Last year, I was sipping my pumpkin spice latte (PSL) from Starbucks when I decided to do more research into the history of the PSL. I figured out how the company was able to make the PSL its most successful drink. In short, Starbucks crushed sales with the PSL because it struck a chord with us by telling a story of the nostalgic fall season through the pumpkin flavor. It tweaked the recipe and continued to build the PSL brand through its marketing. It knew its audience - millennials - so it continually advertised the latte through Instagram and Twitter. Starbucks also capitalized on the seasonality of the beverage, which allowed demand to surge.
Who else offers a pumpkin flavored latte?
Today, I want to take a closer look at what happened next with the PSL, beyond Starbucks. It’s clear that the company is doing very well with the beverage; in 2018, it was estimated that it brought in $1.4 billion in sales. Therefore, other coffee shops started copying Starbucks and releasing their own versions of the pumpkin flavored latte.
For example, Dunkin’ Donuts offers a pumpkin flavored coffee along with a pumpkin latte. Its pumpkin latte was rebranded this year, and in 2019 it released the new Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Signature Latte. It “features pumpkin and cinnamon flavors, topped with whipped cream, a caramel drizzle and cinnamon sugar topping.”
Krispy Kreme didn’t deviate much from the original drink name, as it offers a Pumpkin Spice Latte, but also a Frozen Pumpkin Spice Latte. Peet’s Coffee offers a Pumpkin Latte that has the “richness of pumpkin pie” and is “topped with a sprinkling of baking spices.” McDonald’s offers a Caramel Pumpkin Spice Latte. La Colombe offers a Pumpkin Spice Draft Latte, which is marketed as “Real coffee. Real Milk. Real Pumpkin.” La Colombe says that its drink “is made with a cold brew and real pumpkin puree for a clean take on a fall favorite.” Of course, plenty of other chains and local coffee stores offer their own version.
Why? Competition brews sales.
Copying is the nature of competition and therefore capitalism. When a company sees that another company is doing something successfully, it copies that. However, in doing so, the copycat tries to release something a little better so that the original company’s customers prefer the copycat’s product.
As seen from some of the examples above, each coffee shop released its own pumpkin latte, but slightly rebranded it. Their latte may be superior to the Starbucks PSL because it has additional flavors, better ingredients, or is released sooner than the Starbucks one. Even Starbucks had to rethink its PSL as competition brewed. In 2015, it changed its recipe and started using real pumpkin. In 2019, Starbucks also released the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew. Both Dunkin’ and Starbucks released their pumpkin drinks earlier this year - Dunkin’ on August 12 and Starbucks on August 27.
Coming out with new ideas is difficult, so it’s much easier to borrow another idea that already exists. Copying removes the necessity to start something from scratch. Plus, if an idea is already successful, that means it has a solid audience. The competitors don’t need to be creative or convince an audience that their new idea is good; the first company has already done that. Instead, they just need to convince the original audience that their product is a slightly superior to the original product. Even if the product is inferior, the target audience already likes this product, so it will likely try competitors’ versions to determine which one it likes most.
Does competition always work?
The issue of competition gets more complicated for smaller companies. On the one hand, smaller companies can stand out by not competing with the major players. For instance, while each large coffee chain releases its PSL earlier each year, smaller coffee shops seem to release their pumpkin drinks closer to when fall actually starts. Some might not even carry a pumpkin flavored drink and instead focus on other seasonal items. This helps them stand out by being different and not conforming to what the corporate chains have deemed popular.
Local coffee shops have a dedicated clientele. Because this clientele is choosing the local coffee shop over a corporate chain, it prefers the mission of the local coffee store and likes its non-conformity. Therefore, for the smaller shops, it may be a good marketing strategy to not compete with the big chains, and instead focus on their own brand and how it’s different from corporate greed.
On the other hand, the smaller coffee shops know that the pumpkin flavor works. Because it’s so common now, customers could expect everyone to carry pumpkin flavored lattes. This could especially be true for the non-regular customers who come into a local coffee shop. Because there is demand and coffee drinkers are programmed to enjoy their pumpkin drinks, it could be strategic for local coffee shops to release a pumpkin flavored beverage of their own.
What does the PSL mean for you?
You should decide how you would like to compete for your claimants. If you want to follow the corporate examples, check out other firms’ services, websites, and other marketing materials to see if they’re doing something that you’re currently not and if it’s working for them. For example, maybe they have a live chat feature on their website that helps them generate their own leads. If that’s the case, see if you can implement your own live chat feature that’s better than the other firms’ chats. Maybe you’ll be able to answers claimants’ questions faster or get them to call in more.
On the other hand, you might want to go the route of the local coffee shops that don’t want to compete with the corporate chains. In that case, showcase your differences. Perhaps you can provide more personalized attention to your claimants and will travel to meet with them, something that large firms might not necessarily be able to do.
Whatever you decide, always understand that how you market yourself will speak volumes in getting more clients. If you feel burnt out by marketing and just want to focus on being the best attorney you can be, give us a call at 617.800.0089 to discuss our lead generation campaigns for Social Security disability, personal injury, employment law, and workers’ compensation. That way, we’ll take care of the marketing, and you can focus on your cases while sipping a delicious pumpkin spice latte.