What My Local Cupcake Shop Teaches You About Messaging

There’s a cute little cupcake shop on our town’s main street.

The store’s décor is welcoming and whimsical. The walls are painted bright pink, and the stools are shaped like something you might see in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

My wife and I have passed the shop many times, each time looking longingly through the store window at the display cases, filled with cupcakes lined up in perfect rows—banana cream cupcakes next to chocolate ganache cupcakes next to peanut butter and jelly cupcakes.

We finally stopped in last week. And something the clerk said instantly removed the shop’s magic and made us unlikely to return.

When we entered the shop, I noticed that the store also sold brownies, my favorite. I asked the clerk if the brownies were also homemade, to which she said:

“Nothing in the store is homemade. We get it all delivered.”

With those 11 deflating words, nothing in the shop looked as cute anymore. And for the first time, I noticed that the shop smelled like nothing—it didn’t smell badly, but it also didn’t smell like baked goods. I purchased the brownie, ate it without enthusiasm, and decided to support a different store next time instead.

As we walked away, my wife remarked how different it would have been if the clerk had said something like this:

“We have an exclusive relationship with an award-winning bakery, and we’re the only store in our city that carries them. Our bakery makes 25 types of cupcakes for us every day, and they deliver them fresh every morning.”

We might have still been a little disappointed, but at least that type of response would have preserved some of the shop’s magic for us.

As readers of this blog know, I hate the word “spin.” So this incident serves as a perfect example of the difference between spin and smart strategic communications. Assuming for a moment that both of the quotes above are true, then neither is spin. But only the second message is smart and strategic—and therefore effective.

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