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Social Media the Starbucks Way

November 12, 2013 Bradford Group Administrator

pumpkin spice latteThis year marks the 10th anniversary of the pumpkin spice latte, the infamous Starbucks concoction that unofficially begins fall for millions of consumers. The drink has carved out a place among scarves, fireplaces and changing leaves as a rite of passage for the season, and boasts a devoted group of followers who tweet down the days until their first Instagram of a #PSL.

For Starbucks, the pumpkin spice latte is a story of social media success. What started as a simple seasonal drink, is now a brand-within-a-brand that has brought in over $200 million in revenue for the coffee chain in the past decade. The drink is darn good, this cannot be denied, but it is the most expensive of its kind in a market that is saturated with fall themed beverages.

So what is it about the pumpkin spice latte that makes it so special? It’s not the quality of ingredients or the temperature of the beverage – it’s not even the taste of the drink itself. It’s what the drink represents. The pumpkin spice latte is a perfect fall day that we are all invited to enjoy.

Even now, as I write this blog in a Starbucks, I repeatedly find myself day dreaming into the pumpkin spice latte poster in front of me. Everyone is having such a good time with their lattes, in front of fireplaces, at pumpkin patches, wearing beanies in cars, the list goes on and on. The people in the poster are all celebrating the 10th anniversary, and consumers like me are invited to join in on the fun with the #PSL hashtag on social media.

I am a sucker for feel-good moments, and I especially wish I could pull off a beanie, so of course I head straight to Facebook to join the pumpkin spice community.

This type of emotional connection with a consumer is difficult to create, but crucial to the success of any product or service on social media.

Our 24/7 media world has over-saturated consumers with promotional messages to the point of indifference or annoyance. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter provide a unique opportunity for brands to cut through this media buzz and connect with consumers in their personal space.

Starbucks’ social media strategy works because it not only understands the identity of its customer, but also the identity of its own brand. The relationship between these two entities has grown organically over time because they share mutual feelings and interests, and a desire to share and enjoy them together.

To create a social media identity:

1. Develop a personality – Know your target market and understand its personality will help your brand build its own.

For Starbucks, the company’s key demographic is busy, driven 20-to-40-somethings who only have time to enjoy life in small doses. The PSL represents what they long for in those doses; to be carefree, thoughtful and present in their community.


2. Build a lifestyle – What does your brand enjoy doing, and how does your consumer fit into that lifestyle?

Nike is another successful social media-focused company. Its active personality is built into a lifestyle of inspiration. The Nike brand enjoys taking regular exercise to extraordinary places, both emotionally and physically. Starbucks has a similar lifestyle focus. It encourages romanticized feelings of fall like slowing down to notice the beauty of the world and relishing in life’s small moments.


3. Encourage a relationship – Social media is just that, social.

Interacting with your consumers is different than telling them about your product, which is the approach of many social media-focused companies.

Consumers want to participate in something bigger than themselves and attach their identity to ideals that reflect their own. Building a relationship starts with finding this common ideology and conversing about it. The pumpkin spice latte offers the chance to share in fall experiences and enjoy community with other like-minded individuals who are also taking selfies with their drinks.

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