The Marketing Behind The Pumpkin Spiced Latte

Seasonal Marketing

Nothing symbolizes the arrival of fall like the Pumpkin Spiced Latte. Even if the weather is still balmy, one sip of this soothing concoction transports you to the season of golds, reds, and oranges. It’s like Fall Season in a cup and can bring back so many great memories.

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Starbucks has fueled a 500 million dollar craze with this famous seasonal drink. Since it debuted in 2003, PSL has brought about $1.4 million in sales, not to mention over 1 million hashtags; it even has its own Twitter account. It’s a real force to be reckoned with, but the marketing behind the success of the pumpkin spiced latte is the real winner!

For us marketers, the success story of PSL and how Starbucks infused that brand story by connecting it to the product and having consumers drive the campaign contains some valuable lessons. Here are three lessons from pumpkin spiced latte that you can utilize for your marketing.

1 | Limited availability

Pumpkin Spiced Latte is the epitome of a limited-availability product. Despite customer pleas, Starbucks has not relented and agreed to sell the drink year-round: a wise marketing move. They’re here one season and gone the next. People are so aware that they might not get another chance to drink them that they’ll go out of their way to stop at Starbucks; Starbucks staff have stories about 5 or 6 being bought at once!

Apply this lesson:

It’s a well-known marketing fact that scarcity increases desirability. Products feel more valuable and exclusive when they’re not always available; it creates urgency. Whether you sell products or provide a service, offer limited-time offers. The holiday season is a great time to do this, but any time of year works. For example, in Summer, we often see a slowdown in sales, so if you make certain services and products only available over summer, you’ll see a better return. Spring is also a good time to boost those beginning-of-year sales.

Bonus tip: With short-term offers, ensure you get feedback on the service or product so you can make it even better next time. That’s what keeps people coming back for more. Who knows? They might start to anticipate your seasonal offer the same way they anticipate the return of the PSL!

2 | Focus on the experience

We touched on this above – that first sip of a pumpkin spice latte evokes your memories of falls gone by. The crispness in the air, the first emergence of seasonal decorations, the twinkling promise of the holidays. It also helps the story that pumpkin pie is a holiday tradition – most everyone will have a favorite recipe and associated memories.

Starbucks has strengthened this brand story by featuring PSL on engaging social media platforms with user-generated content. This drives that campaign and increases people’s connection with the brand. They understand the feeling their pumpkin spiced latte gives people and effectively market that.

Apply this lesson:

If you learn nothing else from PSL marketing, learn this: brand storytelling is everything. When consumers feel a direct connection to a product or service, or the story behind it, they are more likely to buy. People often buy based on the feeling that a product gives them rather than the product itself.

When creating a marketing campaign, always start with what drives people to purchase, then work backward from that point. What do you want them to feel when they’ve purchased it? Understanding that feeling helps you create a campaign that resonates with people.

We know that a lot of entrepreneurs run service-based businesses. So, how do you make this PSL lesson work for you? We need to inspire that golden feeling through our interactions. This is where the onboarding process and the continuation of the client journey are so important. By meeting expectations throughout your time with clients, you can help them feel emotionally connected to what you provide. It’s slightly different from selling tangible goods, but referrals and praise signify success.

3 | Think about what your user wants

Although pumpkin spiced flavor didn’t perform well during initial testing, it quickly became clear that people loved it. Then, around 2013, Starbucks changed the flavor from real to artificial. For an expensive drink, that fake taste was not what consumers wanted. After considerable backlash, Starbucks reverted to the original drink (thankfully!). However, we’re sure it wasn’t a cheap process for them.

Apply this lesson:

When creating a seasonal or short-term offer, consider what the user wants. After all, you’re looking to fill a gap in the market. But remember that you cannot offer something, whether a service or a product and then change it without thinking carefully about what your consumer base wants and expects from you. There’s a mutual understanding. If you want to make changes, you must be prepared for feedback or losing aspects of your customer base.

Once you give people what you want, you must understand that if it’s popular, it will be hard to stop providing it. That’s why you should think ahead when you plan short-term offers. Can you keep providing this service or product year in and year out? How will you manage change? It would be best if you asked these questions, as we’re sure Starbucks did.

Now, go and buy yourself a pumpkin spiced latte and work on that holiday marketing!

Seasonal Marketing Resources Guide