Winning Stomach Share
Cinnabon goes after high-traffic locations—such as travel plazas, casinos, airports and malls, where they can entice passersby into buying a sweet, sugary treat.
Cole calls it "competing for share of stomach."
She would love to drop a Cinnabon in the middle of Times Square, for instance. "It's worth it to be there for the visibility and the branding alone," she says.
Cinnabon's products aren't high-frequency sellers, so the business needs a lot of unique visitors to stop and grab something. Cinnabon has a major advantage in luring customers. "Our aroma is so powerful that if people are trapped, our business will succeed," Cole says with a chuckle.
Barrier to Entry
So, if it's such a great model, why haven't any competitors popped up to fight for Cinnabon's crown? Well, the product is incredibly hard to pull off.
The founder's son once explained that there's no competition "because no one will commit to the pain in the ass it takes to make this product day in and day out," Cole says. "Our product looks easy, but it's actually much harder."
A Diversified Business
Another key to Cinnabon's success is diversification. Franchising isn't the largest part of Cinnabon's business—its major sales come from the grocery sector, with Kelloggs Cinnabon cereal, Cinnabon International Delight Coffee and creamer, Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, pancakes, sprinkles and various other Cinnabon-branded items.
Cinnabon also does quite a bit of co-branding—Cinnabon Express can be found in convenience stores, gas stations and delis.
A Trusted Brand
Still, it's the stores that are essential to the Cinnabon brand. They give customers an emotional connection that keeps them coming back over time. Those stores, with their aroma wafting throughout mall food courts everywhere, are what everyone thinks of when they hear the name.
"If you have a brand that resonates with people ... they want a brand they can trust," Cole says. "You're trying to build a lifestyle brand."
It's particularly hard to pull off in groceries, but the payoff is big.
"If you can find a way to connect with them, you get to be in their homes," she says. "That's a big deal. That's something no degree of billboards, marketing or social media can get."
The most important aspect about Cinnabon's brand is to stay true to itself. In a world that's increasingly touting health food, it can't try to be something that it isn't.
When people think about Cinnabon, they match it with certain attributes—namely, being creamy, gooey and sweet. The brand translates all the way into what you feel in your mouth when you bite into a Cinnabon product.
Cinnabon doesn't even have to connote a cinnamon flavor. It's about being an "over-the-top absurdly indulgent thing," Cole says.
"There are so few brands left that are proud of being associated with indulgence," she says. "If we do it right, we're going to really remember who we are. If we stick to being who we are—quality indulgence—we'll be good."