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 in a cup and has the amazing ability to bring back so many great memories.
With this famous seasonal drink, Starbucks has fueled a 500million dollar craze. Since it debuted in 2003, PSL has brought it 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 behind 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 we’ve got three lessons from pumpkin spiced latte that you can utilize for your marketing.
Lesson #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, of course, 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, make sure you get feedback on the service or product so you can make it even better next time around. 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!
Lesson #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 memories associated with it.
Starbucks has strengthened this brand story by featuring PSL on engaging social media platforms that utilize user-generated content. This drives that campaign and increases people’s feeling of 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 the 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. We find that often people will buy based on a feeling that a product gives them, rather than the product itself.
When you’re creating a marketing campaign, always start with what drives people to make a purchase, then work backward from that point. What do you want them to feel when they’ve purchased it? Understanding that feeling is what helps you create a campaign that really 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. Through meeting expectations throughout your time with clients, you can help them feel emotionally connected to what you’re providing. It’s a little different from selling tangible goods, but referrals and praise are a sign of success.
Lesson #3: Think about what your user wants (and be careful about changing it)
Although pumpkin spiced flavor didn’t perform well during initial testing, it became very clear very quickly people loved it. Then, around 2013, Starbucks changed the flavor from something that tasted quite real to something 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: Naturally, when you’re creating a seasonal or short term offer, you need to think about what the user wants. After all, you’re looking to fill a gap in the market. But remember that you cannot offer something, whether it’s 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 need to be prepared for feedback, or even for losing aspects of your customer base.
Once you give people what you want, you have to understand that if it’s popular, it’s going to be really 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, year-out? How will you manage change? These are the kind of questions you need to ask, as we’re sure Starbucks did.
Now, go and buy yourself a pumpkin spiced latte and get working on that holiday marketing!