Seasonal Sales: The Pumpkin Spice Phenomenon

Seasonal Sales: The Pumpkin Spice Phenomenon

There’s something magical about the fall. The leaves are changing, the temperature is dropping, and football season is in full swing. 

But perhaps what people most look forward to during this change of season is pumpkin flavored everything. And by far, the darling of fall is Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte.

Since it debuted in 2003, Starbucks has served over 424 million pumpkin spice lattes. Affectionately shortened to as #PSL on social media, the pumpkin spice latte isn’t just a fall favorite — it has a loyal following of unapologetic super fans. 

Every year, it creates a fall frenzy. In fact, some people believe the day that Starbucks drops the PSL is when fall actually begins. This year, it dropped on August 27th — a day earlier than last year and four weeks before the real start of fall. 

The #PSL Impact on Social Media

PSL super fans are able to celebrate its return every year on social media. The drink even has its own verified Twitter account with over 100,000 followers. And as of fall 2019, over 1.4 million Instagram posts are tagged with #PSL. 

Starbucks recognized just how Instagram-worthy the pumpkin spice latte really is, so last year, they created PSL-themed nail decals to complement every photo, which they sold in the United Kingdom.

But the social media party doesn’t end on Twitter and Instagram. On Facebook, Starbucks launched a group called the Leaf Rakers Society which unites people who love anything and everything about fall and celebrate it year-round. The group has over 35,000 members. 

The PSL is proof that brands can create community around anything your audience may have in common. It’s a powerful thing when you can share what you love with other people. This is where Starbucks makes it about more than just sales, and they recognize this opportunity to bring people together.

And when you create community like this, your customers are no longer just customers. They become loyal brand evangelists. Building relationships like this is the best type of marketing strategy! 

While numbers indicate that Starbuck’s PSL is the most popular seasonal beverage of all time, people are in investing in anything pumpkin every fall. According to Nielsen, annual sales of pumpkin flavored products in 2018 totaled nearly $489 million – up nearly 16% from the year before. 

The PSL Marketing Takeaway

Aside from building community, I think the big lesson brands can take away from the pumpkin phenomenon is that seasonality helps create demand. 

One of my favorite authors, Sally Hogshead, added a bit more structure to this idea. Sally is New York Times best-selling author, hall of fame speaker, and former advertising executive who has worked on campaigns for Nike, Godiva, and countless other big brands.

Sally created what she calls the 7 triggers of fascination, which speak to how brands can make their messages and products irresistible to their audience.

One of those triggers is “alarm”.  When something is only available for a short amount of time, like the pumpkin spice latte,  you create a sense of urgency for your audience. They feel like they’d be missing out if they didn’t have it, and that they have to have it now. 

In turn, people are also influenced by the consequence of inaction. In this case, if you don’t buy your favorite pumpkin flavored items, you’d have to wait an entire year.

 So as a company, ask yourself how you can tap into seasonal trends, or create a seasonal campaign of your own to influence your audience through the alarm trigger?

But better yet, how can you do more to build a community around what you already offer?  When you do this right, you’ll have your fans doing your marketing for you. 

READ MORE: Another fall favorite that’s back this season is NBC’s This Is Us. Check out what we can learn about brand storytelling from this mega hit TV Show.

The Storytelling Lesson From NBC’s ‘This Is Us’

The Storytelling Lesson From NBC’s ‘This Is Us’

(Frank Micelotta/20th Century Fox Television/PictureGroup)
(Frank Micelotta/20th Century Fox Television/PictureGroup)

The past few years, I’ve gotten into a pretty established TV-watching routine. Like clockwork, every weekday night you can find me on my couch watching Jeopardy! Yes, I’ve officially become my grandmother.

Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, I have some guilty pleasures. Depending on the season, on Mondays I’ll watch The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, or Bachelor in Paradise. I also have a soft spot for Dancing with Stars: my grandmother’s true favorite.

But Tuesday nights are reserved for This Is Us

Because I grew up worshipping all the teen queens like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson, part of me wanted to watchThis Is Us to keep up with Mandy Moore. As you probably know, she plays one of the main characters, Rebecca Pearson.

Mandy captured my heart as an actress after seeing her in the 2002 film, A Walk To Remember, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel. Didn’t we all bawl our eyes out after that movie?

While on the subject of of crying, there’s something I wanted to address about This Is Us.

The show has been on for four seasons now, and through the years, it’s gotten a reputation as being depressing and sad.  In fact, I’ve seen commentators at the Emmys or Golden Globes say they can’t even watch it because it makes them cry, which I kinda think is absurd. 

Whether you heart can handle it or not, This Is Us is a work of art, especially since the writing is powerful enough to move people to tears.

In my opinion, it’s a phenomenon because of it’s deep and fearless storytelling.
As marketers, we hear about how important storytelling is, and I think we can learn a lot about this from the success of This Is Us.

Every character, scene, and moment in This Is Us is part of a bigger story. It brilliantly takes us on a journey through the past and present, and tackles real life issues. I describe it as an emotional rollercoaster. 

Here are some of the difficult topics that the show addresses:

  • Death
  • Body image
  • Infertility 
  • Alcoholism
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Addiction 
  • Adoption 
  • War 
  • Parenting
  • Domestic violence 
  • Racism 
  • Sexual orientation
  • Illness
  • Disability
  • Getting fired

The common theme about all of these topics is that they are uncomfortable, but they are REAL.

The #1 Mistake Brands Make When Storytelling 

Too often, brands are afraid to take risks and talk about real stories. They hesitate because a topic may feel unpleasant or uncomfortable. Without this creative risk, their content ends up being mundane, unremarkable, and unmemorable. 

If your messaging simply touts your product benefits or shares motivational platitudes, there’s no storyline to get behind. No character to root for through their challenge. No triumph to celebrate and applaud. 

One of my favorite authors, Seth Godin says it best:

Being risky is safe, and being safe is risky.

Seth Godin

As a company, person, or brand, don’t shy away from your stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They actually are your biggest opportunity. 

The 4 Components of Great Storytelling

I just finished reading Stories That Stick by Kindra Hall. Kindra is a professional storyteller. and has made stories her life’s work. I’m so happy she wrote a book to share her wisdom with the world!

We always hear about how your brand should be doing storytelling, yet no one tells us how to do it right. 

In my opinion, Kindra Hall is the first person to really add structure to storytelling. In her book, she shares a formula to help us get it right every time. 

According to Kindra’s storytelling framework, a great story has these four components: 

1. Identifiable Characters — Without characters, you’re just rambling on about products or services with no one for your audience to relate to

2. Authentic Emotions — This is what creates empathy between you as a brand and your listener. Kindra stresses that these emotions don’t have to be overly dramatic. It can simply be something like the daily frustration when deciding what to make for dinner, or nervousness about making the team. 

3. A Significant Moment — Kindra says this is often where stories go wrong. Writers make the turning point of the story too broad, to the point where you can’t attach visuals to it.

For instance, speaking in general about the happiness a woman may feel from losing weight won’t stick. Instead paint a picture of her trying to lose weight for her high school reunion, and the euphoric moment when she tried on a smaller dress in a department store fitting room and it actually fit. 

4. Specific Details — Details build connection. They go deeper into the story and help the audience resonate with the little things. 

Perhaps the story about the woman in the example above mentions how she dances in front of the fitting room mirror, or how she gladly poses for a selfie in her dress to send to her best friend. These are small details, but they will charm your audience.


If you incorporate all of these elements in your stories, like the writers at This Is Us do, they will always hit the mark. 

Yes, You Have Stories

A final reminder:  stories are FREE. You, your company, and your customers inherently have stories. 

So the next time you’re looking at where to allocate your marketing budget, don’t waste your time sending a mailer or placing an ad in the penny saver. Produce and tell a story. It will have a much bigger impact. 

Be sure to check out Kindra Hall’s book, Stories That Stick for more guidance on effective storytelling.

READ MORE: Want more marketing lessons derived from TV shows? Check out what Phoebe Buffay from Friends can teach us about email marketing strategy.


This Backstreet Boys Song Is Actually About Your Bad Marketing

This Backstreet Boys Song Is Actually About Your Bad Marketing

It seems as if there is a song to overcome every personal obstacle — a breakup, low self-esteem, a tough workout, or even the loss of a loved one. There is inspiration in lyrics everywhere you turn.

But sometimes, songs can even help us navigate challenges in the workplace. 

At first listen, you might think “As Long As You Love Me” by the Backstreet Boys is about a romantic relationship, but if you listen closely, you’ll learn that it actually offers advice about your marketing strategy. 

The Mistake Your Brand is Making

I hate to say it, but most brands have it wrong. Most marketing content is fraught with copy that touts a company’s accolades or years of experience while failing to communicate what’s in it for their audience. 

And the Backstreet Boys are here to save the day and improve your marketing strategy with this important message:

Don’t care what is written in your history
As long as you’re here with me
I don’t care who you are
Where you’re from
What you did
As long as you love me

-Signed, your customers. 


Did you sing that aloud as you read it? 

When a potential customer is in the market for your product or service, they aren’t searching for the fine details about how your company was founded in 1988. For the most part, they’re unimpressed by how many employees you have or customers you’ve served. 

At the end of the day, your audience wants to know that you are the brand for them. They want affirmation that you understand them, and yes, even love them. 

Your marketing message is your opportunity to empathize with your audience and show them that you care. Self-serving content that focuses on the company instead of your customers’ feelings, needs, and pain points is sure to fall flat. 

If you really want to influence a customer to embark on a journey with your brand, speak to their heart. And yes, you can even do this on the “About” page on your website, but only once you realize that this page really isn’t about you.

Rather than boring your website visitors with who you are, where you’re from, and what you did, tell them WHY you do what you do. 

(Whoa whoa whoa… did I just cross over with another Backstreet Boys lyric to inspire you? This is so meta.)

the backstreet boys tell me why i want it that way nick carter

Yes, TELL ME WHY. Tell your audience why you created your company and what need you set out to fill. Share a meaningful story about why you are passionate about your work and what you can do for potential customers like them. Illustrate that you understand what they are searching for and validate that they are in the right place. 

A Final Lesson from BSB

If you were to ask the Backstreet Boys why they are still making music and going out on world tours after 26 years together, it wouldn’t be for their own self-interests or fortune. They do it for the fans. 

With every word you write, video you produce, or piece of content you create, lose the ego. Do everything with your audience in mind. They are the hero of your story. 

When people identify with your brand’s content and feel like you truly care about what you can do for them, that is when they will move forward on the customer journey. 


READ MORE: Need help empathizing with your audience? Learn more all about empathy maps and download my free template!

Phoebe Buffay Proves Your Email List is Your Biggest Asset

Phoebe Buffay Proves Your Email List is Your Biggest Asset

Perhaps Phoebe Buffay is the most enterprising character in Friends. With an unconventional education background, Phoebe worked some odd jobs in her career. Before becoming a masseuse, she mugged people on the street. She also had brief stints as a telemarketer, Monica’s waitress and catering partner, and an extra on the set of Days of Our Lives

But Phoebe’s true passion is her music, and although she never reached superstar status, she still understood the importance of marketing herself.

After performing a set at Central Perk in the season 6 episode “The One with Ross’s Denial,” Phoebe gets on the mic and says, “If you want to receive emails about my upcoming shows, then please give me money so I can buy a computer.” 

phoebe buffay playing guitar at central perk email buy me a computer
NBC / Warner Bros. Studios

This episode aired in 1999. With the advent of social media and other technologies, digital marketing has changed dramatically in the last twenty years, yet Phoebe’s emphasis on an email list still holds true. 

The Case For Your Email List

It seems that many brands and entrepreneurs have lost their appreciation for email marketing in the age of social media. While it may be a thrill to watch your Instagram or Twitter followers rise, you’re better off attracting email subscribers. 

Here’s why your email list is your brand’s biggest marketing asset:

  • An email subscriber is an engaged lead or customer. Rather than passively giving you a thumbs up, double tap, or follow, someone on your email list trusts you enough to let you contact them directly. They’ve raised their hand and said they want to hear from you, and were willing to provide you with access to their personal inbox. Fuel that fire with amazing content they want to receive. 
  • You own your email subscribers. Okay, don’t freak out, I’m not saying that Instagram is going away. But what if it did? When you build a list of email subscribers, you are empowered with something that is 100% yours. Don’t solely build an audience on a platform you can’t control. 
  • You have direct access to your audience. With email marketing, there’s no need to worry about an algorithm that prevents your content from being seen. Aside from complying with a few spam laws and content guidelines, there’s nothing preventing your message from getting delivered. 
  • You can send segmented, tailored messages. Unlike your social media followers, you can divide your email subscribers into segments based on where they are in the customer journey. You can write custom content that is strategically designed to influence specific groups. 

How to Get the Most Out of Email Marketing

Well, as Phoebe mentions, step 1 is to at least have a computer. Here are some other steps you can take to maximize your success with email marketing: 

  • Write an amazing subject line. What good is your email if nobody opens it? Take some time writing a subject line that will compel your audience to read what’s inside. 
  • A/B Test. Many email marketing platforms, like ConvertKit or MailChimp, offer A/B test functionality where you can learn what subject lines are performing best. Strive to create two versions of every email so you always gain a helpful audience insight. 
  • Track and monitor. Tag your email list links with Google UTM URLs so you can do a deep dive on your website analytics. You can see how much traffic your email drove to your website, as well as what actions the visitor took after reading the content.
  • Automate. What other marketing tactic works while you sleep? Spend time developing a drip campaign that sends pre-written emails to your audience based on their actions. An example of a drip campaign is a series of welcome and onboarding emails sent to all new subscribers. You can write this content once and it continues to work for you!

How Not to Build Your Email List

With good intentions of building their email lists, many companies add a subscription form field to their websites. These forms are usually introduced with a line of copy that says “subscribe now to receive updates” or “sign up for our newsletter!”.

This is quite possibly the laziest, least inspirational way to compel your audience. These “updates” sound like junk, and I have no idea why I should be interested in your newsletter. 

Instead, entice your audience with content they’d look forward to receiving. Tell them exactly what to expect and how your messages will enhance their lives in some way. 

Ready to Build Your Audience the Right Way?

Do you have a list building plan? Or as Phoebe would say, maybe you don’t even have a pla. 

One of the best strategies for building your email list is using a lead magnet. A lead magnet is an incentive that you offer to your audience in exchange for their email address. It also starts off your digital marketing relationship on the right foot by providing your audience with something they can use! 

For a list of lead magnet ideas to help you get going and build your list, enter your email address below! I promise, I’m the last person will will send you spam 🙂

Modern Networking: How to Slide into DMs the Right Way

Modern Networking: How to Slide into DMs the Right Way

It was May of 2013. I was 23, single, and visiting Las Vegas for an annual girls trip. My friends and I threw on our glitziest dresses and most uncomfortable heels before heading to a nightclub at Caesar’s Palace, which had free drinks for ladies until midnight. After dancing our hearts out for about 45 minutes, we flirted our way up to the rooftop bar. It was there, amid the glow of the Las Vegas strip, that I met Sandy — the man who I’d marry five years later.

brianne fleming in las vegas
Night one with forever to go! Sandy and I are on the right.


I know my love story is a bit out of the ordinary. Meeting someone on vacation is one thing, but Las Vegas? Sin City gets a bad rap as a hopeless place for gamblers, partiers, and people trying to relive The Hangover. It isn’t exactly where you typically find your forever. 

But even with all of this in consideration, my summer romance is probably most unconventional for one simple reason: I first interacted with my future husband in person.

As a millennial, you just don’t hear about chance, face-to-face meetings anymore. They’ve become the minority statistic in the world of relationships.

Today, there’s a new way to play the dating game. These days, sparks fly by “sliding into the DMs.”

The Direct-Message Phenomenon

When I met Sandy, Tinder was only a few months old, and I don’t think Instagram even had direct messaging capability yet. I never had the chance to make myself a profile and practice swiping right, or to experience courtship via Instagram. But it’s a serious thing.

For those who need a social media history lesson, the textbook (Urban Dictionary) definition of “sliding into the DMs” is as follows:

When you start a direct message chain on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, with the hopes of acquiring the booty.

Urban Dictionary

Yes, chivalry is dead. 

I recently visited a friend and spent what seemed like an eternity trying to help her find a date on Hinge. Woof, it’s rough out there folks. Godspeed. 

Creating Opportunities via DM

I was lucky enough to retire from the game before the downfall of romance, but this old married soul still has a few things to say about the art of direct messaging based on my own experience.

These days, I don’t DM to find a summer fling or future love — I send and receive DMs to network and build genuine, professional relationships. (Jeez, what happened to me? I just grew some gray hairs even writing that sentence.) 

Surprisingly, the old rules of courtship still apply, but it seems that this generation, and even the ones before it, never learned them or forgot them all. If I get one more generic LinkedIn message asking for a favor, I’ll scream. 

So let me remind you how it’s done. 

Here’s how to use direct messages to connect, either romantically or professionally: 


  1. Address the recipient by name. Dale Carnegie, the author of the iconic book How to Win Friends and Influence People says “Remember that a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language”. This simple tip shows common courtesy and respect.

  2. Do basic research. If you’re going to DM someone, demonstrate that you haven’t done so blindly as part of a mass messaging frenzy. Such a turn-off! Write something personal and tailored to the recipient. 

  3. Flatter. A genuine compliment goes a long way, but don’t be creepy. Tell the recipient why you like their work, why you admire them, or what interested you in the first place.

  4. Give before you get. You might need a favor or have an end goal in mind, but try to start off the relationship in a way that is mutually beneficial. Ask yourself what you can offer, even if it’s just lunch.

  5. Take things slow. Jeez, shouldn’t you at least take me to dinner first? This proverbial rule holds true in the messaging world. Build your relationship little by little.

  6. Don’t ghost. The recipient might help you with what you want or need, but continue to nurture the relationship over time. Show gratitude, tag them in content that you think they’d find helpful, or invite them to an event they like. One day, you’ll be glad you kept in touch.

It’s really not that hard. At the root of it all, just be a good, thoughtful person. With a little respect and finesse, soon your calendar will be filled with meaningful meetings — either with your future spouse, biggest mentor, or potential business partner. 


READ MORE: Even Jennifer Lopez knows how to send messages the right way. Here’s what we can learn from J.Lo’s text messages.