Imagine for a moment you’re on the cake mix aisle at a grocery store. There are probably 100 different cake brands and flavors that will instantly make you a qualified baker. What does each box have in common?
Most boxed cake mixes require a couple of eggs and some milk or oil to bake a successful, tasty cake.
Believe it or not, there was a time when those boxes required nothing but a cup of water to accomplish such a magical culinary feat.
From 1947 until 1953, the sales of boxed cake mixes that included powdered eggs boomed — all the while the companies producing them debated whether the powdered egg was the best route. They were worried powdered eggs led to an inferior end product, but they feared requiring the addition of fresh eggs removed any claim of convenience.
Cake mix sales slowed during the late 1950s. General Mills hired psychologist Ernest Dichter to interview women to determine the sales drop. Dr. Dichter’s study found that ladies felt using a simple cake mix was too easy — there wasn’t enough work involved, leaving them feeling guilty instead of proud of the cake they made.
Cake mix companies decided adding an egg would end their debate over quality while giving the women of the 1950s and 1960s a better interaction with their product. By requiring a little extra work from the purchaser, they were giving the customer permission to call themselves a baker, increasing the quality of their product and making the result something to be proud about, not ashamed of.
Pillsbury advertisements depicted the box, a bowl and some eggs with the headline, “After this, you’re on your own,” which told the customer they were still doing the hard work of baking a cake.
With the original, all-inclusive cake mix, companies were selling a convenient product. As with most convenience-based products, it had a decent run, but it also had a short shelf life.
When the companies took the time to listen to the customers, they began selling a convenient experience. Not only were these new mixes more involved, but they produced a superior product to their powdered-egg predecessors — a difference undoubtedly noticed not only by the baker but by the people eating the cake as well. The new mix achieved all of this while remaining convenient.
Not long after the addition of fresh eggs, cake decoration became the new metric by which cakes were judged. Now, the homemade cake was simply the canvas and homemakers of the 1960s considered the act of cake decorating a rewarding experience.
This gave cake mix companies another opportunity to create pleasant experiences through frosting mixes. Betty Crocker and Pillsbury weren’t frosting companies, but this new line of “homemade frostings” were value-add products for their flagship cake mixes.
If you read my column regularly, you’ve probably noticed I talk about brand experiences often, and I can’t talk about it enough.
We often overlook the experience associated with our own brand and wonder why brands like Yeti or Under Armor or the fancy boutique up the street do so well.
Most brands with overwhelming success are aware of the experience associated with their products and, in turn, continually tailor their experience to better fit their customer base.
Often, like with cake mix, tailored customer experiences can seem counter-intuitive at first.
The online transportation company Uber offers a more recent example of tailored customer experiences. The company began allowing its drivers to rate its passengers, as opposed to the traditional model, where only service providers receive ratings. Many said the practice was insane or discriminatory. With the gift of hindsight, we can see the rating practice has done nothing but ensure the company maintains its quality level of service by having only the best drivers and customers.
By weeding out problematic customers — or at the least letting the customer base know they are being rated — drivers are happier and the customers who appreciate the service are receiving increased access.
What memories come to mind when you read the words, “brand experience?” Maybe you visited a great shop on vacation one summer, and you’re excited to visit each time you’re back in that city. Maybe you waited 45 minutes for some food that didn’t taste fresh, and now you’re skeptical about giving the restaurant a second chance.
What experience does your brand offer customers?
Are you more personable than your competitors? Are you more convenient, but at the cost of using powdered eggs?
Even if you think you don’t have a brand experience, you do — it just may not be what you want it to be. Talk to your customers. Talk to customers you wish you had. Find out what experience you offer. If it’s good, lean into it. If your experience isn’t what you think it should be, look internally and find a way to change it.
Maybe it’s time for your brand to make the jump to fresh eggs.