3 lessons from Starbucks’ ‘Unicorn Frappuccino’

The sugar-laden beverage is available for a limited time, and many consumers are running to get one—and share their experiences.

Starbucks is making unicorn (and sugar) lovers’ dreams come true.

The coffee chain recently announced a limited time drink called the “Unicorn Frappuccino”:

CBS News reported:

The unicorn Frappuccino, which will be available from April 19-23, is the company’s first new Frappuccino flavor this year, and was inspired by unicorn-themed food and drinks popular on social media, the company said. The new drink comes at a sensitive time for Starbucks, with a new chief executive at the helm and a sales slowdown in 2016 that came amidst an unpopular change in its loyal program. The coffee giant is also dealing with competition from smaller stores that appeal to younger consumers.

Forbes’ contributor Micheline Maynard likened it to “an edible Mylar balloon” and wrote:

My conclusion after managing to finish about a third of a tall-sized Unicorn is that it tastes like a naughty child’s birthday party. There’s sweet, there’s sour and you end up with pink glitter all over your hands.

You don’t have to coat your next campaign in glitter to make it a success, however. Here are three lessons you can take from Starbucks’ recent win:

1. Make it urgent.

If you want to make a product or service sought-after, make it exclusive—or available only for a limited time.

CBS News reported:

“As a heritage brand, that is competing with smaller, artisanal, and more specialized beverage experiences, Starbucks is making a play at attracting generation Z and creating something that they will want to share,” said Emily Kahn, a consultant at branding company Vivaldi. “The short time frame creates urgency and generates buzz, making it a great opportunity to profit off of marketing.”

Appealing to consumers’ sense of urgency—along with their fear of missing out—can create the perfect viral storm.

2. Remember your employees.

Though not everyone is thrilled about the Unicorn Frappuccino, the coffee chain’s staff seems to loathe it.

Us Weekly reported:

Colorado-based employee Braden Burson took to Twitter on Wednesday, April 19, to vent his frustrations, saying that not only is the drink a pain to make, the ingredients have been staining his hands. “I have never made so many Frappuccinos,” he explains. “My hands are completely sticky, I have unicorn crap all in my hair and in my nose, and I have never been so stressed out in my entire life.”

In the video—which Burson later deleted—he begged consumers to not order it.

Burson is far from the only barista that hates Starbucks current marketing gambit.

Willamette Week reported:

One Starbucks barista, who requested their name be withheld, told us it’s “literally so many steps and ingredients” and that once it was announced, “everyone was like ‘I’m putting in my two weeks.'”

Luckily for those wearing the iconic green aprons, the drink is only available for a few more days, but it’s a good reminder to PR and marketing pros—along with corporate communicators—to not forget employees in their campaign decisions.

Employees are often organizations’ biggest source of storytelling and can greatly affect your reputation. Don’t bypass their desires when catering to your customers, or you can create a toxic company culture that does your brand no favors.

3. Encourage over-the-top reactions.

Here’s a sample of some of the love the sugar-laden drink has received on Twitter:

Starbucks’ social media team is retweeting and interacting with love-struck customers, further validating their reactions.

Why encourage consumers to freak out (in a positive way)? The bigger the reaction, the more likely a consumer will want to share it with their friends, family and (potentially thousands of) online followers.

You might be annoyed when you encounter an experience such as this:

However, to digital marketers, it’s gold. That type of genuine excitement over a product isn’t something you can pay even the most popular social media heavyweight to produce.

Instead of setting your sights on expensive “influencer” ads, consider creating a contest, limited-time offering or engaging company experience (whether it’s online or in person) that will drive consumers to take part—and then tell everyone about how awesome it was.

Make sure you celebrate with excited fans (unicorn “dust” optional).


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