I love cupcakes and gleefully embraced the cupcake phase over the last few years. I sought out the best in my home town of Chicago and tried many places and many different kinds of cupcakes. A persnickety friend of mine, whose opinion on food I value, recommended a wonderful, homey spot called Sweet Mandy Bs, which is right in my Lincoln Park neighborhood. It offers wonderful cupcakes with a fine, velvety crumb and yummy butter cream icing that reminds of the stuff my mom made for our birthdays. Sweet Mandy Bs became my standard for a great cupcake experience.

When I travel, I  try different cupcakes. Cooking magazines and reviews are my guide for where and what to try. While none quite measure up, it is a fun pursuit. And, since cupcakes are somewhat ubiquitous, it is easy to experiment along the way.

From time to time, the “celebrity rags”  show a star eating a cupcake, usually from Sprinkles Bakery in Beverly Hills. The cupcakes look beautiful and I always wanted to try one. One day, a friend forwarded a link heralding the imminent arrival of Sprinkles in Chicago. Cool…I couldn’t wait!

The hype for the opening of the Sprinkles Cupcake Bakery in Chicago was deafening. It was suppose to open last spring a few blocks from my office, but ended up debuting a few weeks ago. I kept walking by the location to see if I could try one of their sweet morsels only to be greeted by construction barriers and piles of debris. Not very appetizing.

Then about a week before its opening, a well-oiled publicity machine cranked out coverage befitting of a Cubs pennant victory. On opening weekend, coupons for a free cupcake went viral. The wait to get in the front door was 4 hours. Really. I don’t care how good the cake, I wouldn’t wait. Fast forward a few weeks. We were having a late summer pot luck dinner for the ComBlu crew at our house. Someone volunteered to bring cupcakes. And, of course, we had to try Sprinkles. Believe it or not, there are still lines, but now with only 10-12 people. I heard through the grapevine, that the way to beat the lines is to have a dozen or so delivered. Perfect. We ordered a few dozen, but were stunned to have to pay $15 for the delivery. Zappos will ship my shoes cross country for free (and back again if I want) and I had to pay $15 delivery charge for cupcakes from a bakery a few blocks away.

I wish I could say it was worth it! In a word, they sucked. The texture of the cake was more like country bread than cake and had a heavy feel in the mouth. Worse, they had a strange after taste. I sampled little bites of several flavors and the story was the same. In fairness, the icings weren’t too bad.

To me, Sprinkles is another classic example of a brand that has buzz with little long term positive talk value. Buzz does a great job of generating awareness and stimulating trial. For sustained value, the brand needs more. In this instance, a product that tastes as good as it looks. Brands need to engage after igniting the initial awareness flare or be stuck in a cycle of constantly needing new fireworks.

If you think about my cupcake saga,  I was so ready to engage and be a customer over time. I love the product category (cupcakes); I am willing to try new cupcake experiences (my travels); I knew about the particular brand (publicity) and was predisposed to try (sought them out several times before I could finally actually experience them.) I was an advocate waiting to happen! And I am, but for Sweet Mandy Bs. They are the best. I recommend them constantly. I purchase from them all the time and several of the people to whom I recommended them, also spread the word. The bakery gives me “surprise and delight” goodies from time to time and recognizes my value. Most importantly, they never disappoint. Their product deserves its great reputation. They don’t have the hype of Sprinkles, but they don’t need it

Next time you’re in Chicago, give Sweet Mandy B’s a try. Tell them Kathy sent you.

Cheryl Treleaven

Cheryl Treleaven


Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.