnny Earle has said that good packaging doesn’t get thrown away. Instead, it acts as a miniature billboard. For Johnny Cupcakes, that means creating eye-catching containers that look like frosting cans or cupcake box mixes. How can you customize your packaging? (Hint: we can help!)
  • Make sure customers remember you. Earle’s philosophy is that investing in the storefront experience, the packaging and what’s inside is more expensive in the short term, but pays off in the long run. For him, throwing batteries in with an order creates an unexpected bonus for customers—who will then think of the company and talk about it with others. And that word-of-mouth promotion is incredibly valuable. Remember: your customers are your brand ambassadors. Give them something to rave about!
  • Leverage social media for more than sales. Earle suggests holding contests, offering to meet up with customers, even buying them dessert. Think beyond promoting your discounts to keep customers engaged and craving what you’re serving up.


Get irresistible branding results

When you’re ready to make your brand crave-worthy, you don’t necessarily need unique promo T-shirts (though they might help your promotional efforts, and we can hook you up!). Just give customers what they want, and then some. Think of it like the sprinkles on a cupcake—in the end, it’s often the something extra that delivers satisfying results.

Suzanne Worwood

Suzanne Worwood

Suzanne Worwood is VP of Merchandising and has been with 4imprint for 23 years. Inspired by the retail environment and her own world travels, Suzanne writes about all things product: trends, uses, colors, designs.

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