How (Girl Scout) Cookies Can Make You a Better Marketer

February 29, 2016 • 7 min read
Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson


It’s Girl Scout cookie season! On January 1, Girl Scout troops around the country began selling Thin Mints and Samoas. (Don’t worry, cookie season extends through March 20.) Girl Scout cookies were a phenomenally successful fundraising enterprise even before Chris Rock helped hawk the Scouts’ cookies to the deep pockets at the 88th Academy Awards. But Rock’s bringing his daughter’s troop on stage is maybe the perfect demonstration of the Girl Scouts secret marketing weapon: relationship marketing. In 2014, Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), the Scouts’ parent organization, estimated that the cookies were an $800 million dollar business, and that’s a business that’s only selling its product for about three months of the year!

The girls in green have become marketing masters, with help from their troop leaders and parent organization. The really dedicated cookie-mongers sell thousands of boxes every year. The current record is over 21,000 boxes—that’s right, one little Girl Scout sold over 21,000 boxes of cookies in one season. That’s about 265 boxes a day, for 80 consecutive days.

GSUSA CEO Anna M. Chávez Oscars
Girl Scout USA CEO Chávez tweets a thank-you to Rock.

As a result of the Scouts’ success, their business acumen has been profiled (repeatedly) in high-powered outlets like Entrepreneur and Fortune. The Girl Scout cookie phenomenon isn’t luck or cute kids getting folks to support a worthwhile organization, because selling cookies isn’t just a fundraiser for the Girl Scouts. It’s also how the organization helps girls learn a set of five business-oriented skills: goal-setting, decision-making, money management, people skills, and business ethics.

Obviously, many of the Scouts are able to parlay those skills into impressive profits. So, what can you learn from these entrepreneurs in green? A quick scan of their recent press will tell you a couple of important things about the Girl Scouts and their cookie business. First is that their number-one strategy is relationship marketing, and second is that the girls are learning how to take advantage of digital marketing—and both are central for small business success, too.

Relationship Marketing

Savvy small businesses, like Girl Scouts, know that good relationships with their customers are at the heart of their success. It’s one advantage that small businesses almost always have over bigger and corporate businesses—small businesses spend more time with their customers and so they have more opportunities to nurture those relationships.

Any business that relies on repeat customers needs to focus on relationship marketing. A good relationship with your customers not only means repeat business, it can also mean good word-of-mouth, leading to new customers. The Girl Scouts have been ahead of the curve in focusing on relationship marketing, which is number one on HubSpot’s list of 7 Game-Changing Marketing Trends To Tackle in 2016 and on Entrepreneur’s list of 5 Marketing Changes Small Businesses Need to Make in 2016.

Girl Scouts have the advantage of a kind of built-in trust and loyalty with their customers, making relationship marketing a natural fit. They are, after all, Girl Scouts, and their first customers are family, friends, and neighbors—that is, people who already know them, trust them, and are inclined to be loyal to a particular girl’s “brand.” And their second set of customers is the people their family and friends put them in touch with.

Customer Loyalty

Girl Scouts have also established a tradition—Girl Scout cookie season is a national ritual that began back in 1917. And there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t know a Girl Scout—or know someone who knows a Girl Scout. And yet, while Girl Scouts may have the advantages of longevity and access, the popularity of their cookies isn’t the result of a nation-wide marketing strategy. It’s phenomenally successful word-of-mouth, itself the result of customer trust and loyalty, in other words, successful relationship marketing.

Girl Scouts of America White House relationship marketing
Rosalynn Carter with representatives from the Girl Scouts of America, 1977. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Indeed, that trust and loyalty overcomes a serious obstacle—the cookies are pricey. In California, they’re a whopping $5 a box. Comparable cookies are generally $2 cheaper. The cookies do have the advantage of exclusivity—they’re only available for about three months every year. Even a Girl Scout probably couldn’t sell 21,000 boxes of $5 cookies every three months, four times a year. Consider how you might create a sense of exclusivity for your customers—specialty products available for a limited time, pre-sales or expert advice for loyal customers, and regular seasonal offers can give customers a sense of urgency and/or a special connection to your business.

Given that at least most of your customers aren’t actually family and you’re in business year-round, how can you inspire that level of trust and loyalty in your customers? In other words, how can you make them feel like family? Here are seven Girl Scout secrets can you employ to create great word-of-mouth and loyalty.

A Girl Scout Guide to Customer Relationship Management and Marketing

  1. Spread the Love. Talk with everyone you know because you never know where you’ll find a referral. One place to start? Townsquared offers a free online community exclusively for local small businesses. Get advice and even connect with other businesses for cross-marketing opportunities.
  2. Find Your Customers. Girl Scouts go where their customers are, be it door-to-door, YouTube, their parents’ offices, or partnering with a business like a local movie theater or bowling alley. One enterprising Scout set up shop outside a marijuana clinic and sold 117 boxes in two hours. And don’t waste time trying to sell to an unprofitable market.
  3. Build a Customer List. By keeping track of your customers and their purchases, not only can you get in touch with them about new products or sales, you can also personalize your messages to them, identifying the items or services they’re most likely to be interested in. See “Embrace Technology,” below.

    Camp Lemonnier Army donated girl scout cookies
    At Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, more than 200 cases of donated cookies. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Marc Rockwell-Pate, 2010)
  4. Connect with Customers. The Scout who sold 21,000+ boxes anticipated potential customer objections. On a diet? Buy a box that the Girl Scouts will send to their local food bank or deployed service members. Their customers could feel good about supporting two good causes and know where their money would go. Plus, no cookies singing their siren song to you from the cupboard! Connecting with customers also includes following up after a sale. Some Girl Scouts do this by sending handwritten notes thanking them—and letting them know if they have any extra boxes left.
  5. Support a Local Charity. The Scouts who could offer to send purchased boxes to food banks or deployed soldiers weren’t just prepared for the most likely objection to making a purchase. They were providing their customers the opportunity to do something good by helping others. Your business isn’t a charity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the goodwill that charities inspire. Partnering with a charity increases your profile and makes you more appealing and trustworthy to customers.
  6. Support Your Team. If you have a team, make sure they have the support of their manager, whether or not that’s you. The Girl Scouts have access to loads of tools on the national web site, as well as the support of their parents and troop leaders. Scouts can participate in contests like #gscookiegram and earn badges signifying not only how many boxes they’ve sold but what business skills they’ve mastered.
  7. Embrace Technology. It took the Girl Scout organization some time to dip its toes into the digital ether, but now it’s in with both feet. The Girl Scouts launched the Cookie Locator, available on the national web site and as an Android and iPhone app. Scouts can now use Digital Cookie 2.0, a CRM platform that allows the girls to set goals, track their progress, manage orders and inventory, as well as view their customers’ buying history. The platform also supports credit card orders.

Find Girl Scout Cookies

To learn more about Girl Scouts’ dive into the digital realm, check out brandchannel’s article, CES 2016: Girl Scouts Bring Digital Cookie 2.0 and STEM to Las Vegas.


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