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Starbucks sweetens focus on social media through segmentation

Starbucks, which put the focus on SMS for its seasonal promotions in the past, is making a big push on social media as it engages in a marketing blitz for the return of its Pumpkin Spice Latte that includes official accounts for the drink on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. 

The chain is exciting fans by inviting them to ask the fall-themed drink questions via Tumblr and is also rolling out advertorial content on the beverage?s official Twitter and Instagram accounts, located at @TheRealPSL. Starbucks has seen success in personifying the drink on social media, which may have led to the brand?s increasing disuse of SMS marketing tactics to promote seasonal items.

?With 100K Twitter followers, 17.8K Instagram followers, and thousands of notes on Tumblr, @TheRealPSL is not lacking in contributing to the Starbucks brand on social media,? said Keith Sibson, vice president of product and marketing at PostUp, Austin, TX. ?Starbucks continues to deliver great content that will provide consumers with brand recognition, awareness, and excitement for this seasonal fan favorite.

?By creating separate accounts it allows its marketing department to segment its customers and deliver the messages this group of consumers wants to see. It's also a great PR move with the introduction of real pumpkin; their social media efforts could be converted to sales through the implementation of email capture wherever possible.?

Connecting with fans
Starbucks is attempting to leverage the passion that some fans hold for the Pumpkin Spice Latte by harnessing excitement on social media. The brand has created separate Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram accounts for the seasonal beverage, where it posts daily, interacts with consumers and distributes comical images of the personified Latte.

Consumers can visit therealpsl.tumblr.com on their smartphones to view the drink?s curated photos, which show it donning a fashionable scarf for fall and posing with pumpkins. Users may also press ?Ask a Latte? in the menu options to pose a question for the drink to answer.

This humorous take on marketing will likely resonate with fans as well as autumn enthusiasts, as it gives the beverage an identifiable personality that makes social media interactions livelier.

A Forrester Research analyst at the company?s Forum for Marketing Leaders named Starbucks? Pumpkin Spice Latte campaign as an example of social relationship marketing excellence thanks to a scavenger hunt that helped drive sales in 2014 (see story).

Starbucks is also increasing the amount of daily posts on the drink?s Twitter account, @TheRealPSL, where it responds to customers? praise and posts branded content.

A pinned Tweet shows an 18-second clip of the Latte accompanied by sparklers underneath a banner proclaiming ?PSL is back!?

Yesterday, the account Tweeted a private link to certain followers that enabled them to redeem a free cup cozy for Pumpkin Spice Lattes within 24 hours. The users were then asked to pay it forward by nominating another friend to receive the free item, thereby creating a chain of exclusivity for the beverage?s fans.

Other major national chains with seasonal items of similar popularity may also find some success in creating personal accounts for the products.

?Dedicated accounts make sense when there?s good cultural momentum behind a product,? said Chris Mellow, director of digital and engagement at Grupo Gallegos, Huntington Beach, CA. ?While it?s seasonal, and delicious I might add, I don?t think there?s the same conversation in culture about McDonald?s Shamrock Shake, for instance.

?However, its McRib had a very engaged fan base that created custom Web sites to help other fans find out where and when that product would be available. So, that?s a product with more of a case for its own social channels.?

Missing SMS components
Starbucks has previously tapped SMS campaigns to advertise specific products, but appears to be shying away from that strategy in favor of social media, which likely reaches a wider audience and feels less intrusive to some consumers.

However, adding a dollop of email marketing into this seasonal campaign could have augmented long-lasting customer relationships even more.

?Starbucks' sales would definitely be strengthened from including an SMS component by combining it with an email program,? PostUp?s Mr. Sibson said. ?It's amazing that it is able to leverage hundreds of thousands on social media, however, it doesn't matter how many people double tap or retweet if it doesn't convert to an immediate sale.

?The only way the re-launch of the PSL could have been any better would be to partner with the existing mobile app to push out special offers to its customers through email and SMS,? he said. ?This would allow Starbucks to convert its followers to customers through exclusive flash sales, coupons, content, and reminders.

?SMS is a wonderful option but you get more characters delivered to the email inbox.?

Final Take
Alex Samuely, editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York