Case study: Trader Joe’s

If you need a non-pop culture case study in creating loyal teams, look no further than your local Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s strongly emphasizes hiring employees who align with their customer-focused culture. The company retains employees by prioritizing internal promotions over external hires and offering leadership training and scholarship opportunities. Loyal employees known for their deep knowledge of the unique, innovative product offerings create a vital part of the Trader Joe’s experience, keeping people coming back to ask “what’s next?” and “what else would you suggest I try?” In an environment where everyone is asking what else they can automate, Trader Joe’s is staying its own course, reaffirming that the company will maintain an employee-centric experience that doesn’t include self-checkout. Leadership knows that the cheerful, helpful employee on the other side of the cash register is essential to bring the brand to life.

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“Look what you made me do.”
Brush off industry expectations, and blaze your own path.

Artists have been releasing music and selling concert tickets for decades. But the way Taylor makes business decisions is new. She’s taking chances and reinventing the industry, one decision at a time.

When Taylor adapted her Eras concert into a movie, she bypassed the traditional production studios, making the film with her own team and directly distributing it to theaters and streaming services. In bypassing the studios, she not only created much greater control over the outcome, but also ensured the experience of the loyal fan was not impacted via the production—not to mention substantially bigger margins and more freedom to invest in the engagement of Swifties during and after the release.

Similarly, she reclaimed control over her music (and drummed up additional support) when she began to rerecord her song catalog as “Taylor’s Version.” Years before this, Taylor removed her music from Spotify, a strategic hold-out to force Spotify to improve its payment mechanisms for artists—ultimately bringing Taylor back to the platform. These bold moves underpin her desire to maintain market control and expand her own profit envelope in an industry where power more often sits with the record label, not the creator.

Taylor is using the same playbook as many others—but she’s getting better results, strategically leveraging the relationships where she has power (for example, her fans and the streaming platforms) to enable creative control. She finds ways to deploy wide-ranging, evolving revenue drivers across her portfolio, including movies, album-specific merchandise, and limited-edition records. She has taken control of her product from ideation to delivery, aligned with her vision, and in the process, she has built a better relationship with her end users.

The lesson for leaders, whether they be Swifties or otherwise, is don’t be afraid to embrace the principles of Taylor’s approach. If you’re facing tough choices or compromises that don’t feel right for your business, ask yourself where you can find a new way. If you can’t make traditional industry “rules” work, maybe it’s time to blur the lines of participation. Where are you giving away “more” than you should? Where can you exploit more power in your relationships? What activities aren’t adding enough value to your product to justify the cost model? Where do you need to control your channel instead of leaving it up to others to maximize value?

Case study: Casper

The direct-to-consumer mattress company Casper created a first-of-its-kind mattress that could be compressed, rolled, and shipped in a box directly to customers’ homes. The innovative functionality made it possible to bypass the long-standing mattress showroom traditionally required to buy bulky mattresses and instead offering free delivery and returns to help customers feel comfortable with their sight-unseen mattress purchase and eliminating costly white-glove service. This revolutionary move enabled the company to invest more in building direct relationships with customers and less in the cost model required to support physical locations. Casper’s approach echoes companies such as Warby Parker, companies that are disrupting traditional markets by identifying elements of the cost model not serving them and replacing them with investments in driving connections with consumers.


“Say you’ll remember me.”
There’s no limit to customer engagement.

As with any artist or business, dedicated fans (customers) are required for long-term success. Taylor’s superpower is her ability to keep her fans consistently intrigued about what’s coming next. She builds engagement with sneak peeks and hidden Easter eggs. Her Eras tour was a perfect example of her savvy marketing and engagement tactics, using surprise songs and lyric twists to create mystery and excitement surrounding each show. Her model shows that there’s truly no limit to fans’ engagement with her brand. Her marketing model cultivates the intrigue and exclusivity that has fans clamoring for more.

She knows engagement is only the first step—building true loyalty requires maintaining trust over time. Taylor has always endeared herself to fans with vulnerable and relatable lyrics that feel like they’re speaking directly to each person. She continues to find ways to make a billionaire superstar feel relatable to Swifties everywhere. For example, despite raging demand and off-the-charts resale prices, she has publicly committed to ensuring ticket prices are an accessible splurge for a wide range of fans. Then, she reinforces the “value” of the product, offering high-intensity three-hour productions that are an anomaly for the industry with solo act shows often less than two hours, and sprinkling in teasers or subtle lyric changes to make each show feel special.

Executives can learn from Taylor’s (song) book, where loyalty is a self-perpetuating cycle: more engagement creates more loyalty without limits. Adding trust and consistent delivery on top of engagement, you turn customers into lifelong fans.

Case study: Costco

Costco provides an everyday example of customer engagement trust. The exclusive membership-only warehouse store offers two levels of membership, enhancing the value proposition: the more you spend, the more you gain. Initially known for bulk sales at steep discounts, Costco expanded into affordable luxury and then into high-quality splurge items at an attractive price. While customers may initially be drawn in by bulk savings, they stay for the unique treasure hunt experienced in the store. Adding the consistency and reliability of the products on top of the experience builds loyalty that’s rewarded with every visit. The takeaway: bring people in and take them on an adventure with you. Build intrigue about what’s around the next corner. Ensure quality and be accountable to your customer. The sustained trust and excitement builds on itself over time and develops customer loyalty that pays.

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Whether you’re a Swiftie or even a hater (how dare you?!), Taylor’s status as a mastermind is hard to debate. She’s the first woman to reach billionaire status solely with music as her main platform, and she has yet to branch into other categories such as beauty or fashion. Just when you think she has exhausted all possible avenues, she finds ways to tap into new markets and expand her audience base. Take, for example, her recent line extension into the NFL with super-star Travis Kelce, bringing her to front and center of tens of millions of fans, well outside her core.

Taylor’s success teaches us the power of standing out by not following the path—but instead creating your own and then bringing along the most important people with you: your team and your customers. She knows her strengths and her fanbase, and she keeps finding new ways to build on her core capabilities to deliver her magic. So, where will she go from here? What innovation and disruption will we see next? What industry rules will she bend and break along the way? The verdict’s still out, but you know we’ll be watching.


The authors wish to thank Christi Rich for her valuable contributions to this article.