Skip to content

The PSL: Brewing a brand (from household spice to seasonal icon) with Jen Olmstead

Love it or hate it, the Pumpkin Spice Latte marks the beginning of fall for coffee lovers everywhere. How did Starbucks turn the PSL drink into a major lifestyle brand? On today’s episode, Jen Olmstead of Tonic Site Shop is breaking down some of Starbucks’ most genius marketing and branding strategies, while sharing how we can create some of these iconic moments in our own business as well.

The Independent Business podcast is powered by HoneyBook, the all-in-one platform for anyone with clients. Book clients, manage projects, get paid faster, and have business flow your way with HoneyBook. Use the code PODCAST to get 20% off your first year as a new member.

Follow the Independent Business podcast


The story of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL)

Picture this: it’s the early 2000s, and Starbucks has never released a seasonal drink. One year they tried releasing a Peppermint Mocha, and it exceeded all of their expectations. They want to capture that magic again, so they return to the drawing board to create their next smash hit.

The team came up with 100 drink ideas and one of them was the future Pumpkin Spice Latte. When they tested some of the ideas with consumers, the PSL was not chosen as the one that would taste the best. However, it was voted the most unique idea.

To test the idea, Starbucks execs poured a shot of espresso over a pumpkin pie, and that’s when they realized they had something special. They bounced several name ideas around, and the PSL was about to be called the fall harvest latte before they settled on the name we know and love (or love to hate) today.

Entrepreneurial lessons from the Pumpkin Spice Latte:

  • The importance of experimentation
  • There’s no such thing as a bad idea
  • Clarity is better than cleverness
  • Don’t be afraid to fail

Key Starbucks marketing strategies that entrepreneurs can implement

When Starbucks markets the PSL, they rarely talk about the actual taste. Instead, they set the stage for how it will make consumers feel. 

The success of the Peppermint Mocha, which tastes like Christmas in a cup, reinforced a key marketing strategy for Starbucks: they weren’t selling a product, they were selling an experience based around nostalgia. With the PSL, they sold the feeling of, “it’s not fall until I’ve had my first Pumpkin Spice Latte.”

The fact that Starbucks only releases the PSL seasonally is another key element to its success. They start marketing its release months ahead of time to create anticipation, and now their audience is trained to get excited about it. 

Here’s what entrepreneurs can learn from the Starbucks marketing strategies:

  • Build rapport with your audience
  • Don’t disappear when you’re creating new products
  • Keep your audience informed about what’s coming and build anticipation

How Starbucks utilized user-generated content

The PSL was almost discontinued in its first three years. Starbucks was still trying to recreate the magic of the peppermint mocha and they were ready to move on to another seasonal drink. However, the rise of social media cemented the popularity of the PSL.

Celebrities and influencers began posting about the PSL and created an entire subculture around the drink. This spurred on more user-generated content (UGC) that helped turn the PSL into the phenomenon it is today. This year, Ed Sheeran even wrote a PSL jingle to promote his new album. 

Early on, like many entrepreneurs, Starbucks almost fell prey to the shiny object syndrome. They were ready to cut their losses and move on from the PSL to find their next great hit. Luckily for them, they decided to give the PSL time to gain traction. 

Entrepreneurs should take note of the fact that Starbucks did not focus on changing the formulation of the drink. Instead, they changed the marketing around it, which made all the difference. They take advantage of user-generated content to uplevel their PSL marketing every year without ever changing the drink.

What entrepreneurs can learn from Starbucks’ UGC strategy:

  • Build excitement around your products and get your audience talking about them
  • Don’t feel the need to reiterate every year
  • Uplevel your marketing instead

How Starbucks built customer loyalty

There is nothing more powerful than giving your customers exactly what they want, and that’s what Starbucks did with the PSL. It’s easy to decide what’s best for your customer without listening to their feedback. The reason that Starbucks didn’t discontinue the PSL in the first few years is because they saw that their customers liked it even though it hadn’t taken off yet. 

Entrepreneurs can build loyalty like Starbucks by know the audience, knowing what they want, and listening to them instead of making decisions for them.

Leveraging seasonality like Starbucks

Another word for seasonality is scarcity or urgency. When products are only available for a limited time, it creates a rush to grab them before they’re gone. The Pumpkin Spice Latte wouldn’t be nearly as popular if it was available year-round. 

Four ways to utilize seasonality include:

  • Release a signature product once a year
  • Make it only available for a limited time
  • Build hype around it throughout the year
  • Be consistent with your release schedule so that your audience starts to anticipate them

Build loyalty through your content marketing

It’s easy to feel exhausted by the thought of product marketing because you feel like you have to talk about your products all the time. The truth is that your content doesn’t need to be all about self-promotion. 

The more you can reach your audience and share content that interests them, the more they will come to trust you. That trust will translate to sales without you having to constantly push your products. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my audience interested in?
  • What are they struggling with?
  • What do they want and need?
  • What are they excited about?

From there, take those answers and think about how you can create natural ties to your products. Consider how you can add value and make your content marketing unique to your brand.

The biggest differentiator between businesses that succeed and the ones that fail

Jen believes that the biggest differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the ones that fail is the ability to pivot. This year, Starbucks released an iced version of the PSL to reach Gen Z because their generation drinks more iced drinks than hot drinks. The ability to pivot and recognize when something isn’t working will set a brand apart and contribute to long-term success.  

Important sections of the conversation:

  • [0:54] The story of the PSL
  • [5:06] What entrepreneurs can learn from Starbucks
  • [8:22] Marketing strategies for the PSL
  • [16:38] How Starbucks utilized user-generated content
  • [21:59] Building customer loyalty
  • [26:01] Leveraging seasonality like Starbucks
  • [33:01] Getting creative and personal with your content
  • [38:57] The biggest differentiator between businesses that succeed and the ones that fail

Connect with the guest

Episode Transcript

Akua Konadu
Love it or hate it the pumpkin spice latte marks the beginning of fall for coffee lovers everywhere. So we wanted to know, how did Starbucks turn the PSL drink into a major lifestyle brand. On today’s episode, we have Jen Olmstead, who is the co founder and lead designer of tonic site shop. And we will be breaking down just some of Starbucks most genius marketing and branding strategies. And not only that, she’s gonna show us how we can create some of these iconic moments in our own business. Now let’s get into the episode. Hey, everyone, this is your host Akua konadu. And you’re listening to the independent business podcast, more people than ever are working for themselves and building profitable businesses in the process. So on this show, I get to sit down with some of the most influential authors, entrepreneurs and creators to break down the science of self made success so that you can achieve it too.

Akua Konadu
We’re just gonna hop on in with this conversation, Jen, because I have been so stoked for this episode, but also we both everybody have a revelation to share about PSL. Why wait?

Jen Olmstead
Come in hot girl coming in hot.

Akua Konadu
I’m not a fan of PSL.

Jen Olmstead
You can just hear the sound of a million people leaving the podcast. They’re like why no. Yeah, as we said before the show, I really do feel like a pumpkin spice latte is kind of a crime against American tastebuds. And I love coffee. And if you love a pumpkin spice latte, I applaud that I’m not here to yuck your yum. I am. I love that for you. And when I want to drink a couple of pumpkin spice powder, I will do that. But that isn’t it isn’t my coffee. It isn’t my vibe. And that’s fine. But we’re here today because we don’t make the rules. And exactly Erica has decided for us like they’re here to tell us that pumpkin spice lattes are a win. Who are we to say that Starbucks has a loser?

Akua Konadu
I mean, but let’s be real the Love it or hate it though, right? Like, we all know what the PSL is. And so because I’m not a coffee drinker at all, but I know like about pumpkin spice latte, because every year during the fall, it pops up everywhere everybody’s talking about it. It has become truly a major like cultural thing. And so I wanted to ask you, let’s just start off with how did the PSL come about? Oh, yeah.

Jen Olmstead
So I was not familiar with this origin story. And it kind of blows my mind because it’s just every marketer’s dream. And so as a marketing strategist, as a brand, I was like, this is incredible. So here’s what happened. So in 2003, Starbucks was coming off of the massive success of the peppermint mocha. So they had just released the peppermint mocha. And they were like, well, crap, we’ve got to recapture that magic. Somehow that went really well, we need to do that again. At that time, they didn’t really have any other seasonal drinks whatsoever. And this is in the dark ages of 2003. This is when pumpkin spice is not a thing. There is not an entire Trader Joe’s aisle devoted to pumpkin spice products. Okay, so dark ages that does not exist. And this guy named Peter Dukes, who was one of the marketing execs at Starbucks sits down with six members of his team. And they’re tasked with like, come up with the new peppermint mocha, like we need another you can just imagine some like Starbucks executive, that’s like, Guys, we need another one of those like that went really well. So he takes his team six people, they sit down and they storyboard 100 options for like new seasonal drinks. He said that they just have like writing overload all over the walls. And they start testing it with consumer focus groups. And what happens is, all of the most popular drinks are chocolate based chocolate, orange, like those were all of the most popular and they were rated on what was most likely to sell, and then uniqueness. And so interestingly enough, Pumpkin Spice was actually rated the highest for uniqueness. But it was one of the lowest for most likely to sell. So the consumers were like, We don’t know if this is really going to work, basically. But to try it. I love this. Peter Dukes in his team literally just took a shot of espresso and just poured it on a pumpkin pie. And we’re like, I don’t know, like, we think we really had something here because it was such a strong flavor. So they decided to test it, they rolled it out into just 100 stores on the east coast of like not even, you know, abroad or anywhere. And they said instantly within a week when they would call managers and ask how it was doing in local stores. The managers were so excited. And they’re like, We think we really have something here. And so that was kind of the other origin story. The other thing I love about how it started is that originally they were going to call it the Fall Harvest latte. And this is like what you do as a marketer you’re like let’s come up with like a really sexy name for this product. It’s like gotta be like something like people love fall. People love harvest, like let’s just do it. And in the first big marketing when Starbucks went for clear instead of clever, and called it the pumpkin spice latte and history, which changed forever.

Akua Konadu
20 years later, it is Still here, which is wild.

Jen Olmstead
Yeah. 20 Yes. So this is the 25th anniversary 2023. This is the 20th year,

Akua Konadu
it’s wild. Like really, when you think about it, number one, I love of how just hearing how they made the drink. I think it goes to show with business owners the importance of experimentation, that it is okay like brainstorming, experimenting, really trying different things and being open to whatever that could be. Just I think sometimes we get afraid to try new stuff, because we just don’t know how it’s gonna happen. But just hearing about how they made that process, Pumpkin Spice Latte was at the bottom, like what you just said, at the bottom, they literally anticipated that was not going to sell well. But somebody was like, No, I believe in this product. So let’s just keep pushing through. And let’s keep trying it. And then also to again, communication is so key, and marketing, again, to your point instead of going with what’s clever going with what’s clear. And so they change because I’m like Fall Harvest I like

Jen Olmstead
what the hell is that you can’t drink a harvest, right? Like a harvest. Yeah, like, arguably couldn’t drink a pumpkin. And like, this is actually very interesting. It wasn’t until 2015, that the drink actually had any pumpkin in it whatsoever. So it was kind of like we were drinking the lie from the very beginning. At least it was the idea of pumpkin. And I think that you’re right, there’s so much to love about that initial origin story, because they had 100 ideas. And I think as entrepreneurs, we get into this phase of like, I have to come up with, like my next great idea. And we write five things down. And we’re like, well, those all suck, you know, like, That’s it, and it took 100 for them. And then that wasn’t even the best idea. Everyone was like, this may be actually the worst idea, but we’re gonna try it. And that I think is just such a takeaway for the small business owner. And we actually have something that will proselytize today, on the tonic team, we have what my little brother introduced me, it’s called the bad idea of the day. And it’s bi O T D. And the culture is there are no bad ideas, right? There are only great conversations. And so if you have an idea, even if it’s a bad idea, write it down, say it out loud, let it be one of the 100 because it may be it maybe it’s not the idea. But it leads to the idea, or it starts the conversation or you end up just like ruining a pie because he poured espresso on it, no big deal. No bad ideas, like just go for it. So I love that.

Akua Konadu
I love that so much. Because I think a lot of times, we are so afraid to share what our ideas are, especially in group settings, you know, especially if you’re in a team setting, we can feel instantly very insecure of sharing our ideas, because we’re afraid of how it’s going to be received. And I love that because it just creates more of that safe space for business owners just to explore and literally be curious about what it is that they’re trying to build. Because to your point, it may not be it may not work out and it like makes it makes failing not as hard like I’m willing to fail. Because if it’s going to be able to come to, if it’s going to be able to get me to the closest, like the closest best idea one step closer to that I’m going to take it and so I just love all of that. That is that is a brilliant, brilliant idea. And so I want I want to break it down, right? Because with the story of how it was created, then they tested it, which I think is so important as business owners is to be able to test your audience to actually see what people love. And through that test, they realize it was going to be a success. What do you think some of the key strategies were that they used, especially from a branding perspective of how they were able to make this drink a success, especially initially, because now it’s evolved. It’s 20 years later. So initially, what do you think some of their key strategies were?

Jen Olmstead
Oh, I mean, there’s so many things to unpack. Number one, there’s this great Seth Godin quote you’ve probably heard, but it’s that people don’t buy goods and services, they buy relations, stories and magic, okay. And so they knew from the very beginning, probably from the success of the Pope, peppermint mocha, which tasted like Christmas. They’re like, we’re not really selling a drink. We’re selling a feeling we’re selling nostalgia, we’re selling a holiday or selling a whole season. And so now for so many people, a pumpkin spice latte is like the first autumn leaf wafting to the ground. You know, it’s it’s like permission to put on and sweat through your new maidwell sweater. It is like the arbiter of spring it is an arbiter of fall. It’s like you are thinking about going out and buying a decorative gourd as soon as you have your pumpkin spice latte. And there are countless comments on Starbucks Instagram that just say like, it’s not fall until I’ve had my PSL. And that is marketing magic, right that people are like, this is what Fall means to me is this beverage that I paid $7 for. So that, to me is insane, but it’s because they tied it to a feeling it feels like your grandmother, you know, pulling out a pie from from her oven. Even if your grandmother never baked a pie in her life. You have this sense of like, I’m coming home. And all the science suggests that it’s really because of the sugar and the drink that you have this feeling of like someone made me a cookie and I feel warm and cozy and loved and nostalgic inside. And so I think as marketers, we have to remember that we’re really evoking feelings in our audience. And so when you can tie your product to something bigger than what you’re selling, when you can tie it to way your audience wants to feel that is what I think Starbucks did so well as you want to feel like you’re experiencing fall for the first time. And that is just one of the first strategies that I think that they did is they really tied their product to a feeling

Akua Konadu
and leaning into that because I feel like that is such an a perfect and you already know where this is going. Ya know, right, like storytelling, I think that is so important. I mean, just really how they were able to evoke their like, evoke emotions literally that is one of the main things if you want people to do anything that you want them to do in your business, you need to be able to put them in your shoes so they can see things from your perspective and being able to then purchase your products or services and I to your point, Starbucks, it’s such a they did a phenomenal job of that especially especially seasonally, right? Because yes, when it is the fall, I literally don’t drink PSL. But I’m thinking about PSL though I don’t drink it because it is like I remember Oh, yeah, it’s that time of year, everyone’s going crazy for pumpkin spice latte, the leaves are changing, like I literally now associated with fall, which again, it just speaks. So importantly of really be able to create some compelling stories and tying it to a feeling to get people excited about your products or services like facts. I mean, of course, having facts are important, but it’s not going to sell as well if you’re not weaving it into feelings to get people excited about your product just as much as you are. So I absolutely love that. And so one thing that I’ve noticed too, even within that, which I found really interesting, because seasonal marketing, right? Because yes, the PSL is tied to the fall. And they do it very well to where it is consumed every single year you’re thinking about it. How were they able to do that were like it’s become a ritual for people to go get DSL?

Jen Olmstead
Well, I think they told them over and over. This is your ritual, you know. And so I think it’s really interesting because if you look at the Starbucks marketing 0% of Starbucks marketing about the PSL is talking about what it tastes like. Right? And we know why. Because does it taste that? Great? I don’t think so. In fact, like, that’s one of the reasons the law of diminishing returns says like, the first pumpkin spice latte, you have a beer probably is going to taste amazing. The Seventh One, you’re kind of like, well, like there’s a reason this is a seasonal product. But it’s because they’re really marketing a feeling of like new feel cozy inside. And so all of the marketing, their marketing like scarves and Ed Sheeran promoting his new album, which we’ll get to in a second, the influencer marketing component, but their marketing, really a way of feeling and a way of being that has nothing to do with what the drinks tastes like. And so I think as business owners, this is so key, because often we market things like we market what’s inside the course we’re selling. But as a photographer, are you marketing the camera that you use? No, you’re not marketing, that you’re marketing, how you’re going to feel when you see those photos, or how often as we hear it all the time, how your grandkids are going to feel when they see those photos. And so you have to remember that if you can sell people on the way they want to feel they will pay for your product. In fact, they will pay more for your product than they should, if it promises the way that they’re going to feel. So I think that’s one of the things that Starbucks does over and over. And if you look at their marketing, they do a few things. Well with the seasonality number one, we as small business owners hate talking about things that we’re going to release. This is like one of the biggest things I see in marketing is people will just disappear into a cave, work on their new product work on their new offering work on their new photos, whatever it is that they’re going to offer, they disappear entirely. They work on it, they come back and they’re like, it’s here, like, are you ready, like and people were like, What the hell are you talking about? Like, we don’t know what you’re going to release. And Starbucks starts marketing the pumpkin spice latte coming months, and months and months before it ever arises. Because they know creating anticipation is everything. And now all they have to do is carve a date into a pumpkin. And that’s enough because people know what that means. They’ve been trained to get excited about what’s coming. So as a small business owner, creating anticipation for your product, whatever you’re going to do is absolutely everything. And it’s one of the most neglected things that I see in marketing. So don’t disappear, set up a plan and keep talking about what you’re going to do. Keep talking about what’s coming, what you’re going to release. What people are going to think about it, give them a sneak peek of it, tell them how it’s going to be awesome. Tell them and tell them and tell them and tell them Starbucks is not shy about telling you when the pumpkin spice latte is coming and FYI, it’s coming earlier every year every year. August. Seasonal coupe is real. Yes.

Akua Konadu
I love that so much because I think it’s again we you just call out a whole bunch of people like already. She’s in your house today y’all because it’s true. We get a product we have this brilliant idea and we don’t want to talk about it because we’re afraid of how it’s going to be perceived. Especially if it’s not ready. Right? We want everything to be perfect and tight wrapped nicely and tied in a bow and then we’re gonna be okay everybody. Now this is ready and again Before me, like Where have you been? I haven’t heard from you. We don’t know you, right? It’s just so important to really be build, like making sure to be building a rapport consistently with your audience. Take your audience on a journey with you as you’re building that product so that they’re excited about it, that about it. Like they are just stoked and supporting you write especially like, I love that whenever I see entrepreneurs that have a big launch, and people are so excited about it, it’s because they brought them along from point A, all the way to point B, like people have invested in the story, the emotions, everything that’s happening to be able to build this product. And so again, like consistently talking about what it is that you do, and what you’re currently working on, is going to be able to build that anticipation. And I think, again, we feel like all the times that we’re going to annoy people, but that’s not true. Because like I think what we’ve heard this quote so many times business owners like what people have to hear things at least seven times before they finally take action. Oh, I’m sure. I was like, I feel like it’s so much more now in this day and age. Yeah. So just keep talking about your stuff. Because the right people are going to connect with you. And so let’s even talk about a little bit about influencer marketing too, because I feel like that played a role in some of their strategies, because it truly has become a lifestyle brand. I now when I hear PSL, I think basic okay. I think basic.

Jen Olmstead
No, it’s not cool. Like, it’s not cool. And but the fact that it’s not cool is being embraced. In fact, There literally is a New York Times article right now about how not cool the pumpkin spice latte is. But that’s also a win for the pumpkin spice latte because you know what people are like, I don’t care if it’s cool, like Taylor Swift likes it good enough for me,

Akua Konadu
you know, enough for me? Yes, it

Jen Olmstead
is basic for a reason because it’s sold. And so like who again, like who are we to say this wasn’t successful? It worked. So what’s fascinating to me about all of this is like, first of all, in the first three years of the PSL they actually almost discontinued it because they were after the next PSL. Right. They’re like peppermint mocha. That worked. Let’s now go to Pumpkin Spice Latte. And now let’s keep going. Let’s figure out the next idea. And again, this is the same shiny object syndrome that we all have as entrepreneurs of like, that was great. Okay, like next let’s go let’s figure out my next great idea. No, what they did is what happened is in 2006, which was kind of the beginning of social media. All the sudden the Instagram girls came to play and like people were photographing themselves with their with their pumpkin spice latte in their Ugg boots Heidi montage from the hills was like one of the first influencers which is perfect, right like the most perfect she was one of the first like kind of models of the of the PSL she loved the PSL people like Taylor Swift like went on board is saying like they love to Pumpkin Spice Latte. And so all the sudden Peter Dukes the guy who invented it said that it began gaining traction along with social media, and they saw like the rise of the pumpkin spice latte beginning to take over because we as humans, go in packs, we do what the herd tells us to do. And so even if we don’t particularly like pumpkin spice lattes, if our favorite influencer Sheila went to go get her Pumpkin Spice Latte on the first day, we’re like, I kind of want it like I kind of want a publican spice latte. This is why I have a Stanley water bottle, right? It’s because like this works, it’s why brands do it. So now they like Starbucks has gotten better with their influencer marketing over the years. And now they like collaborate with Ed Sheeran about his new album, and he’s doing like a jingle for the pumpkin spice latte, which is kind of mind blowing. But there’s this level of like, we need to understand that people do move in packs, we make decisions based on what other people are doing. We like to have those opinions validated. We like to know like, hey, this wine bottle is probably the best one because it’s almost gone. Right? Like that’s the one that looks the best. So if you can get your audience to, to embrace your product, and to talk about embracing your product, show pictures on social media, of interacting with your product, talk about you in an organic way that user generated content, we call it UGC and marketing is the most powerful thing that you can possibly have for your brand. Starbucks had it from the very beginning. And without it, the pumpkin spice latte would have gone away. And we’d have like the orange harvest spice latte and

Akua Konadu
orange. I just love that song so much. Because I did I did read a part of that, that they actually did try to come up with other variations of pumpkin after the success as a PSL. And it did not do as well. It did not do did not take at all. And so why there’s so many things I want to pack in that but I do I’m curious to know why do you think those variations did not take off but still the PSL still reigned supreme.

Jen Olmstead
I think because so there’s a lot of theory on this. I do think because there is that nostalgia factor of what pumpkin spice smells and feels like because like you do think of like Thanksgiving with your family. Right? You have that sense of nostalgia but I’m not sure that we experience with other baked goods and let me like an apple pie, like maybe. But so many of those things are bound up in holidays and, and Christmas and in family. So I think that there’s a powerful undercurrent to that. And I also think it’s because it had time to gain some traction. And I do think this is something that like, we can just take notes from as entrepreneurs, it’s so tempting to be done with a certain product when we’re kind of tired on tired of it, and it’s gotten popular, and we feel like we should remake it and redo it, and we should iterate. But really, it may just be that we need to iterate the marketing surrounding it, because Starbucks would have a riot if they changed the recipe for the pumpkin spice latte. But what they do is they uplevel the marketing every year. So we shouldn’t apologize for releasing the same products or for keeping the same services, what we should do is learn to market them better. And that’s what I think Starbucks has done so well, because they’ve done the same thing for 20 years like yours. And we’re worried about doing the same thing two years in a row we shouldn’t be. Yes, I

Akua Konadu
think, Oh, that’s such a good point. Because we forget that how many, like we have been trained even as an audience with some of our biggest our most favorite brands, and we just get nervous as I’m guilty of that, too, where I feel like I have to come up with a new idea. I have to create something new because to me personally, it doesn’t feel new anymore. So then I assume to everybody else, it doesn’t feel new either. But that’s completely far from the truth. And I think to another question I wanted to ask is, even from a community standpoint of right, how can we leverage community, I think you already shared some of the ideas. Because it’s true, they built this. I want to say cold. We’ve already said a lot today, we learned a lot, okay, I’m like, Oh my gosh, nobody, I’m scared, y’all. They’re gonna be coming real quick. And so, but they essentially did, right? Like, how can we as business owners really create that just type of loyalty where people are just ride or die for our products and services?

Jen Olmstead
Yeah, that loyalty beyond all reason that people talk about in marketing? Yeah, there is nothing more powerful than giving a customer exactly what they want. Right? There is nothing more powerful in business than giving a customer what they want. Now, the first thing that that requires is knowing your customer who they are. And then number two, what do they want? And so I like to think back to the beginning of Starbucks, when they were trying to decide like what to do about this new Pumpkin Spice Latte. One of the things that they must have done is they paid attention to the fact that people were liking it. And they didn’t just discontinuing it. And we do this as as business owners, we’re like, Okay, it’s time to make this decision. We’re going to decide what’s best for our customer. And we don’t listen, right? We don’t know what our hero product is. And that’s one of the things that I think is so important that Starbucks recognize like, we have a winner on our hands and we need to listen to our audience and continue bringing it back year over year instead of doing a new thing. And this happens all the time. Um, we did this last year we tonics I chopped my company, we make website templates. We’ve we’ve done this for 10 years, we’ve made website templates. We make really great website templates. This is kind of what we’re known for. Last year, I on a whim, I was like, You know what I feel like people need some Canva templates to match their website templates. Maybe they want some Canva templates. It was not something I put a ton of thought into. It was like a side hustle thing that I was like, what what’s our fall launch? Because we have seasonal launches a little bit like Starbucks. I was like, let’s just release some Canva templates. Well, I started to notice on social in my DMs every time I posted about the Canva templates, people freaked out about the Canva templates. And I distinctly remember telling our team I’m like, I think we think we’re releasing new website templates. And everyone else thinks that we’re releasing Canva templates for the first time. That’s exactly what happened, right? We were in that moment, and that launch our Canva templates were absolutely the hero products of that launch. Now, if we hadn’t been paying attention, we would have been like, Well, that was kind of cool. Like, we made a lot more money that launch. I wonder why. But it was this immediate pivot moment of like, Oh, holy crap, we need to market these Canva templates, like people need this. We found a need. We heard our audience, we asked them what they wanted. We gave it to them, and they like it. So let’s make sure that our business accommodates for that hero product.

Akua Konadu
Yes. And I remember when you guys launched those templates, because I was seeing all over social media. I wasn’t involved as yet. Like I knew atonic I knew atonic but like I didn’t know it was following us. I didn’t realize it at the time. And then I saw I was like, Oh, these are nice. I remember thinking like so many other people were sharing about it because it was also to other designers, other designers as well that were sharing about it because they were so so excited about those Canva templates. And I think again, it just like so many great things that you shared with him that I’ve noticed too as myself as a storytelling strategist, that really knowing your target audience. We hear this all the time through and through as business owners and really listening to our customers. It is the foundational thing that we the first thing that we’re told. But doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business, a lot of people still don’t know how to do that still don’t know, they think they do, but they do not know. And so you really have to go deep when you’re thinking about your target audience really sit that really take the time to think and fully understand them emotionally. I think that’s a huge component of it, too, that I’ve just like, noticed, as I’ve worked myself with clients, I’ve just they, no matter how long they’ve been in business, there’s always a gap that you’re missing. When that you can easily identify when trying to figure out your target audience, I think it’s so important to really consistently revisit that, because again, like it’s going to help you whether refined your current product to make it better, or create something new, whatever that looks like. But that story with the Canva templates as a template is a prime example of that. And I absolutely love that they shared that story, and even to talking about seasonality. How can we, as business owners leverage seasonality in our business? Because Starbucks does that? Well, can blow I mean, obviously. So how can we do that?

Jen Olmstead
Yeah, so I think seasonality is a great thing. Because what does seasonality do? What is just another word for seasonality? It is scarcity. It is urgency. Those are the two like the longest running marketing concepts, known demand, create scarcity, create urgency. So with the pumpkin spice latte, I guarantee you, if it’s sold year round, it would not be nearly as successful. And how tempting is that? Right? Starbucks could have been like, this is selling real well, like let’s just make this a year round thing. People clearly want it. That would have been the death knell of the product. Because what happened last year, as soon as Starbucks introduced their Pumpkin Spice Latte last year, all of a sudden their traffic to all their stores went up 25%. So in the summertime, no one was going to Starbucks soon as it comes out. 25% more people are buying pumpkin spice lattes, or going to Starbucks just in general. So I think there’s a level to which this seasonal concept creates this, this this appointment television, right? It’s like when you sit down to watch your show, that’s only on Sunday night, you have to do it, then you don’t want to miss out you triggers that FOMO. So I think as business owners, there are lots of ways that we can do this. Number one is saying I’m going to be releasing this at this time. Number two, you can always time gate things like okay, it’s only going to be available for a limited time. Or this is a masterclass that I run once a year, I do it every year in September, and this is what it is. If you miss it, it’s gone until next year, right? Same thing with pumpkin spice lattes, for your launches. And with tonic, we do a spring launch and a fall launch. And people now know to expect that from us. We haven’t skipped it a single year that we’ve been in business and people expect what are you releasing the spring? What are you releasing in the fall? So you can adopt these sort of seasonal approaches to this is when we do this thing. Maybe it’s just as simple as like, we run a sale every two months during this time, and you can expect that from us. But you talk about it, you time get it and you make it scarce and you make it urgent and that gives people an incentive. And this is this is the thing that I want to be very clear about. This sounds sleazy, right, it sounds like okay, this is a sales technique, and it sucks. This is what I want you to reframe. People want to make decisions, they need help to make decisions. And when you do things like this, when you say this is the best time to buy because it’s only on sale for these two weeks, it helps people actually make the decision that they want to make anyway. Now, that’s how I want you to reframe it, if they already wanted to buy it, this is a great time for them to buy it. You’re not pushing people to buy something that they don’t want. These women are not like out there being bamboozled into buying pumpkin spice lattes, they just want a pumpkin spice latte. And because it’s only available, then they go get one. So don’t be afraid to use these techniques in your marketing. Because really, you’re just helping people who already want to purchase from you are always ready want to buy from you make the decision.

Akua Konadu
I love that so much. I think that’s that is so so powerful number and also consistency. It’s being consistent really again, what you said earlier, training your audience just being consistent with what it is that you’re doing, continuing to show up. So if you’re saying okay, this is the date and time you stick with that this is the date and time and you take those learnings, however, whatever you learn from that situation and use that for the next time, right. So again, it’s just being consistent and just continue to show up and doing the work within that way of how whenever you want to launch it with whatever seasons in your business. And so I absolutely love that. I think that’s so brilliant. And just with Starbucks, and even with tonic what you guys have been doing. I mean, you’re honestly implementing a lot of these strategies in your own. I didn’t realize

Jen Olmstead
that we were kind of like Starbucks and I was like, Hey, we kind of do that. Like that’s a that’s a thing. Like we hyped the hell out of this, you know, but we can do we can fall prey to the same things. You know, I get so busy in my design cave that I’m like, Okay, I guess I’ve got to come out and market instead of realizing no, no, what I’m doing is I’m selling my sawdust. I’m showing what I’m already working in. I’m asking people for their opinions and making sure that what I’m making actually resonates with the audience. I’m making it for Are these are very good principles to adopt if you want to sell something if you want to make something if you want relationship, and that’s like, that’s what all this goes back to is Starbucks knows they’re selling more than a latte. They’re selling feelings and ideas and community and nostalgia and something that we can all be a part of. Right. And that’s what you’re doing. When you take that photo with your PSL. You’re like, I’m part of this, like, I have it like, I get it, I’m doing fall too. So that those are so many principles that I think that we can just all really adopt because people do not care about lattes, but they do care about what a latte can signify. You know, that’s that’s the thing.

Akua Konadu
That’s so true. And even to your point, I just noticed this with this year because it did come out early. It was like still hot. And it was an all yes, when the PSL came out, and people were taking pictures like I don’t care PSL like they didn’t

Jen Olmstead
care. Yeah, celebrate. PSL. I know that’s gonna be hot girl, like that was really warm. I love that for you.

Akua Konadu
I love that for you. I bought the same thing. I was like Miss ma’am, it is in Atlanta, I know, the weather down there is hot. And so. But again, it’s just talking to your point about wanting to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. And so however that looks like for them, I’m gonna go sweat for this latte, even though it’s hot, and I’m gonna take a sweat for it. That’s how you know, right? That loyalty of how people just speak so highly of that product, and are willing to do whatever they can to get their hands on it, I think is just again, so so important. I want to say something.

Jen Olmstead
So I’ll interrupt you while you’re saying it. Because it’s perfect. Because Starbucks iced it this year. Did you know that like this was the year that they were like, so this is this is what I think so cool. They were like Gen Z drinks, more iced coffee than hot coffee. So if we want Gen Z, we’ve got to ice it. So they released this whole line and this whole big promo around like the iced pumpkin spice this year, so that they could get that audience. So this is just a great example of like old dog learning new tricks like learning,

Akua Konadu
pivot, your marketing innovate, right? Like really look ahead of like seeing how things are shifting because yes, we already know that Gen Z is going they already make such a huge impact in terms of like businesses literally with wanting to purchase and how they purchase from brands to that like that are more aligned with their values and stuff like that. So like that a lot of exactly right. So being a part of a movement, a part of a community. And so they are already trying to figure out ways how to get connected with Gen Z. And I think that’s so so important in business. And so speaking of that, too, with your content, right? I love your content. And I just also recently signed up for your newsletter because I heard it was so good as well. And you do that so well. When people are struggling to sell and really bring people into that journey, you do a phenomenal job of that. And you also take what’s trending current things that’s trending and really breaking them down into steps of marketing strategies, branding strategies that we can implement in your own business. That’s why we wanted you to come on the show to talk about PSL. And so for those that are struggling with that of really bringing people into the journey and talking about their products and services consistently. What advice do you have for them?

Jen Olmstead
Yeah, I would say number one, you don’t have to just talk about your products, right? That’s one of the biggest unlocks for me is like, for example, that email newsletter that you just mentioned that we have become like we have been weirdly known now for our marketing newsletter. And three years ago, I could not write an email to save my life because I hated the concept of email marketing, because all I thought of when it came to email marketing was I need to sit down and talk about my products. And I liked my products, but I didn’t really want to write 2000 words about them. And that didn’t feel right. To me. It didn’t it wasn’t what I was interested in. And so what really started happening is I wrote one email about something I was actually interested in, it happened to be like, new girl and Nick Miller and email signatures. And some it was very long, it was terrible marketing did not mention websites, a single time. But there was this outpouring of responses because people are like, this better need for me, my email signature also sucks. And this is really helpful. And wow, this is really fun to read. And, and, and, and, and, and there was this moment of like, oh, I pursued content that was interesting to me, and valuable for other people and it built relationship. And like you said, with Gen Z people want to buy things from brands and people that they trust. And so I talk about websites 1% of the time in our email marketing, maybe 2% of the time, probably 50% during a launch. But the rest of the time I talk about things that I’m interested in, whether it’s Stanley Cups, or Oatly, oat milk, or the crickets in my garage, which is a real thing I’m probably gonna be writing about tomorrow, I talk about the things that I’m interested in that other people might be interested in too. And I try to help them with their businesses and we try to find things that are valuable to them. And so if you’re stuck on your content, I would say pursue your interests. There is an intersection that you have that’s a place that of things that your audience is interested in and things that you can competently create content About do that. And when you’re stuck on how to create a bunch of products, think about where that intersection is with your product. What is your customer struggling with? What are they interested in? What do they want? What do they need? What are they? What are they excited about? And then create content that ties your product to that. So over and over and over, you’re saying, How can I add value? How can I make this interesting? How can I make this unique and specific to my brand, and I promise you, it takes the suck out of marketing content, it really does.

Akua Konadu
I love that so much. Because I think sometimes as business owners, and we can have some black and white thinking, we can think it’s either this or that either I can talk about my business and keep it professional or I don’t write like or I don’t I hear that or I hear that all the time. We’re and I think I love that how you are. We’re multifaceted as human beings, right? So we have so why put ourselves in a box, this is your opportunity to talk about the things that you like, and weave that into your business weave that when talking about your products or services, so it feels like you aren’t and that is true, like your content. Truly, You don’t talk about heavily about websites. But you are known for it though everybody knows that you are known for your websites, but you don’t talk about it as much. You talk about other things. And that’s what makes your content so much fun and so engaging, because you still weave it into your business where you’re talking about business. And then when you do talk about websites, you honestly talk but I feel like it’s more show than tell like I love when you create a Beyonce is website. I was like, oh,

Jen Olmstead
yeah, Queen me, did you see this? Chosen called me yet I’m so bummed that like keep waiting. She’s either gonna call me or sue me. And that’s unclear at this point. But

Akua Konadu
I can’t wait. Either way. We’re rooting for you.

Jen Olmstead
Yeah, it, we’ll see how it goes. I think I think that, you know, there are a few things that allow us to do that. Number one, and I will say this right now, we do have a great website. And so what our content does for us is it gets people to click from our Instagram to our website, because they’re like, What is this company, and our website is very clear about what we offer. So that allows me the luxury of saying whatever the hell I want on Instagram, because I know that when people are clicking off, they’re going to get the clarity that they need about what we do and what we can do for them. The same thing with our emails, I know that 90% of the time in the year, I can mark it and say things that are just interesting or valuable and write about, like, almost going to jail, you know, in the courthouse. And then because at some point, I’m going to say also, we make the best website templates on the internet, you probably want one, they’re on sale this week. And it’s going to work because people trust me, because they I’ve showed up for them over and over and over and they know me and so they know if I say you might want this, they’re like, Okay, I’ll pay attention. Like I know, Jen, she’s not gonna lie to me. So that that relationship building that you do over time, and when you have a strong website presence to support that those two things work in tandem, to form a really powerful thing.

Akua Konadu
I love that so much. I think that is again speaks to the fact of like, really having your foundation set as a business owner, like having that website that copy communication clearly. And once you take the time to really do that, or revisit it and you know, refine it however you need to, that gives you the freedom to enjoy other aspects of your business. I think that I love that so much, it is so important where like, you literally don’t have to worry about you’re like you’re confident enough in what you’ve built to where you’re like, I’m good. So let me go and, you know, be Gen and talk about the things that I’m passionate about that excite me and bring people along that journey. That is just such an important important thing to take away just as business owners in general. And so this is I have loved this conversation so much. I feel like it’s been so good. And you have just brought so many tangible, helpful tips that we can utilize as business owners. And so my final question that I have for you that we ask for every single episode is what do you believe is the biggest differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the ones that fail?

Jen Olmstead
Well, I love this question. I feel like we could extrapolate so many possible answers from our Starbucks conversation. Because there are so many things. But I think the number one thing that I see and that I’ve experienced is the biggest differentiator, but that between brands succeed and brands that fail is the ability to pivot, the ability to learn and grow and to make different decisions over time. And so Starbucks is a great example of us. They saw something that was working, they said, Okay, let’s lean into this. Every year, we’re going to find out a new way to do it and do it better. And one of the reasons that we at tonik exists is because we say that you guys need a website that moves as fast as you do, because in this guarantee in this economy, nothing is a guarantee anymore, right? There are certain things that used to be a guarantee Facebook ads. Great example felt like you’re printing money with Facebook ads a few years ago, no longer the case. Apple changed a few things. That’s gone. Instagram, right? We’re like, Instagram Sure thing. I can send a photo to all my friends. They’re gonna see it like, joke’s on us. No Like, we’ve all got to create video content now. So when you can figure out as a brand, what do I need to do to still reach my people, no matter the medium that I’m experiencing, no matter the kind of content that I have to create that ability to pivot, I think is absolutely everything is a brand. And it requires listening to your audience, knowing who you are in your marketplace, and then being willing to shift when it’s working. And when it’s not working over and over again.

Akua Konadu
That is just so key pivoting. i Yes. Yeah. 1,000%. Yes. And I think especially now, with this day and age, how technology is so quickly shifting into your point, yes, social media is not what it used to be, it is so much harder now. You know, to grow your audience. And I know a lot of people are tired. And then you also have aI that’s also coming in, and everybody’s like, Oh, you know, it’s there’s a lot, it’s overwhelming, but you have to be willing to be open to the changes and be willing to learn because as business owners, like we don’t know everything, and we need to consistently be students. And I just love that so much. That is such an important reminder. It doesn’t it doesn’t matter if you’ve been in business for a year or 20 years, we just have to be open to the changes and continuously pivot and shift and shift our mindset and also to our skills because what works back in the day certainly does not work now. And innovation I think is one of the biggest pieces that’s going to get us through as entrepreneurs and so I absolutely love that and this place at this conference has been I could talk to you for hours and hours. Okay,

Jen Olmstead
let’s talk AI now. Like let’s I can hear Ross from Friends Just yelling

Akua Konadu
oh my goodness, this well, we are definitely gonna have to have you back. Because this conversation has been wonderful. This has been amazing. And so for people that want to connect with you, where can they find you?

Jen Olmstead
Yeah, so you can find us on Instagram at Tomic You can get on our long and weird famous email marketing list at Tonic site. And you can find us online at Tonic site If you need a killer website that moves as fast as you do, then you know where to find me.

Akua Konadu
And y’all, I mean, it’s talk to you.

Jen Olmstead
Or I should say Canva templates, right, like Canva templates that yeah, let’s remember

Akua Konadu
everything from social media content, Canva templates, website templates, they are phenomenal. So definitely check out the tonic site shop tech, definitely check out the tonic team. And thank you so much Jen for coming on. I have loved this breakdown this case study of PSL and everybody. Thanks so much for tuning in. And until next time. That ends our episode of The Independent Business Podcast. Everything we’ve discussed today can be found at [email protected]. Head to our website to access for show notes, relevant links and all the resources that you need to level up. And if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, be sure to subscribe to the podcast to make sure you never miss our future content. Drop us a review and leave our guests some love on social and thank you again for listening

Related posts