Today marks the official end of summer, which has us thinking about fall leaves, chunky sweaters… and the return of the pumpkin spice latte.

We don’t care if you line up to order it in yoga pants, Ugg boots, a hoodie and an iPhone 6. We’re not here to ridicule the millennial favorite, somewhat “basic,” beverage of the decade with 20 million sales a year. We’re here to credit Starbucks with a master marketing campaign that turned some warm milk, syrup and spices from just a coffee drink into an icon.

Here are three lessons for marketers from the #PSL success story that transcend coffee and can be applied to any brand.


Bet on the Wildcard

When Starbucks’ coffee masterminds were brainstorming ways to combine espresso with fall’s biggest staple dessert 11 years ago, the pumpkin concept fell flat in customer survey results somewhere in the middle of 20 finalists, which featured more traditional caramel and chocolate flavors. The product manager and R&D team pressed on with the pumpkin wildcard anyway, convinced by the originality of the concept and great marketing potential. There was nothing like it on the market.

CMO Takeaway
Offering a specialty fall beverage when many competitors weren’t set Starbucks apart. Constantly testing new products and lines throughout the year is a great way to expand your product offerings, grow your customer base and stand out from the competition.


Use Social Media to Drive Brand Awareness

When Starbucks first launched the pumpkin spice latte, they ran a contest to see which city would get the drink first to generate buzz about the hot new product. On the ten-year anniversary of the drink, Starbucks released the special code PSL10 on their Facebook page. If customers gave the barista this code, they could get the drink before it launched. Then they created the #PSL hashtag for Facebook and Twitter, and our newsfeeds have never been the same since.

CMO Takeaway
Offering contests, promotions and coupons on social media is a fantastic way to utilize your network to drive brand awareness, generate product buzz and increase likes and followers on your pages. We like to think that’s the real whipped cream on top.


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Invest in Quality Ingredients and Campaigns

Starbucks’ marketing campaign is all about quality, starting with their ingredients and finishing with their ads. Admit it, we all get that warm fuzzy feeling from a Starbucks billboard with the whipped cream clouds drizzled in caramel. Those delicious looking ads evoke a feeling in the eye of the beholder.

Starbucks is a great example of a brand that aims to create an emotional connection with its customers. The reason pumpkin spice latte lovers are in an all-out frenzy during PSL season is because the drink is seasonal – available for a limited time only. Starbucks created an every day affordable luxury that customers view as a treat they want to splurge on that won’t be around forever.

CMO Takeaway
A limited-time-only marketing campaign is a great way to drive sales and demand. Market your product with seasonal themes and colors, highlight the quality ingredients with gorgeous ad campaigns and you may have the new holiday craze on your hands.


Image courtesy of  Starbucks


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Boost Media increases advertiser profitability by using a combination of humans and a proprietary software platform to drive increased ad relevance at scale. The Boost marketplace comprises over 1,000 expert copywriters and image optimizers who compete to provide a diverse array of perspectives. Boost’s proprietary software identifies opportunities for creative optimization and drives performance using a combination of workflow tools and algorithms. Headquartered in San Francisco, the Boost Media optimization platform provides fresh, performance-driven creative in 12 localized languages worldwide.