How Stanley’s Marketing Strategy Went Viral

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You’ve probably seen them. Sleek, colorful, and loved by celebrities and your local neighbors alike, the Stanley Quencher — a 40 oz tumbler — has gained a cult-like following.

Its limited edition releases sell out in minutes and some Target stores had to place a two-per-person limit on Quencher purchases.

But when this iconic cup was introduced in 2016, the hype was minimal. By 2019, the Quencher was at risk of being discontinued, with execs admitting that “the tumbler wasn’t prioritized.” So, how exactly did the product transform into a must-have lifestyle accessory, skyrocketing Stanley from $70 million in annual sales in 2019 to a mind-blowing $750 million in 2023?

While it may have seemed like the brand became an overnight sensation, Stanley’s success was fueled by years of intentional pivoting, social listening, and impactful partnerships. Let’s take a look at how Stanley’s marketing strategies took it from a humble niche brand to a viral household name.

Stanley's top Instagram posts from January 2024 to April 2024 sorted by engagement total seen in Rival IQ's grid view displays a visual mostly of Stanley's Quencher Tumblers in eye-catching colors.

Stanley 1913’s Rugged Origins

Inventing its famed steel vacuum bottles in 1913, Stanley originally carved out a niche among workers who needed containers that could keep their drinks hot or cold during long days. Its products, particularly its signature Hammertone Green bottle, quickly became a staple not only on worksites but also on camping trips and outdoor adventures.

Stanley's social media post showcasing the OG steel vaccuum bottle that the brand has been making for over 100 yearsOver the next century, the Stanley brand became synonymous with strength and durability, valued by its historical target market of laborers and outdoor enthusiasts. As the years rolled by, the brand would expand its lineup to include a wider range of drinkware, coolers, and other gear designed to support rugged lifestyles.

As a result, the brand’s marketing efforts have historically been mainly aimed at men, with ads spotlighting its products’ sturdy qualities. “A 30-year-career veteran policeman” and “a retired Army soldier” were among the kind of consumers that Stanley felt resonated most with its gear.

In late 2019, however, a major shift occurred, sparked by the founders of The Buy Guide.

Stanley’s Top Marketing Strategies

Listening and Pivoting

Stanley’s recent viral success can be attributed to a bold move: it shifted its focus to a new target market and revamped its product lineup to match the tastes of this new audience.

This pivot was largely inspired by The Buy Guide, an online shopping and review guide with a huge online following. As early lovers of the Stanley Quencher, The Buy Guide quickly mobilized when rumors swirled in 2019 that the tumbler was being discontinued, encouraging their followers to make noise and stir up demand for the product.

Eventually, Stanley reached out, offering a wholesale partnership in which The Buy Guide purchased a minimum of 10,000 Stanley cups to sell to their audience. The initiative was a triumph, with 5,000 cups sold in the first four days and the remaining 5,000 in just an hour.

Stanley favorites in the Buy guide

The Buy Guide’s following — 97.7% women and nearly 100% between the ages of 24 and 45 — was a huge departure from Stanley’s original target audience. However, the success of the partnership made it clear that there was a massive opportunity to sell to women — an opportunity that Stanley smartly embraced.

As Namrata Shah of Kearney put it, “When they got good indicator data, when they heard from The Buy Guide, when they heard the conversations on social media around what women were talking about and why women like this cup, they pivoted immediately and I think that was the biggest unlock for them.”

With its ergonomic handle, ability to fit in a cup holder, and 100+ different colorways (including new pastels that appealed to the new demographic), the Quencher was quickly repositioned as an essential lifestyle accessory for women. In 2020, the tumbler replaced the signature Stanley bottle as the brand’s top-selling product and has stayed at the top ever since.

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Social listening is clearly a key pillar of Stanley’s strategy, with the brand actively engaging with its online fan base and responding to their needs and demands. This responsiveness regularly translates into product innovations that delight fans and further solidify their loyalty. From new colorways to innovative designs, each release is met with excitement, driving a cycle of satisfaction and repeat purchases.

Stanley collab with Lainey Wilson, introducing a new color in the Quencher Tumbler line - country gold

Leveraging Influencer Power

Teaming up with The Buy Guide expanded Stanley’s opportunities in affiliate marketing, which involves partnering with other businesses or individuals (often influencers) who promote a product in return for a commission for every sale or lead generated through their referral link.

Influencer and affiliate marketing helped Stanley amplify its brand message and reach new audiences. Collaborating with those who resonated with the target demographic, such as actress and cooking influencer Laura Prepon, helped the brand gain credibility and visibility online while fostering trust and engagement.

Laura Prepon's partnership with Stanley launching Stanley's barware with the catchy hashtag PrepOn.

By harnessing the power of real people telling real stories, Stanley made its social media presence feel less like advertising and more like a conversation among friends.

Spotlighting User-Generated Content

As influencer campaigns began to gain traction, so did the influx of user-generated content (UGC). As more and more people shared their experiences and recommendations online, a community naturally formed around the brand.

United by their love for Stanley products, these fans connected on social media, where they bonded over their shared experiences and acted as brand advocates. This also sparked a collector culture, as customers raced to buy different editions of the products and showcase how they were using them in real-world settings.

A Stanley fan's TikTok with a video thumbnail containing rows and rows of Stanley quenchers

Recognizing the power of UGC, Stanley adopted a supportive stance by amplifying the voices of its customers. After all, studies show that consumers are 2.4x more likely to see UGC as authentic compared to branded content. By regularly engaging with and reposting UGC, Stanley fostered a sense of belonging and connection.

One viral moment, in particular, captured the essence of Stanley’s relationship with its customers. When a woman’s car caught fire, leaving her Stanley tumbler unscathed and with ice still in it, the brand responded not with a scripted PR message but with genuine care. The president of Stanley offered to replace the customer’s vehicle, demonstrating appreciation for her as a customer and reinforcing the bond between Stanley and its community.

Stanley's TikTok wishing Danielle Happy Holidays by presenting her with a brand new car.

In the end, Stanley’s success isn’t just measured in sales figures but in the sense of community it’s inspired. By putting its customers first and listening intently, Stanley has not only expanded its reach but also inspired an engaged community that continues to grow bigger each day.

Wrapping It Up

So, what can other brands learn from Stanley’s meteoric rise? Well, it’s clear that listening to your audience is key. Whether it’s through social media chatter, influencer partnerships, or good old-fashioned customer feedback, understanding what your customers want is crucial.

Don’t be afraid to pivot either. Stanley’s willingness to shift gears and embrace a new demographic ultimately propelled them to viral status. So, if your current strategies aren’t hitting the mark, be open to change and experimentation.

And finally, never underestimate the power of community. Stanley didn’t just sell cups; they encouraged a sense of camaraderie among its fans. By engaging with its audience, amplifying user-generated content, and showing genuine care, it built a loyal following that continues to support the Stanley brand.

Therese Nguyen

Therese is a former marketing manager turned freelance content writer based in Dallas. Working with agencies and B2B brands, she specializes in covering the latest developments in marketing trends, insights, and strategies. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her researching her next travel destination, wrapped up in a book, or jamming to BTS’ entire discography.

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