Angie Emrey

Create brand loyalty through memorable experiences

By Angie Emrey on July 22, 2015

Picture this…

Your branding agency walks in and pitches a new concept for your company. It’s a store called “Johnny Cupcakes” but it will neither make nor sell any bakery at all. Instead, it’ll sell t-shirts for $35 a pop, although some will go for as much as $75 depending on demand – and you’ll see astounding success.

Naturally some questions are raised.

I recently listened to a keynote presentation by Johnny Earle, a.k.a. Johnny Cupcakes about the tiny little t-shirt company he started back in 2000. That tiny brand has grown. (Well, perhaps “grown” is not the most appropriate word to use when describing the staggering 915 percent growth rate they experienced in one year.)

The short version of the incredibly inspiring and entertaining story is this:

Earle was selling t-shirts out of a suitcase in 2002. In 2005, he opened the first Johnny Cupcakes store. Currently, there are four retail locations, an online store and a company “eBay Vault”.

At first Johnny Cupcakes was recognized for his highly effective and brazen branding techniques. Ultimately, it’s those techniques that created the audience, as well as built the demand and fanatic following he’s acquired over the years.

“I don’t consider [Johnny Cupcakes] a fashion label. We are an experience-based brand,” said Earle. “The key to winning shopper loyalty and affinity is to create memorable experiences.”

So how has this brand, with no major advertising budget, sold millions of merchandise and attracted thousands of fans willing to tattoo themselves with the brand logo?

Here’s just a glimpse into the genius:


Reinvent all the time. Be strange.

People thrive on new experiences. Customers have many choices when it comes to purchasing. What can you do to be different? Reinvent or someone else will take your spot. As Earle mentioned, Rainforest Café might not have the best food but, when he asked if anyone had heard of the restaurant, most of the audience’s hands were raised. Ultimately, Rainforest Café is a restaurant – but people aren’t going because of the food.


Define your brand & build a unique experience.

What makes your brand unique? Live that uniqueness and ensure all extensions of your brand—business card, website, resume—express it.  “Every t-shirt purchased in-stores and online, comes with an experience; the pastry box packaging, oven mitt shaped neck label, hidden messages inside some of the shirts, a story and sometimes random gifts,” said Earle.

The stores smell like vanilla, refrigerators and kitchen equipment serve as décor. Aside from an April Fools Day joke, Johnny Cupcakes has never sold any bakery, but they’ve built and sold one heck of a t-shirt purchasing experiencing.


Get people talking.

To create brand loyalty, stay true to it in every aspect of your company and people will talk. Do some people show up and leave upset there weren’t any cakes at Johnny Cupcakes? Sure, but as he says, “Some customers leave happy, some leave angry but EVERYONE leaves with a story.” Here at Core, we call that the “Say It. Live It.” approach. Know your story and tell it—wherever and whenever you can.


Think of your favorite shopping destinations or companies. What really draws you to them? Is it the product, or the experience?

What out-of-the-norm brand experiences can your company give audiences?


Angie Nikolas is a Marketing Specialist at Core. Follow her on Twitter @angnik26.