Low-key marketing at Trader Joe’s


Sometimes a company or product confers an obvious benefit over the competition, but little effort is made to promote this advantage. Take Trader Joe’s, for instance. Their pricing is vastly lower than any other grocery store in downtown Chicago, yet they never show any comparisons of how much money you’re saving. I’ve run the math myself, and many staple products are 20-50% cheaper than other stores. So why doesn’t the store promote this fact?

I believe Trader Joe’s uses a very deliberate marketing approach where their customers are basically sharing a “secret” about how great the store is. Current shoppers know about the quality of the food and the money they save. But the store never goes out of their way to talk up these benefits to non-customers.

In this fashion, Trader Joe’s creates an element of mystery about the store. Non-customers ask themselves why their friends shop there so often, what’s the big deal about it, etc. Eventually, some of these uninitiated people will either hear about the benefits first hand, ask a friend, or just show up at the store. Then, they’ll join the club and help spread the word to their group of friends.

If this is actually their strategy, it’s quite brilliant. Trader Joe’s lets customers do the marketing for them. Messages from the store itself are very low-key. As a result, the word-of-mouth takes the form of a valuable, closely-guarded secret, rather than typical marketing hyperbole.