If You’re Not Adding Sriracha to Your Strategy, You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

If You’re Not Adding Sriracha to Your Strategy, You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

If you knew me personally, you would know that I’m prone to a hyperbole here and there. It doesn’t take much to win a Best Movie Ever or a Greatest Song of All Time award from me. What can I say, I’m easily won over.

But when it comes to Sriracha, I claim no exaggeration when I say this:

It is perfection in a bottle.

I imagine that while most babies were raised on formula and hot cereal, I was raised on a garlicky, red sauce in a sippy cup and Sriracha-laced congee (Asian-style porridge). And I turned out just fine.

According to this great article in Quartz, the famous hot sauce sales reached around 20 million bottles or roughly $60 million last year. Advertising spend? Try, nilch.

In marketing, ROI has become everything. And when you invest 0 and make $60 million, you’re clearly doing something right, right? Now, of course, applying lessons from an iconic hot sauce isn’t a fool-proof strategy. To each their own. But if you can find a way to replicate any of Sriracha's success, wouldn’t you want to try?

1. Product, Above All Else

David Tran, the CEO of Huy Fong Foods, the makers of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce says he is unwilling to compromise on the quality of his recipe. That means the chilies used for the hot sauce must be processed within A DAY of being picked. The factory and farm are only an hour away and it’s been this way for the past 20 years!

Sometimes, when startups take off, the excitement of the trajectory can be overwhelming. It’s so easy to want to do everything, all at once, all day, every day. All of a sudden, your gains in popularity come to a screeching halt and your product or service has become this unrecognizable beast with a bunch of nice-to-have features, bells, and whistles.

Outside opinions and your own scrutiny can tempt you to mess with a good thing. But before you add or remove, tinker or tamper, why not remember a page from Tran’s book? Focus on all the ingredients that make up your startup. Have a zero-compromise policy on quality throughout your entire business.

2. Roosters & Green Caps

While the contents of the bottle are much more crucial than the bottle itself -- a drawing of a rooster and its staple green cap -- that doesn’t mean these elements haven’t played a huge role in Sriracha’s brand recognition. I mean, I’d still eat the stuff if it was served in a ratty, old boot. But the fact of the matter is, I know Sriracha because I know exactly what it looks like and I know exactly how to describe it to someone. I’ve seen it in my fridge since I was a kid and I remember the first time I saw it at a non-Asian, chain restaurant.

This is a lesson in consistency. We already discussed consistency of quality, but consistency of branding can give your startup true shelf life. Puns aside, logos, colours and taglines may all be peripheral to the core of your business, but their repeated exposure is what can make your business stick when others fade. And they’re what can bring your brand to my next point: shareability.

3. Spicy, Burning Word-of-Mouth

BuzzFeed reported that Sriracha would be the hottest costume of 2013 -- yes, you read that right. People dressed up as hot sauce, but not just any hot sauce. Not Frank’s or Tabasco (although I’m sure there were a few of those "rebels" in the mix), but people were dressed up as the hot sauce with the rooster and the green cap...that’s never even made a commercial. 

I don’t know when it happened and I’m not even sure how I feel about it. Total hipster moment: I totally loved Sriracha before it was cool. End of hipster moment.

Regardless, this is some powerful fanfare. There are posters, t-shirts and other paraphernalia all “Rooster Sauce” inspired. I’ve seen it on episodes of Top Chef used by some of the best cooks in the world -- they even made it into an ice cream flavour in one of the challenges. These are not paid product placements, these are genuine use cases being broadcast to millions of people.

So whether it’s your best friends helping you get the word out to your social networks or your loyal customers (the best kind of endorsement), make sure you’re rewarding this unofficial sales force that is leading the charge and getting more love for you and your business. They are truly the main ingredient in awesomesauce (which is awesome, no doubt, but ain’t got nothing on Sriracha)!

4. To Thine Own Self Be True

“But the only hope he ever harbored was to provide Vietnamese immigrants with a hot sauce worthy of their pho soup.”

I loved this quote from Roberto Ferdman’s piece in Quartz. Tran is an accidental CEO who put passion for taste as his objective first. He is renowned for shying away from publicity and reporting on the profits and figures of his multi-million dollar company. His guiding light is to make great sauce and make enough of it to keep as many people who love it (which is continually growing) happy.

What’s your guiding force? Do you have one north star or are your goals and desires scattered between personal fulfillment and financial validation? I think it’s clear that you have to pick one. It does not mean you can only have one or the other, but with laser focus for one goal, the rest will come as a bonus. And if you couldn’t guess, I’m nudging you towards choosing personal fulfillment here. But totally your call.

Of course, the drama around Sriracha these days is not about its jedi non-marketing tricks. A court order has the Huy Fong plant partially shut down due to complaints of irritating fumes created by sauce production.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, but if Sriracha can teach us how to be great, perhaps it can also show us how to overcome the unexpected obstacles too. Just another lesson we’ll be able to glean from the greatest gift to mankind.

What’s the centerpiece of your marketing strategy? Product, brand, customer service? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @Onboardly.

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What do you think?


Great post, Sunta! Couldn’t agree more. My fridge is never without at least 2 bottles.

It’s interesting to see how long Sriracha has been around versus its recent rise in popularity. No marketing on their part that I’m aware of, just serving a niche market consistently well until that niche became a full-blown cultural icon.

Thanks ! I think once people realized it could make anything taste good, it just went from the niche to mainstream…I bet it had something to do with college mac & cheese or something like that 🙂

Also, I’m not above looting your Sriracha supplies during the zombie apocalypse. Just saying.

Great insight! When in doubt, add Rooster sauce!

That’s my motto too 🙂

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