Pumpkin Spice: What does it have to do with content development?

Photo of a coffee cup with a pumpkin on it and text that says: Pumpkin Spice: What does it have to do with content development?

Pumpkin Spice: What does it have to do with content development?

Ahh…can you smell it? Can you taste it? It’s “all things pumpkin spice” season, and with it comes a debate as old as time (OK, as old as Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, which has been fueling the pumpkin spice debate since 2003): when is it too early to enjoy your favorite pumpkin spice flavored drink, food, etc.?

Spoiler alert: we don’t have an answer to this question (though we’re totally up for a debate!).

Odds are, at this point of reading, you likely had one of two reactions:

  1. Come on?!? Not the whole pumpkin spice thing again. It’s everywhere I turn.
  2. Or, YAY! Give me all the pumpkin spice, even pumpkin spice-infused content development.

So, what is it about pumpkin spice that has us driven to buy all the things, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, run the other way? Why does it seem that EVERY retailer and restaurant has something pumpkin spice (and why is apple cider left out)?

Believe it or not, pumpkin spice—or other seasonal items of your choice, such as candy corn, Peeps®, candy canes or eggnog—can be important players in your promotional strategy and content development calendar.

Keep reading to see how pumpkin spice and other seasonal promos play a role and fit into your bigger content development plans.

What’s the big deal with pumpkin spice?

Pumpkin spice signals changing seasons. For some, it feels like the arrival of pumpkin spice-flavored foods forces us to say goodbye to summer before we’re ready to rush into a new season. For others, it’s a welcome change…the turning of pages on a season they are ready to be done with.

It is a cultural phenomenon, both to buy it and make fun of those who do. What’s the big deal with pumpkin spice though? The answer lies in its seasonality…the limited amount of time your favorite (or much despised) flavor is available. When something is available in shorter periods of time or limited amounts, we have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and tend to buy more or with less forethought to ensure we don’t miss out on the deal or special flavor.

In addition, the attraction to pumpkin spice’s limited time offer has another lure…there’s comfort in food and pumpkin stirs up Thanksgiving and other warm fuzzies surrounding holidays.

It’s really not about the product…it’s the experience. 

Do you have a favorite day of the year? One you look forward to for days, weeks or months? Maybe it’s a birthday or special holiday, but the build-up and waiting for that special day can sometimes be more fun than the day itself. It’s that anticipation—the fact that pumpkin spice only comes around for a few months a year (cough, cough FOMO again) that has helped build demand. Scarcity builds demand, like we saw with toilet paper at the onset of the pandemic, so brands (like Oreo) who introduce limited-time offers or flavors often see a sales lift not only in their special product, but also other products in their line.

It’s about more than savoring that tantalizingly sweet flavor as it hits your taste buds and you take a moment to soak in the flavor and relish in the moment. It’s about all the things you do with that flavor. For some, it’s gathering with friends and family to enjoy all things fall, like pumpkin patches, apple orchards and corn mazes. For others, it’s about soaking up some “me time” with a flavor splurge while you snuggle up with a good book and cozy sweater.

It’s a purchase that has to do with taste, yes, but it’s bigger than that…it’s about finding joy. With its seasonality, it’s something special—it’s not an everyday purchase, but something to soak in…to truly enjoy. For many, it is a welcome distraction from other concerns or issues.

As you are thinking about your organization’s own products or services and the way you talk about them, don’t forget the experience. Make sure your marketing and communications not only answer the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) question, but also think through how your consumers may use it (and what they’ll be doing and with whom) to evaluate how you’ll talk about it.

It’s about finding that genuine human connection.

Pumpkin spice was made popular by Starbucks’ PSL. Its sales-inducing seasonal flavor has since been capitalized on by almost every industry and category you can think of, from coffee creamer and cereal to loans.

Yet the Pumpkin Spice Latte almost didn’t happen because the customer surveys and research pointed to flavors like brownie and caramel. But intuition told a group of product developers at Starbucks that nostalgia around the holiday flavor would win, they stood by their idea, launched it and they were right! (I mean, they did start a cultural phenomenon around pumpkin spice.)

Apply this same approach to your content. Tap into data and listen to your customers, but don’t ignore your gut.

Tapping into buzzworthy or trending topics and flavors can give your content and promotional strategy a boost. Having access to social media at our fingertips and the ability for everyday people to publish their thoughts for millions of people to read, watch or listen to has also propelled limited time offers. Seasonal offers and limited time flavors are already top of mind and people HAVE an opinion, so tapping into word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) is not only a good way to help boost awareness, but also a good way to measure sentiment to see which ideas customers love and which ones they don’t.

Use seasonality and trends to show you’re listening and reach your audiences.

It’s true, if you printed this blog post and ate it, it definitely would not taste like pumpkin spice.

But as you were reading it, you likely started thinking about scents, flavors, comfort and feelings you get around the changing of seasons and upcoming holidays.

It’s this—content that evokes feelings, emotions and taps into what’s happening in the world—that tends to perform better because it shows your audience that you are in tune with what’s going on in the world, as well as what’s important to them.

For example, Verve, a Credit Union, offers a loan promotion all year long. When a member or new member takes out a new loan (or transfers one from another financial) to Verve, they get 90 days of no loan payments. But saying that all year long would get a little…old. So instead, they wrap their loan promotions up with various seasonal flairs, such as the Pumpkin Spice Loan, Have More Holiday, No Payments Until Everything Thaws and more.

The same concept—apply a seasonal filter—also applies to products on the shelf (or online). Sandwich-sized bags are available all year long but showcased in a Back To School-themed display or packaging helps boost relevance (and sales) because retailers and CPGs know tapping into needs increases sales.

“As marketers, we try to serve up relevant messages to our target consumers at the right moment,” said Jon Bellante, global marketing director at KitchenAid® Small Appliances, Whirlpool Corporation. “A change in seasons represents a point in time when consumers often shift their mindsets and provide us an opportunity to adjust our message or offering to meet their needs. The more tailored we are to those shifts in mindset, the more likely we are to drive toward conversion.”

Jon Bellante KitchenAid quote on seasonality and relevance in marketing

Want help developing a content calendar or promotional strategy that delivers on your objectives AND taps into seasonality? Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation (we really won’t send you thousands of follow up emails).

Headshot of Kayde Kempen

Kayde Kempen is a senior account manager at Writing by Design. She has 9+ years of marketing communications experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Kayde has written hundreds of blog posts and marketing emails, both for Writing by Design and its clients, is the lead content writer for Writing by Design’s website/SEO clients, and assists with press releases, concept writing, scriptwriting and more. Prior to joining the Writing by Design team in 2016, she was an associate marketing manager at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh where she worked for five years and managed the University’s online presence. She managed UWO’s social media accounts, led nearly 90 website redesign projects, wrote for the University’s alumni magazine and news website, and wrote and managed a variety of print and digital marketing projects.