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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Kitchen device marketing

Ever notice that kitchen device makers of any kind – food processors, blenders, microwaves, etc. – seem to market their device as the be-all, end-all for every possible kitchen task? I have a blender that makes the claim that it can do everything: smoothies, peanut butter, ice cream, bread dough, soup (without additional heating), fresh juice, and cappuccino. My other devices make equally outlandish claims, too.

Pasta Dinner

The reality is a bit more disappointing. The blender, unsurprisingly, blends things really well. It doesn’t do the other stuff half as well as the marketing might indicate – a kitchen stand mixer does a heck of a lot better at making bread dough, for example. An espresso machine makes a much better cappuccino than a blender.

Can the blender do these things? Sort of, but the result is typically lackluster. In the hands of a really talented chef, I’m sure it would be barely noticeable. They would know how to compensate for the weaknesses of the tool with their superior skills, but in my hands as a rank amateur without those skills, using a less effective tool for the job drastically affects the outcome for the worse.

So here’s the insight: be very wary of any marketing tool or technology that claims to do it all, that claims to solve your problems. If you are a master marketer, then yes, you can probably make a Swiss Army marketing solution deliver results as good as best of breed individual tools. If you are not a master marketer, or you have mastery in only a couple of specializations, then chances are the one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to solve as many problems as you want it to.

When you’re evaluating any kind of marketing tool, forget about what the brand reps are saying about it. Look at what it does really well, what its strengths are, what repeatable, quantifiable results it can generate for the average marketer. Look at the results it can generate for someone who is a subpar marketer, because a tool that can help generate good results in the hands of a mediocre professional is likely to be a tool that generates amazing results in the hands of a superior practitioner like you.

Oh, and if you like really soggy, bland, too-soft “ice cream”, have I got a blender recipe for you…

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Marketing Leftovers

In any given news topic, in any given industry that you’re trying to perform marketing in, there will be things that people are parroting mindlessly, and the reality is that you will not get the juice – the marketing results – you want if all you do is make reruns of other peoples’ reruns. For example, the topics of when is the best or worst time to tweet, post to Facebook, send email, etc. have been beaten to death, resurrected from death as undead topics, then beaten again.

So what can you do if you’re trying to find something new in a field full of sameness? Let me tell you a quick story about leftovers.

Growing up, my parents had a nearly legendary collection of Tupperware and Corningware containers for storing leftovers, something my brother and I were never especially thrilled with. Leftovers, especially in the early days of family homes having microwaves (and thus having people try to cook everything and anything in the microwave), tended not to fare so well. The worst were the infinite leftovers. Thanksgiving turkey would last a week, possibly two. The same for Christmas ham, New Year’s crown roast, etc. Reheated and reheated until they barely resembled the beautiful dishes they were the first time around.

Quiche with Potatoes, Leek, Bacon & Wine

Now, later in life, I’ve learned that all you really need to do with leftovers to make them more interesting is to just add a couple of new ingredients to turn leftovers into something new. Yes, the bulk of the dish is a rerun, but add either eggs, garlic, or cheese to something and it’s like a whole new meal. Mac and cheese leftovers? Add eggs, now you have quiche. Turkey? Chop it up, add garlic, fry quickly, and toss on just about anything.

The same is true of your ability to get creative with things other people have already talked about. That doesn’t mean you have to always be inventing something brand new. It does mean you need to adapt and transform a topic into something unique, something that’s yours, that’s got your brand’s unique flavor. What added flavor, what added spice can you contribute that will make something old into something new?

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