worth-the-waitMarketing with Anticipation: It’s Worth the Wait

Fall is just around the corner and that means….Pumpkin Spice Everything is here!

Are you jumping for joy or rolling your eyes? Most people either love or hate Pumpkin Spice flavored foods. For those who love it, Pumpkin Spice is the essence of fall and its arrival is the herald of everything that season entails. It may stir up childhood memories or just have you contemplating cooler air, red and orange leaves, festivals and Thanksgiving.  Because it has such powerful meaning for our palates and emotions, Pumpkin Spice’s once-a-year arrival keeps it special – and us wanting it even more – all thanks to Starbucks.

Starbucks takes credit for the Pumpkin Spice explosion by introducing the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) in 2003.  Over the years, Starbucks marketers have expertly captured their audience with direct marketing strategies via social media and other channels. “Pumpkin Spice Everything” has gone from a simple pleasure to a serious business, and humorous memes, hashtags and impatient status updates on social media have popped up all over the place. Marketers for big brands everywhere started to hone in on how highly anticipated the flavor is a few years ago. In 2013-2014, U.S. sales of pumpkinflavored products brought in $308 million according to Nielsen. It seems every market wants a piece of the Pumpkin Spice pie, infusing it into everything from gum to beer.

You don’t have to actually like Pumpkin Spice to realize that creating seasonal anticipation is pure genius. So, how can we duplicate that in our marketing efforts?

  1. Learn more about your audience.

You might have some great demographic info about the people you are sending direct marketing communications to, but how well do you really know them? Can you find out if they like football, or if fall is their favorite season? If you can determine what truly excites them, you can align existing products and even create new ones that will be as anxiously awaited as the first PSL of the season.

  1. Recognize that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

A highly anticipated product or service is not only a marketing success, it makes us money – and that’s our ultimate goal! The financial wizard in us says we can make even more money if we saturate the market with our product. But the wise marketer in us knows that if we limit availability we can drastically increase demand and profit. The burst in Pumpkin Spice sales each fall is proof that Starbucks’ seasonal limitation serves to heighten the fervor and sales too.

  1. Remember that timing is everything.

The emotional connection created by the seasonality of Pumpkin Spice products is undoubtedly a key to Starbucks’ success.  They wouldn’t have been nearly so successful had they introduced the PSL in July when we were all craving Watermelon Everything instead. When it comes to marketing, it’s not enough to just limit the offer’s availability; you need to make sure the timing is on target too. So go ahead and thank your new customers with a poinsettia in December, but you’d be wise to switch up that offer for the rest of the year.

  1. Make good on your quality promise.

By fostering a sense of anticipation, you have made an unspoken promise that your product is worth the wait. If you want to create positive reinforcement for the consumer you need to keep that promise. Starbucks actually received some flack last year because Pumpkin Spice skeptics claimed they used “pumpkin sauce” instead of actual Pumpkin Spice in their lattes, and sales did decline. There is no concrete proof that this rumor was the cause, but it is a reminder to us all that when something is highly anticipated, we had better deliver the real deal!

  1. Plan your work and work your (marketing) plan.

All of these strategies are moot without a firm marketing plan. The numbers speak for themselves – $308 million in Pumpkin Spice flavored foods is not a fluke; it’s the result of brilliant marketing plans artfully executed throughout the year. Fall may be Pumpkin Spice’s successful season, but Starbucks did not fall into that success; they planned it.  As marketers, we need to do the same by creating a comprehensive marketing plan that incorporates year-long strategies to achieve our goals.

So, the next time you’re craving a Pumpkin Spice Latte but it’s not available yet, remember, it’s all just part of the plan.