The curious question of pumpkin spice lattes

I’ve been watching yet another meme pass around on Facebook, this time about the “hazardous chemicals” inside of a popular coffee brand’s pumpkin spice latte coffee drink. There have been opinions offered on all sides of the debate about whether X chemical is healthy or harmful, whether X ingredient is in the drink or not (and if it’s a retail product vs. an intended for home purchase or not).

Storyville Coffee

What astonishes me is this: very, very few people ever see either the article or commentary and say, “Well gosh, I can do better than that. I’ll make my own.” Pumpkin pie spice is as old as… well, pumpkin pie. Here, take a look at what constitutes pumpkin pie spices, based on about 5 minutes of Googling:

Dry Goods

  • 4 parts cinnamon
  • 3 parts ginger
  • 2 part nutmeg
  • 1 part allspice
  • 1 part cloves
  • 1/4 part salt

Wet Goods for something like a pumpkin spice latte

  • 4 parts honey

You’ll need high quality spices from the store or Amazon, especially if you have specific dietary needs. Mix the above ratios in as little or as much as you need. Because spices oxidize quickly, only make as much as you need at any given time, especially if you’re grinding your own spices. If you seal the dry goods in an airtight container, they’ll stay reasonably fresh for a couple of weeks. Your best bet is to mix the ratios of whole spices, bag those in little containers, and then grind on demand. Note that there is no pumpkin in it because it’s assumed you’d use pumpkin spice on pumpkins.

Now, bear in mind, I’m not a professional chef. I’m not even an amateur chef. I’m a marketer, a marketing technologist, a hacker (in the most ethical sense of the word). That means when I see something, the first question that leaps into my mind is, “How can I do that?” How can I reverse engineer it, figure out how it works, what makes it tick, and ideally, improve upon it?

If you find yourself saying, “How hard can that possibly be?” and wandering off to experiment with things, if you’re not afraid to fail frequently and spectacularly, then you have one of the most powerful traits of those who are successful in marketing:

You’re curious.

Curiosity is an incredible personality trait. It drives you to want to know more, to want to discover more, to seek out new ways of solving old problems and to understand as much as you can about what interests you. Curiosity is what transforms a marketer from average to awesome, because the more curious you are about your business and the industry you operate in, the more effective you will be at marketing what you do. Curiosity is what defines marketers and marketing technologists; we want to understand how something works so that we can make it better.

So whether it’s pumpkin spice memes, ice buckets, or whatever the issue of the day is, get curious! Explore, challenge, and expand your boundaries and knowledge. You, your career, and your company will be richer for it in so many ways.

Oh, and enjoy the pumpkin spice recipe.

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Formulaic marketing

One complaint often heard about marketing is that it’s too formulaic, that it’s too rote and lacks creativity. “Don’t you have something new?” is a common refrain asked of marketers like you and I. Our answer, too often, is to scramble to try and invent something new on the spot and usually not produce something better than the formula. Perhaps, in the words of Chen Stormstout, there is a better question: “is the formula working?”

Consider this: some of the bestselling authors on the planet, whose works are loved by millions, obey clear, unambiguous formulae. “Trashy romance novels” all follow the same boy meets girl formula. Even one of my favorite authors, the late and beloved Tom Clancy, had clear formulae for his books. The topics and subjects may have varied, but the underlying structure shared many common themes.

MarTech 2014 Boston Watercolors

Think about what you cook in the kitchen. A recipe is nothing more than a formula, a way of ensuring you get a consistent result each time you try to make a dish. Ultimately, the question isn’t whether or not you should be using a formula/recipe in the kitchen, but whether the recipe is any good. If it’s not, you work on it until the recipe is a good one.

Do the same with your marketing. Don’t invent things for the sake of invention – one of the greatest lies about innovation in today’s marketing. Rely on formulae that work, discard or improve formulae that don’t work, but don’t mindlessly throw away the process of systematizing your marketing because it feels uncreative. Be creative within your marketing recipes, be creative about improving them, but keep the recipes. It’s the only way to ensure consistency and scale.

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Video amusement: Instagram Hyperlapse

On August 26, Instagram debuted a new app for iOS devices called Hyperlapse.


Hyperlapse is beautifully simple: record video with it and it will accelerate it between 6x and 12x, add motion stabilization, and publish it for you. You can use the Instagram platform or simply pull it off your mobile device for other purposes. I took this video of a portion of my commute to work at sunrise and fed it to Hyperlapse:

This video was shot using my iPad and a dashboard mount (hands-free for safety!) over the span of 15 minutes. The app did a wonderful job of smoothing out the many, many, MANY bumps in the road (because taxpayer dollars pay for the existence of roads, but not necessarily their quality) and then I added Matthew Ebel’s “Drive Away” in post-production.

For marketers, Hyperlapse offers some easy potential to take long snippets of video and then condense them down, from conferences to trade shows to events. It’s full motion video, as opposed to time-lapse (which will make its debut in iOS 8 natively), so if you need additional smoothness (in exchange for only 12x acceleration), Hyperlapse is a good choice. It’s absurdly simple to use, and I foresee some neat uses for it. For example, the Parrot and DJI drones can have iPhones attached to them (typically by a Joby mount), so imagine combining a drone’s flight abilities with a Hyperlapse video.

The only limitation I see right now is that Hyperlapse can’t import existing video – you have to shoot raw video with the app itself for it to process the video and apply its signature stabilization and acceleration. The price is right (free), so get it and see what you can do with it.

Click here to download in the Apple App Store.

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