What enterprise solutions have in common with pumpkin spice lattes

By Jonathan Crowl

| Retail

Whether you love it or hate it, it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t familiar with the autumnal obsession: pumpkin spice lattes. It’s just as hard to imagine what life was like before Starbucks officially launched its innovative new drink in 2003.

What does the pumpkin spice latte have to do with enterprise solutions? Even though they’re wildly different products, the success of the pumpkin spice latte is something any business would love to replicate.

If you’re looking to adopt new, innovative solutions, the comparisons are even more favorable. By understanding how the pumpkin spice latte became such an overwhelming success in spite of the obstacles it faced, business leaders can learn how to test and implement innovation in their own companies.

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It started with rigorous testing

The pumpkin spice latte wasn’t some magical unicorn that walked through the doors of Starbucks HQ and demanded to be put on the menu. Like other solutions, it started with a simple need: Starbucks was interested in finding new signature items to put on its menu for the fall season.

The company’s desire for new products spawned extensive research and testing in search of the right fit. It’s a strategy organizations should follow when seeking out enterprise mobility solutions. There are often many options to consider, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Settling too early can cost you the chance to find the ideal solution. Like any smart business, Starbucks didn’t want to find the easiest solution to its new fall drink search — it wanted to find the best one.

According to BuzzFeed, the company’s research and development lab came up with a list of 100 different concepts, then trimmed the list down to 10 finalists that fit the fall theme while filling a hole on the existing menu. The lab ran these concepts by consumer test groups to see which ones held the most appeal.

One of these concepts had a rather unusual take: a coffee drink made with pumpkin.

Embracing what makes a product unique

From the start, the pumpkin spice latte faced an uphill battle, for a simple reason: there wasn’t anything like it on the market.

Innovation always comes with risk, but there’s a tendency among some business leaders to steer toward safer alternatives, even if they come with fewer upsides. It’s hard to sell business leaders on a solution that solves a problem they don’t understand. Early proponents of a pumpkin beverage faced a similar challenge with the Starbucks leadership: there were no other pumpkin coffees out there, making this a risky move.

However, for the drink’s developers, that was precisely the reason to try to make a beverage that worked. According to Refinery29, its early advocates insisted on experimenting to find a flavor profile that could work as a Starbucks drink. They experimented by adjusting the flavors to find the most palatable combination possible.

They settled on a beverage with moderate pumpkin flavor and a high concentration of pumpkin spice. When the developers presented the finished result to the company’s leaders, it was a hit. After successfully testing the product in two cities, Starbucks launched it across the US in 2003, where it became more than a best-selling drink: It became a cultural sensation.

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This happened because the Pumpkin Spice Latte developers strove to fill a gap in the market. A drink featuring maple, chocolate or other fall flavors might have sold well, but it wouldn’t have been a revelation in the coffee industry or the larger food industry. When Starbucks needed to add something new to its lineup, it sought something that was truly new to customers.

Business leaders would be wise to remember this story as they seek out enterprise solutions to help their businesses. There are many options to choose from, but the safe route rarely leads to breakthrough innovations. Do your research and keep an open mind when presented with the chance to be an early adopter of a new solution. You’ll never forgive yourself if you turn down a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

Written By

Jonathan Crowl


Jonathan Crowl has served as a tech writer and reporter for a number of tech publications and corporations. Specializing in mobile technology and digital startups, he is based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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