| May 14, 2023

Treat Yourself: The Secret Ingredient to Crumbl Cookie’s Social Media Virality

Co-founders Jason McGowan and Sawyer Hemsley couldn’t have foreseen the chain’s success on YouTube when they first tested their recipes on random people at gas stations.
By Kyle Pare |

4 minutes

Every few weeks, my wife comes home with a bright-pink box. Our kids and I gather around expectantly. There’s an almost Christmas-like feeling of anticipation and excitement in the air, even in the heat of the summer. We open the box and are struck with half a dozen of the most enormous, colorful cookies ever. I’m proud to say we had some small part to play in helping Crumbl Cookies pass $1 billion in sales recently. But how did a five-year-old cookie store grow so big, so fast? 

There’s Always Something New

YouTube has given rise to some weird phenomena. One kid and his family make millions opening and playing with toys. I’m still trying to figure out who or what Mr. Beast is precisely, but he’s racked up billions of views by playing YouTube’s algorithms and giving away millions of dollars in the process. Crumbl Cookie has cracked the code of YouTube virality by unboxing each week’s cookie lineup on the ubiquitous social media platform.

Crumbl Cookie rotates its menu every week. While maintaining a core lineup of flavors, the ever-changing menu has a few effects. People follow the channel to see when their favorite flavor makes it back, and the urgency it creates (get it before it’s gone!) encourages people to make the trek to their local franchise. You don’t know when your favorite flavor will return to the menu; many of their cookies only appear once or twice a year

This strategy also inadvertently helps them get around health-conscious consumers. Since eating humongous cookies all the time isn’t great for your midsection or your wallet, a rotating carousel of varieties keeps an occasional trip to Crumbl Cookie solidly in the “treat yourself” column. And, of course, the exciting drop of this week’s menu on YouTube builds excitement. In other words, there’s always something new to try at your local store.

Crumbl Cookie doesn’t just work on YouTube, however. They got on TikTok as it was an emerging social media platform, and their early adoption paid off. Crumbl Cookie has millions of followers, mainly on TikTok and Instagram, and their social media game has been blowing competitors out of the water


Focus on the Customer

Before Crumbl Cookie started out, it was just two cousins with an idea for a side hustle — Jason McGowan and Sawyer Hemsley. Without any baking experience, they set out to learn how to make the perfect cookie from bakers. They spent thousands of dollars relentlessly testing their recipes on random people at gas stations and grocery stores. “Do you prefer this cookie or that one?” they would ask, and from that simple testing, they created some of the best cookies in the country. Now, it’s easy to find Crumbl Cookie flavor rankings online, as seemingly everyone who’s anyone has their own tried-and-true favorites that get them to the store.

“Because we didn’t know how to bake, it kind of humbled us, right?” McGowan said in an interview. “Another lesson learned is just focus on the people and your customers and your experiences. I’m wrong a lot of times, but it’s important when you’re wrong, just to admit it, move on and keep moving forward.” 

Their relentless focus on customer satisfaction also led Crumbl Cookie to buck the trends and set up their own app and delivery service. They still offer delivery through third-party food services but they realized that solely depending on these outside parties can be risky — they could change their fees or affect Crumbl Cookie’s in-app ratings on a whim. Having a proprietary delivery service means Crumbl Cookie can reduce its dependency on outside entities and focus on delivering a great customer experience. And they do, no matter which six cookies are on their lineup this week. 

The app offers customers a personalized experience where they can order for pickup, delivery, or catering. The store design itself gives more insight into how important the customer experience is to Crumbl. The open kitchen allows customers to see the cookie-creation process from start to finish. Not only is this a great way to get people into the store, but it also shows customers these cookies aren’t being shipped in frozen from somewhere else. They are baked fresh daily to ensure the best quality. 

A Family-Oriented Business

The company’s mission statement, “to bring friends and family together over a box of the best cookies in the world,” was born from the pride and excitement McGowan felt from his family when he opened his first shop on a short-term lease (the building was slated for demolition). McGowan, who has a tech background and worked for such big names as Ancestry.com and Nintendo, found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, his kids loved his latest venture the most. 

“That day I saw my kids there, and I saw my family and I saw my business partner Sawyer, it was all about family. It’s about bringing people together,” he said. “And I realized that cookies could actually be a really meaningful life career.” 

Cookies have certainly been a successful choice for the partners. Crumbl Cookie is now one of the fastest-growing franchises in America, having gone from a regional Utah store to over 600 franchises across the U.S. Their success, built on a simple idea of serving a small selection of gourmet cookies, is proof you don’t need a complex business concept or product. These days, the ingredients for a sugar empire can be as simple as a cup of flour, a dash of social media savvy, and six cookies.

Kyle Pare
Kyle Pare

Opinion Contributor, Strixus

Kyle Pare has been a freelance writer for two years and a communications officer in the military for nine. view profile


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