No...not THAT kind of sugardaddys...I'm talking about Sugardaddy's the makers of mouth-watering gourmet brownies and blondies. The company that seems to have nailed three keys to marketing success, both online and offline, and impressed me enough I'm sitting here writing an article about them just two hours after visiting their factory outlet and tasting their brownies.

It's no secret that small business start-ups often struggle to find a way to affordably market themselves. Gaining a foothold in already crowded search results is difficult. Sparking word of mouth is more effective, but you have to have a way to reach key influencers in order to get the ball rolling. Even if you do have a great product, it can be an immense challenge simply getting consumers to try you out. That's why it's essential that you find a way to excel in three key areas: location, innovation and presentation.

Your Location Matters

Sugardaddy's caught my eye because of their location. Now generally when I write about location I'm referring to search engine positioning or social media presence, but in this case, I mean the actual physical location of the store.

Two days a week I take my kids to a drop-in day care center called Mango's Place and leave them for a few hours while I head to the nearest wifi hotspot to get some work done. Each time I've gone to drop the kids off I've noticed a sign at the turn that reads "Sugardaddy's sumptuous sweeties." It's accompanied by signs that read "factory outlet" and "gourmet brownie sweets."

In fact, Sugardaddy's is located right next door to Mango's Place and their colorful awning and overflowing flower pots always catch my eye as I juggle two kids and a diaper bag from my car to the door of the center. Every time I drop the kids off or pick them up, I find my mouth watering as I think about how nice a gourmet brownie would taste once I get the kids home and settled into their afternoon naps.

As I was leaving the center today after dropping the kids off, I noticed that the url for their web site is prominently displayed on their awning. I made a note of it and as soon as I got settled in at Panera Bread, I typed the URL in and checked out their web site and I was pretty impressed with what I saw. (More on that later.)

So apart from the fact that Sugardaddy's location caused them to catch my eye, why is this a good location? Well, let's think about the clientele that Mango's Place attracts. Mango's Place is a drop-in day care center aimed at stay-at-home and work-at-home parents that need an occasional break. That means upper-middle class or upper class mom's that can afford to use the center while they shop, take a break at the spa or go to lunch with friends. It also means work at home parents like myself that may be running their own business or working as a consultant and who want a few hours a day to work without the constant interruption of young children.

In other words...there's a constant stream of potential customers walking right past their signage and their URL.

Your location DOES matter when it comes to drawing in new customers. That may mean the physical location of your store, it may mean the location of your site in the search results or it may mean location of a link. What are you doing to make sure your business is located in places that your customer base frequents?

You Have to Be Different!

Last summer I wrote an article about the supposed Google Sandbox and explained that one of the keys to online success in an increasingly crowded virtual marketplace was to innovate or to go niche. You can't launch the fifty millionth mortgage site and expect to succeed. You can't launch an Amazon clone and expect customers to flock to your doors. You'll also have a tough time launching yet another gift basket business...unless you innovate.

Sugardaddy's, at it's core, is a gourmet brownie business. If you ask Google, there are more than half a million search results for the phrase order gourmet brownies, which might imply that plenty of people are already filling that niche. If you ask Sugardaddy's, cutting corners just might be the key to success.

Once I got to Panera Bread and headed over to the Sugardaddy's web site I was struck by the fact that their brownies (which are obviously supposed to be square) were actually round. Now there's no arguing that round brownies are "different" from square brownies, but is that enough to qualify as innovative?

According to the team at Sugardaddy's the round brownies work well because they eliminate the "hard" edges. When I first read that, I laughed internally, then I got to thinking. The biggest problem with brownies is that the edges are crusty. Everyone who knows anything about brownies knows that the center is the best part because it's uniformly chewy. So, the team at Sugardaddy's hand cuts every single brownie into a perfect circle with no crunchy edges. There's also no denying the fact that a round brownie sticks in your mind.

The innovation continues... The Sugardaddy's team obviously subscribes to the "waste not, want not" belief system because every last "scrap" created when those brownies are cut into circles is still used. The edges of each pan of brownies are sliced and made into brownie biscotti. The corners that are cut to make those cute little circles are bagged up and sold as "pocket change," which Sugardaddy's markets as "a heavenly treat" that can be eaten as a single enjoyable bite, sprinkled on ice cream or turned into trifles. (They even sell a trifle bowl gift set.)

Three distinct products all from a single production effort? That's innovation. It's also pretty simplistic.

Is your business struggling to stand out in a crowded field? Have you taken an honest look at your product offerings, compared them to your competitors and asked yourself how you might be more innovative?

Look in the Mirror, Your Image is a Reflection of Your Business

The other thing that caught my eye about Sugardaddy's was the presentation of both their product and their store experience. Their brownies are packaged in a clear acrylic case that seals in their freshness for up to a week at room temperature (longer in the fridge) and then topped with a well designed label that simply oozes decadence. They've turned a brownie into a high-end treat rather than simply a tasty baked good.

Sugardaddy's serves up their own take on traditional "gift towers" by offering stacked sweeties encased in silk. From corporate gifts to hostess gifts to high-end favors for weddings and other events, the packaging is unique and the presentation is superb. The brownies are even available in monogrammed totes. In other words they've taken the time to make sure the packaging is as mouth-watering as the brownies inside.

The company carries that high-end feel over to their retail store as well. When I stopped by to pick up a few brownies to sample after gathering up the kids, I was struck by the interior of their retail space. Looking more like a spa than a bakery, Sugardaddy's has created a selling atmosphere that matches the decadence of their product. Prominent displays of their packaging accompany comfortable chairs and a table where customers can sit down with the owners to put together a custom order for a wedding, an event or even just to give to their mom on Mother's Day.

I was immediately greeted by Sugardaddy's co-founder Mark Ballard who introduced himself, asked my name and told me about each of their products. He also offered me samples while co-founder Tom Finney rang up my order and gave my daughter a Sugardaddy's sticker. This positive interaction with the staff simply served to solidify the positive customer experience I'd found on the web site and in the atmosphere of the retail store.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks I see for small businesses is their inability to present the right image. Unless you deal in products sold strictly by price point, image does matter. You can have excellent search engine rankings, a killer product line and competitive prices, but if your site looks like it was designed by your nephew or your product packaging looks like you're recycling your paper lunch bag, it's probably going to cost you some business.

If you want to differentiate yourself from your competitors, you need to offer up a good customer experience. You need to have a user-friendly web site that makes good use of Web 2.0 features, allows for interaction and helps create an atmosphere that drives the sale rather than simply accepting the sale. What are you doing to make sure your site offers a better user experience and that your products are more appealing than your competitors?

Putting it all Together

Sugardaddy's is doing a lot of things right. Granted, they seem to need a little bit of help in the search marketing department. I ran quite a few searches and couldn't find them in either the organic or paid search results on Google, but maybe that confirms my claims from the Hide and Speak series. You CAN succeed online without Google if you learn how to take advantage of viral marketing and word of mouth. Besides, taking the time to build up multiple marketing channels allows for controlled expansion.

They told me that during the holiday season last year, they were baking up to 1500 brownies a day. With increased interest and an upcoming feature on the Food Network, they're scaling up to be able to bake 2200 brownies per day. While most small businesses fail within two years of being launched, Sugardaddy's seems to be doing just fine. In fact, having sampled three of their brownies while writing this article, I can assure you that they'll get more of my business.

Discuss this article in the Small Busines Ideas forum.

July 12, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > 3 Lessons I Learned from Sugardaddy's