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Pumpkin Spiced Latte: What a Fall Favorite Can Teach Us About Strategic Marketing

Starbucks has been winning the marketing game for a long time. From a single store in Seattle in 1971, the coffee behemoth now boasts over 28,000 locations worldwide. Their success is due in part to the quality of their products to be sure. However, without their savvy marketing, they would not be where they are today.

A recent announcement in Business Insider reveals yet another example of the company’s marketing acumen. Starbucks has decided to release its Pumpkin Spiced Latte a week earlier this year. On the surface, this may seem insignificant, but there’s a lot we can learn from this subtle but powerful move, and from how they’ve marketed this little gem over the years.

1. Tasty Timing

Since Starbucks introduced the PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) in 2003, it has become their most popular seasonal beverage of all time. Its creation was in response to the success of their Peppermint Mocha and Eggnog Latte but has proven even more successful. Why? Well, for one thing, timing.

The flavors of fall are distinctive and nostalgic, and perhaps no flavor says fall like Pumpkin. Americans, in particular, have a strong emotional connection to the season. The childhood memories, nostalgia, family, and friendship associated with fall holidays are all big emotional buying triggers. Add to that the feeling that the beverage will warm you as it gets cold outside, and you have one powerful seasonal offering.

As marketers, we do ourselves a dire disservice if we fail to consider the timing of our offerings. How popular would the PSL have been if it had been introduced in June? It would have been foolish to try. In the same way, our marketing strategies must include a well-thought-out timeline. Don’t just consider who, what, why and how, but also when.

2. Staying Clear of the Crowd

This example may also seem to be about timing, but it’s actually more than that. Starbucks is releasing this Fall favorite about a week early this year. Why? To stay clear of the crowd of fall products that are about to flood the market.

Starbucks is using timing to stay clear in this instance. But they stay clear in many other ways through the year. They keep their brand and message clear and unique. For example, they have remained a “second wave” coffee brand in the face of the “third wave” artisan coffee movement. This has helped them stay distinct when many brands might have shifted too heavily with the trends.

In the same way, we need to design our marketing to keep us clear of the crowd. Strategic and effective marketing always takes into consideration what other messages prospects and customers will be hearing. Timing can be an important part of the response, but that’s not all.

We must know who our competitors are, but more importantly, we must know who we are. We must stay unique, distinguish ourselves clearly, and stay true to our brand. Do that well, and you will never get lost in the crowd.

3. Stay With What Works

Pumpkin Spiced Latte is a fifteen-year-old product. After a decade and a half, it is outselling all their other seasonal beverages. They haven’t changed it or discontinued it. Why? It works.

Wise marketers are aware of trends and try to anticipate when to change something. But if something works well, to change it is anything but wise. While trends may change, people tend to change very little very slowly. Since we market to people, certain things may work very well for a very long time. “If it ain’t broke…” well, you know.

4. Know Your Customer

Starbucks didn’t invent pumpkin spice. All they did was take advantage of its popularity. They found something many people already liked and capitalized on it. The combination of the flavor and the season are almost magically inviting to Starbucks customers. Year after year, they continue to employ these mystical powers to lure us in, and we keep coming back!

Good marketers know how to take advantage of these natural forces. Associating products with things people are already drawn to is a big part of what we do. So it pays to get to know your prospects’ likes and dislikes. Then you can market to them much more effectively.

5. Create Anticipation

Every year, lots of fanfare accompanies the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. And the company plays on the drink’s popularity to create anticipation by announcing a reveal date. By the time you can get one, you already want one, and this is a powerful sales booster.

What do you do to create anticipation? When launching a product or service, do you take steps to warm up your audience to expect something great? Have a strategic plan for your launch that builds in time to get your customers ready. Create a buzz. Engineer some hype. In a way, this is creating your own season.

Professional Digital Marketing

At McWilliams Media Inc. in Tulsa and Broken Arrow, we are experts at strategic digital marketing. We are passionate about helping you achieve your goals and realize your vision. Through the power of web design, videography, social marketing and more, we help you get your message out to the right people at the right time. Contact us today.


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