Setting the Bar Low and Other Lessons
Everyone is losing their shit and rightfully so.
In case you’ve been living under a rock (or you’re on one of those social media diets), Starbucks added the new Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew this year just in time for a rather premature fall.
You might be asking the same thing I was about and hour and a half ago:
Why is this such a big deal?
Our “friendly” neighborhood coffee behemoth hasn’t added a new pumpkin drink to their menu in 16 years.
Just for context, here are a few other things that happened 16 years ago:
- We renamed “french friends” to “freedom fries” in protest of France’s stance on Iraq (and because we thought it was clever enough to rub it right in their snooty faces).
- Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger took office.
- Apple launched iTunes.
So yeah, it’s been a hot minute since Starbucks decided to give us one of the best parts of fall (other than sweaters, duh).
You might be wondering why I thought this was even worth writing a full post over. After all, it’s just cold brew with some pumpkin spice syrup in it.
Oh my friend, but it is so much more.
Not only is it a new basic brew of the cold variety, it’s Starbucks managing customer expectations like a motherf**king boss.
If you’ve ever read my writing in the past, than you probably know that in my mind, managing expectations is the single most important thing you can do to make your life easier as a freelancer or entrepreneur.
When you do nothing but consistently offer the same product or service for over 15 years straight, anything new you introduce will be seen as the next best thing since sliced bread (or maybe Fortnite for all of the gluten-free Gen Zers out there).
In some industries, this is referred to as “food and beverage innovation.”
To those of us who don’t sling coffee for a living, this is simply a company adding a new drink to their menu (think Budweiser adding Bud Light Lime to the roster).
It might not be a big deal to us (unless you mainline pumpkin spice in order to make it through the day), but to companies like Starbucks, this is a HUGE investment.
According to new data from Nielsen, sales for pumpkin-flavored items increased nearly 5% in 2018 to $511.5 million (yes, there is actually a massive market for ONE fall flavor).
Not only that, since Starbucks has starting releasing their pumpkin spice parade earlier and earlier, this Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew makes drinking coffee at the tail end of summer not so crazy.
Basically, there are two major lessons to learn here:
- Managing expectations isn’t always sexy — When you’re known for being reliably consistent, your customers will always pick up what you put down, even if it’s simply adding pumpkin syrup to cold coffee. By being boring and dependable, you’re giving yourself the chance to be bold and different later on (I know, adding pumpkin spice to something isn’t necessarily the boldest move, but I can think of a few legging-clad ladies and cold brew-chugging bros who would say otherwise).
- Context is key when launching something new — Timing can make or break whatever it is you release to the masses. Can you imagine if Starbucks dropped this new cold brew when the calendar says fall actually started? (Last month on September 23rd in case you were wondering). OK, so maybe this was a bad example because you know there are some straight up fanatics out there who would drink this stuff even in the dead of winter.
What if you’re one of those coffee connoisseurs who hardly considers #Charbucks to be innovative? Sure, their coffee might be a little overrated, but you can’t deny they are the stepfather of the coffee industry — you may not like them but you will respect them.