Marketing Tips Learned from the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Oct 8, 2015 | Advertising, Brand, Business, Holiday, Inbound Marketing, Instagram, Marketing, Sales, Social Media, Social Media Marketing

Falling leaves, warm apple cider, and your mom’s delicious soups used to be in the forefront of your mind this time of year. However, one trend has governed autumn for the last several years, going by the acronym PSL. That’s right—it is pumpkin spice latte season.

The PSL is once again the must-have product of fall. Since its introduction in 2003, Starbucks has managed to sell well over 200 million pumpkin spice lattes, making it the coffee mogul’s most popular seasonal drink of all time. What makes this cup of coffee spiked with pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves so wildly popular?

Much of its success can be attributed to the marketing gurus at Starbucks. There is no shame in learning from the success of others; so take a seat, sip a PSL, and let’s take a look at what we can learn from Starbucks’ fall favorite:

Market More than Just a Product

Starbucks has created more than a tasty drink. This special latte is associated with the arrival of autumn, and timing can make or break a product in today’s industry. The pumpkin spice latte also taps into a kind of hipster lifestyle. How has Starbucks managed to take a simple product and turn it in to a lifestyle? It starts with a social media presence and unified marketing channels telling one story: Fall is here, so grab a pumpkin spice latte and enjoy the beauty of the season.

When you think of the pumpkin spice latte, what type of person do you imagine purchasing the drink? Whether Starbucks did it intentionally or consumers created it, the PSL is frequently associated with a persona–someone wearing stylish yoga pants, big sunglasses, a scarf, and Uggs. Instead of trying to mold the persona into something else, Starbucks ran with it. Although it’s never referenced directly, they poke fun at the stereotype, especially on social media. Clearly, this does not deter customers from the seasonal drink, or they wouldn’t sell 20 million PSLs each year.

Harness the Power of Social Media

Few brands understand and utilize the power of social media better than Starbucks. They have established the perfect way to connect with their target market through a modern and contemporary social media strategy. Yes, the pumpkin spice latte debuted before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were even founded. However, these platforms have now become a staple in PSL advertising and have boosted the drink’s popularity. In fact, there’s even a Pumpkin Spice Latte Twitter account with more than 112,000 followers, plus recent Twitter verification.

Starbucks has given a personality to this seasonal sensation. Some tweets include images of the drink wrapped in a scarf, wearing trendy sunglasses, and even receiving a “tattoo sleeve” (once again, mastering the hip and trendy image). Starbucks also ran a Twitter campaign showing the PSL all over the U.S. on vacation for “me time.” All of this led up to the announcement that the PSL would use real pumpkin this year.

You’re Never Too Big to Listen

Why did Starbucks make the switch to real pumpkin? Espresso Director Peter Dukes stated, “After hearing from customers and partners about ingredients, we took another look at this beverage…the PSL returns this fall, and this time it will be made with real pumpkin and without caramel coloring.” (View the entire statement here.) In the past, numerous complaints were launched about both the lack of pumpkin and the use of caramel coloring. Do these changes really make that big of a difference? The taste difference will most likely go unnoticed. Did they need to make this alteration to save sales? Probably not. They would have sold millions regardless. However, they chose to listen the consumers—and will more than likely benefit greatly from it.

Integrate Your Marketing

Starbucks has mastered the art of integrated marketing communication. Each of their marketing channels conveys the same message. While they kill it on Twitter with their PSL personality, they also integrate the drink into in-store displays and even offer new cups exclusive to the season. How do they market these new cups? They portray it as the PSL getting a tattoo. Every marketing avenue follows the same, consistent story.

What experience are you selling to your customers? No matter the industry, your brand image holds an incredible value for your consumers. Are people buzzing about the opportunity to work with your company? Are you giving your target buyers a compelling reason to give your product or service a shot? Starbucks sells the PSL at a premium price of nearly $5, but consumers receive more than a pumpkin-flavored drink. They buy in to the PSL lifestyle and the experience that comes with it.

Every brand has a story. When you combine a story that portrays your company well, effective marketing techniques, and customers who actively share their positive experiences, you get a solid brand. Need help with that story? Contact us today. We would be glad to partner with you and work tirelessly to give your consumers the experience they are seeking.

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