13 hrs, 18 minutes, 7 seconds from writing this, Pumpkin Spice Latte seasons kicks off at Starbucks. Forgive me but I’m a bit of a student of the game when it comes to this phenomenon…
Nobody heard of pumpkin spice until 50 years ago when McCormick began selling their blend of nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and allspice and simply called it “Pumpkin Spice”. (Notice there’s no actual pumpkin in the ingredients.)
And it wasn’t exactly a national or global phenomenon until fourteen years ago when Starbucks created the Pumpkin Spice Latte also known as #PSL.
There are a couple important leadership lessons to be gained from Starbucks PSL initiative.
- They didn’t enter into it blindly. In 2002 Starbucks began testing different seasonal fall flavors in their research and development lab. Going from 100 different concepts down to 10. (How are you doing R & D on your initiatives?)
- They took those 10 flavors to a focus group of customers and let them score them before landing on Pumpkin Spice which was almost named Fall Harvest Latte.
(Do you focus group test or just force what you like on your customers?)
- Then they perfected the PSL recipe. This all took place in the spring but to set the mood they decorated the lab with leaves, pumpkins and brought in homemade pumpkin pies to test the flavor and see what best paired with espresso.
(Research matters. So does the mood your work environment evokes.)
- Next, they market-tested it in two locations: Vancouver B.C. and Washington D.C. Sales were off the charts in the first week so they knew they could launch it nationally the following year.
(What are you market testing, where and with who?)
It’s their top selling beverage, selling over 350 million cups in fourteen years. And to add to the juggernaut they’ve created six different pumpkin spice branded spin-off products, it’s own hashtag which has gone viral each year since 2012 and it’s own merch.
Starbucks essentially hijacked a season (in a positive way) creating a category unto themselves. And in the process have sold millions of the drinks and had thousands of other brands copy cat the pumpkin spice phenomenon to join the band wagon. (see pumpkin spice oreos, almonds, beer, dog biscuits and a thousand other bizarre variations.)
It’s bigger than a drink, Starbucks created a season within fall itself, a symbol and an entire cult following called The Leaf Rakers Society surrounding the beverage. (There are 31,921 members of which I am one.) These are the 5-10% of Starbucks die hard super fans.
Why does it work so well?
In an interview with Buzz Feed Catalina Maria Vélez Argumedo, a food engineer and researcher at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, told the site that the drink’s success can be attributed to two factors: seasonality and nostalgia.
“The benefit of a seasonal offering is that you don’t get the customer tired of the same product, but instead willing to have it within the next year. And if you are able to evoke nostalgia, that product could be on the market forever.”
What are customers really buying with something seasonal and nostalgia invoking?
With pumpkin spice, they’re buying a scent, a warm comforting feeling and all of that is wrapped up in the holiday that is Thanksgiving. Families gather on that day and experience all of the above.
And for all you bean counters, all of which has created a spike in sales.
According to research from The NPD group, the average check for a pumpkin spice latte buyer in fall and winter 2014 was $7.81, compared with $6.67 for non-buyers.
How can you capitalize on the psychology of your product, service or experience?
To gain attention in the market and create some anticipation of perhaps the darkest, coldest, most boring, snowiest month of the year in New England I’ve created feBRUary. Basically hijacking an entire month and making daily promotions, giveaways and prizes for my readers. One reader won a $1200. Standing desk last year from one of my sponsors.
While I give away a ton of value, I also receive even more in return. My membership site growth and book sales always spike during feBRUary. My readership grows, my eNews subscribership grows, and my social media presence is amplified as well.
How are you capturing the spirit of a particular time of year and what’s your version of Pumpkin Spice?
If you want to follow this phenomenon more closely, subscribe to my YouTube channel where starting tomorrow I’ll be doing two things daily:
- A live reaction video where a different guest and I rate and review a different pumpkin spice flavored item each day from tomorrow until Thanksgiving.
- Within the videos will be some marketing and branding lessons surrounding the specific items.
Go here to subscribe to CoachBruTube: