Dunkin’ Is Nuts

The news has officially come down, (although it’s been in the works for almost a year,) that Dunkin’ Donuts, the international (yes, they have stores in 36 countries,) brand that was established nearly 70 years ago, is changing its name.25_Dunkin_Before_After_c4885e75-fe56-4add-aab3-a51120689229-prv

They will no longer be Dunkin’ Donuts, but will officially change their name to simply Dunkin’ as of January, 2019. According to the company’s official press release, the plan behind this switch is to transform the company into a “beverage-led, on-the-go” brand.

To cut to the chase, this is a bad idea. A really bad idea.

Let’s start at the beginning. Dunkin’ Donuts dominates in the donut category, leading Krispy Kreme and Mister Donut by a long way, and by a wide margin in terms of number of stores.

The brand also competes in the coffee category, and meets a strong and persistent consumer need in that area. And for decades, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee has established itself as unique, based on flavor profile (and, some would argue, sheer temperature.)

As the quick-serve coffee category has expanded in the last 20-30 years, and has come to be dominated by Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts has pivoted to offer more varieties and flavors of coffee and espresso drinks, and has achieved a strong challenger position. According to Statista, Starbucks has almost double the market share volume over Dunkin’ Donuts in this category, and slightly more than all others combined (not including Dunkin’ Donuts.)

So if you’re a challenger brand in any category (and this has turned into a classic leader/challenger category like Coke/Pepsi or McDonald’s/Burger King,) your goal as a brand should never be to appear MORE like the leader. The goal is to establish difference.

And DONUTS is what makes this brand special.
DONUTS is what makes this brand DIFFERENT.

Now, the Dunkin’ brand will still carry donuts.  But when you don’t tell people that it’s what makes you different, (say, by including “donuts” in your brand name,) who’s to say that consumers will inherently know? Especially young, entering-the-market consumers who may not be familiar with the brand’s history?  What will Dunkin’ mean 10 or 20 years from now without context?

The idea of changing the name to Dunkin’ at all seems wholly misdirected.  When the press release states that you want to be a more “beverage-led” brand, the slang word “Dunkin'” doesn’t say “beverages” at all.  What’s more insulting is that the name referred to the verb of actually. dunking. donuts. in. coffee.

So let’s review:  Dunkin’ Donuts is perceptually and verbally moving AWAY from the category they dominate, and CLOSER to a category where they challenge a leader who owns nearly twice the market share, and where their only competitive advantage is average price.  Sounds like a frozen-double-mocha mistake in judgment to me.

Dunkin’ (as they will be called in a few months,) should stick to what they’re good at – good coffee and family-friendly offerings served in modest stores at moderate pricing. AND LOTS AND LOTS OF DONUTS.





The Law of Constant Improvement

In marketing, most brands that are enjoying success are likely doing so because they created something that WORKS. Whether it’s a consumer product like a vacuum cleaner that never loses suction, or the standard-setter in smartphones or a business-to-business service like an ad network or a social media platform or even a service provider like an ad agency or web development firm, something is WORKING. It could be the product design, or the solution to a common problem, or a specific process or a recipe or even an algorithm.

But what’s the secret sauce that KEEPS brands thriving? How do we move from enjoying just a modicum of success to relishing a systematic pattern of victories and enduring prosperity? While some may chalk it up to luck or a charismatic CEO or market timing, I assert that the most successful and most profitable brands in every corner of the marketing world all share a similar trait: they employ the Law of Constant Improvement.

When brands (in virtually any category) are thriving, it’s typically due to a combination of factors that include the basic food groups: an ability to deliver [manufacture/write/uncover/sing/whatever] something of value, an understanding of the market environment, an understanding of the target consumer needs, an understanding of limitations and mandatories, and so on. But the lasting effects of excellence are usually garnered by a sustained and even obstinate desire to continue improving on current successes.

The Law of Constant Improvement states that you are never quite “there” yet. While you may be enjoying success (and profits,) there is no qualifying reason to halt the process of improvement. And in this law, improvement is not one-sided. Normally, we would focus on the consumer audience, and how to make the product/experience/service better for them. But brands can constantly improve internally, [financially, operationally, culturally, philanthropically] as well. This is true if you run a small business, a large corporation, a non-profit or a community. It’s especially true if you’re in marketing.

A healthy side effect of The Law of Constant Improvement seems to be a proclivity towards extended tenure. It becomes evident when you review success stories in almost any category: a technology leader like Apple; an online leader like Amazon; a consumer leisure brand [or is it a retail experience? or is it a coffee shop?] like Starbucks; a band like Coldplay.  All seem to factor a common denominator: they are constantly striving to improve. And it doesn’t have to be big, blue-chip brand business: local and regional marketers can employ the same law, and alter their DNA to replicate success. The evidence seems to suggest that brands who continue to improve with a near-obsessive regularity become leaders.

Another aspect of The Law of Constant Improvement is its ability to permeate into the corporate culture. It’s clear that brands who adopt a process of constant improvement don’t do so as a line item operational procedure, but rather because it’s embedded into the personality of the company, and into the personality of each employee. It turns out that constant improvement is less a thing to do, and more a thing to be.

Also note that in the inner gears of today’s consumer-centric commerce machine, the market has come to DEMAND constant improvement. That’s just the new rules at play. There’s so much competition and customization out there that brands have to continue to evolve each product and feature to keep their audience(s) engaged and entertained.

It would likely be a lot easier to happen on a formula and then just keep churning it out for eternity. (Note, for some brands, that’s a solid strategy – see Coke vs. the New Coke debacle.) But for the vast majority of brands, The Law of Constant Improvement is the new mandatory to continue to engage your original audience, to roll up new fans, to outperform expectations and if you fit into this category, to satisfy shareholders.

So start improving today. And be prepared to never stop.