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Newsletter #951: The “Lessons from Voodoo Doughnut” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

Voodoo Doughnut has a consistent line of customers coming out of the door of their store located in the “crotch of Portland” (their words). Their special ingredient? Creativity. Voodoo’s doughnuts can be topped with anything from Froot Loops to lemonade powder and baked into a variety of inappropriate shapes. (After all, their taglines include “The magic is in the hole.”)

Here are some lessons to learn from this remarkable doughnut shop:

1. Make lots of mistakes
2. Let your fans geek out
3. Make leftovers go further
4. Do something good
5. Check it out: Rappers and Cereal

1. Make lots of mistakes

It’s not always easy to know what word of mouth topics will work. That’s why you’ve got to try a lot of different stuff — and make plenty of mistakes. To come up with as many crazy doughnut combinations as they have at Voodoo Doughnut, they had to invent some misses along the way. A couple ideas they scrapped: a doughnut that came with a shot of NyQuil and the Pepto-Bismol doughnut, dipped in Pepto and sprinkled with crushed up Tums.

The lesson: While both of these doughnuts failed for obvious (and legal) reasons, they created buzz for Voodoo Doughnut and helped give the shop a reputation for the other crazy stuff they offer.

Learn more: Fast Company

2. Let your fans geek out

Want to tie the knot at Voodoo Doughnut? They can make that happen. With packages ranging from a commitment ceremony to “The Whole Shebang” (which includes airfare and accommodations), Voodoo gives their biggest fans an opportunity to make a lifelong commitment in their store. While these weddings might be rare, it’s something people will tell their friends about for the rest of their lives.

The lesson: Do you give your biggest fans the opportunity to feel really connected to your company, to do something crazy out of love for your stuff, to geek out?

Learn more: Atlas Obscura

3. Make leftovers go further

Every business has it — the pile of swag leftover from an event, empty boxes, and un-bought merchandise — so why not make the most of it? At Voodoo Doughnut, they don’t just throw this stuff away; they turn it into word of mouth opportunities. For example, they fill their empty icing buckets with 8-hour old doughnuts and sell them for cheap instead of tossing them. They also sell packages like The Voodoo Doughnut Hard Times Economy Swag Bag, which includes a paper menu, a button, a logo sticker, one of their old flyers, and a burned CD of random songs about the store.

The lesson: It’s easy to take for granted the stuff you already have lying around, but if you get a little creative, you can find a smart use for stuff you would otherwise toss.

Learn more: Voodoo Doughnut

4. Do something good

For all of their irreverent taglines and middle-school-style innuendos, Voodoo Doughnut does plenty of respectable work for their community. They employ at-risk teens from a local program to run their doughnut trucks and give regular “dough-nations” to other charities. It’s not just a nice thing to do; it also gives their fans a great reason to tell other people about Voodoo Doughnut.

The lesson: Altruism for your community is word of mouth marketing any business can pull off.

Learn more: Voodoo Doughnut

5. Check it out: Rappers and Cereal

Voodoo Doughnut could have a new product on their hands if these cereal brands inspired by rappers were a reality.

Check it out: Rappers and Cereal

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  1. Merrill August 26, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    As a recent transplant to Portland, I’ll vouch for VD’s word of mouth appeal. It’s a required tour stop for first time visitors and many take a box home with them on their return flights.

    As an aside, the story I heard about the NyQuil donut wasn’t about customer trial and error; allegedly the FDA (or similar group) took issue and put a stop to it. That story is even better for VooDoo’s ‘naughty’ reputation.

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