Pumpkin Spice Latte: Creating Product Demand

 Just a simple seasonal delight

Ah, Fall! The season of colorful leaves, cooling evenings, long walks in the woods and …pumpkin spice! Yes, it’s that time of year when devotees of the all-consuming fall flavor go on overdrive searching for their next fix. Why all this rabid fandom for a little cinnamon, cloves and pumpkin? And how did it become the fall cult classic flavor to rival candy corn? Starbucks introduced the #PSL (as it is frequently hash tagged) many years ago. As noted on SeattleMet.com,
“Since the Pumpkin Spice latte’s inception … years ago, customers have ordered … million(s), each topped with whipped cream and a parting shake of spices. It arrives while the summer sun still beats down hot over most of the country, but a combination of masterful marketing and a fan base with the kind of obsession usually reserved for pop stars has transformed this drink into a national harbinger of fall.”

Rabid fandom aside, what makes a product so beloved and craved?

In the case of this treat, its seasonality and limited appearance — similar to other mass market seasonal products like McRib, McDonalds imitation barbecue rib sandwich which pops up in markets from time to time — are what drive anticipation. In a word, rarity drives desire.  

When a product is only available for a limited time, there is incentive to buy now.

Despite the current level of ubiquitousness, Pumpkin Spice is still with us. Some argue that it is now “basic” and not special. They might posit there is no longer a cult of suburban white moms craving and driving the wave of consumerism that was behind #PSL in 2014. What there still is, is a longing at hold on our senses. Also at work in the adoration of pumpkin spice latte is its sensual hold on our psyches. No, I’m not talking about silk sheets and body oil type of sensuality, but its literal appeal to our cultural nostalgia. The odor of cinnamon is linked with baking, is linked with home, is linked with love is linked with belonging. And each of us want to be loved and to belong. It’s a fundamental need. Starbucks deliberately tapped into our needs.

Scent and tribal association mixed in one beverage

Buying pumpkin spice lattes could indicate our belongingness to our tribe. In the case of #PSL, that might be the tribe of white girls, but comedian Jay Pharoah mocks that in his ribald, hilarious send up of the drink. Pumpkin Spice Funny Video In the case of cinnamon, there may even be a powerful physiological response to the spice as it has antibiotic and potentially curative properties.

As entrepreneurs, we can learn from these observations when creating new products.

  1. Create a product that is amazing. Normal run of the mill products just don’t attract fans. Whether it tastes good, feels amazing, or is simply drop dead gorgeous or fulfills a strong need, as long as it is perceived as incredible, you will achieve demand. There’s no getting around this.
  2. Tap into powerful psychological needs.
  3. Limit your product’s availability and provide mental or market incentives to buy now.
What other products do you know of which have similar limited seasonality and rabid fandom? Why do you think they are much beloved? In the meantime, enjoy an array of pumpkin spice tweets.

5 Tips to Gain Earned Media for Your Company

Earned media includes newspaper, radio and TV What small business owner doesn’t want publicity for their company? In the public relations world, we call it earned media and it’s not always as hard as you may think to gain. Here are 5 tips that can help put you on the track to gain recognition for your company’s services:
  1. Have a compelling story—No, just because your doors are open, but something that television news audiences want to see, or newspaper’s readers want to read.
  2. Make the News—Do something interesting. Activities that are beneficial and not at all sales oriented are often highlighted in the media. Holding an informational event where nothing is sold is a great way to earned media. As an example, homebuilders, realtors and bankers can work with local home buyer education not-for-profit or legal aid office to host seminars to teach what it takes to be prepared to buy a home.
  3. Get to know who reports or writes on topics about your business—News journalists (and I include bloggers in this group) are people too. Read their stories, watch their reporting and when you see, read or hear something that is worth commending, do so. Genuinely. No fake cultivation. Who doesn’t like to receive a letter congratulating them on a job well done?
  4. Become recognized as a source—Offer your professional experience in response to journalists’ queries. Provided your responses are timely, on-topic, relevant, and concise, you will be referenced.
  5. Seek opportunities to volunteer—Being a volunteer in a leadership position with a non-profit organization brings many opportunities to be in the public eye. Select your activities based on your preferred causes, do what you say you’re going to do and step-up.
Photo credit: flickr user bradleygee

Market research leads to success for solopreneurs

As a solopreneur or startup you must know this: Insightful, well planned and conducted market research is as important as the product you wish to sell. Your tight budget has little room to waste money developing a product that your assumed target won’t purchase. Some assume the cost of research is cost prohibitive; however, actually the opposite is true. Wasting money on an undesired product is cost prohibitive. In real estate or corporate mergers it’s called due diligence and it should be the first step after you have the idea to create a product, extend a line or launch a new business. Yesterday a colleague and I agreed that we see hesitancy among some businesses to conduct market research. Insights gained as a result of research allow for fine tuning of a successful product and positive message creation. SCORE (Senior Corps of Retired Executives) offers this advice in their Business Plan for a Start Up Business:
No matter how good your product and your service, the venture cannot succeed without effective marketing. And this begins with careful, systematic research. It is very dangerous to assume that you already know about your intended market. You need to do market research to make sure you’re on track. Use the business planning process as your opportunity to uncover data and to question your marketing efforts. Your time will be well spent.”
You should conduct qualitative as well as quantitative research. One on one focus groups conducted by a skilled interviewer yield significant understanding which can be analyzed in light of detailed research conducted by online surveys or pencil and paper surveys. Businesses that use sound research are far and away more successful than those who make assumptions without data.