Sure, it still feels steamy in Atlanta but fall is just around the corner and that can only mean one thing: Pumpkin. Everything. In fact, McDonald’s releases the McCafe Pumpkin Spice Latte tomorrow (for the first time in three years) and Dunkin’ Donuts fall beverages were available nationwide yesterday. But most consumers do not associate the Pumpkin Spice Latte with McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts. They think of Starbucks.
While Starbucks certainly didn’t serve the first pumpkin flavored coffee beverage, it was the first company to convince an entire population that its beverage is the perfect embodiment of fall by personifying it through social media and other strategic marketing campaigns. How many other lattes do you know of that have its own Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter accounts?
So, how can Starbucks and the Pumpkin Spice Latte help you position your own brand or client above the competition? Here are a few takeaways.
- Exclusivity sells. Even non-drinkers know one thing about the Pumpkin Spice Latte: it’s seasonal. Starbucks has positioned the Pumpkin Spice Latte, or PSL to Starbucks regulars, as an exclusive, limited time only menu item. This allows them to create hype prior to its launch each year. This year Starbucks is continuing to find ways to play up the exclusiveness of the PSL, bump up sales and increase the power of their brand by offering the drink early to My Starbucks Rewards members. If the beverage was available year-round, do you think it would lose its luster? Probably…
- Consistency is key (MOST of the time). In 2015 Starbucks changed the PSL recipe for the first time since its introduction in 2003 – this time adding real pumpkin and eliminating caramel coloring. In the past decade, consumers became more conscious of what they were putting in their bodies. PSL drinkers were not happy when they found out that the beverage did not actually contain ANY pumpkin. Starbucks listened to what customers and partners had to say, and changed the recipe without drastically changing the taste. Starbucks has shown the world that it is possible to listen to your customer while remaining true to your brand.
- Know your audience. Starbucks has cultivated a community of PSL lovers – mostly millennials. The coffee behemoth has honed in on which channels should be used to connect and engage with this community. This year the PSL is even doing exclusive interviews with Starbucks online in an easy to consume listicle format.
- Give them what they want. Each year customers demand that Starbucks release the PSL earlier and earlier. In order to keep customers happy, Starbucks has introduced ways for PSL lovers to get their fix without stepping into a Starbucks – pumpkin spice instant coffee, pumpkin spice k-cups, even bottled Pumpkin Spice Latte. While Starbucks doesn’t release sales numbers for specific drinks, Forbes estimated the franchise made $100 million in revenue from the PSL last year.
- Don’t underestimate the power of social media. “The Real PSL” has its own Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram accounts. Starbucks social media campaign for the seasonal drink is unparalleled. The official Twitter account for the PSL has over 100,000 followers in addition to a fan club called the Orange Sleeve Society. Posts include creative gifs and images, and current slang that speaks to the target audience. Even though the PSL gained popularity before social media, Starbucks has adapted an evolving marketing strategy, using social media to grow the popularity of the beverage year after year. I highly doubt that in 2003, Starbucks would have imagined it was creating a beverage that would become a social media icon.
What’s your magic ingredient for the next icon product?
Kate Heling is an assistant account executive at Cookerly PR.