Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Dunkin’ Donuts: Getting My Fix in a Styrofoam Cup

In a recent Blog Squad meeting, we were asked to think of something that we were really passionate about and write a blog about it. One slow day, I decided to tackle this and see what I came up with. Go figure, Dunkin’ Donuts came to mind.

Disclaimer: I apologize in advance for the Dunkin’ Donuts fangirl gushing that’s bound to take place in this post.

Never would’ve survived my 8 AM classes without a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts

My love for this coffee franchise started when I was a sophomore in college and had discovered them on my commute to and from classes. On my tight budget, I could grab my steaming cup of joe for my early morning classes while still being able to afford gas in my car. Since then, I’ve been hooked and have been a loyal follower.

What drives my enthusiasm for the Dunkin’ Donuts brand (or if you wish to use one of their other nicknames, Dunkin’, Dunks, D-and-D, Dunkies, DD)? I love the feel of going in, ordering (medium, hot, coffee with cream and sugar), and then getting on with my day. I don’t need any unnecessary chit-chat about the weather or weekend plans while my coffee is being poured at 7:00 AM. This is what separates Dunkin’ Donuts from more indulgent coffee shops.

The late William Rosenberg founded Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950 in Quincy, Massachusetts. About five years later, he opened the door to franchising the restaurants. One of the early ones was built across the street from a Ford assembly plant in Somerville, MA, which was a great way to increase loyalty from the hundreds of so-called rivet-heads that worked there. The type of customer hasn’t changed from the working class men and women during the 1950s. According to the former senior vice-president of communications, Margie Myers, “a couple of years ago, we looked into the psychographics of who our customers are,” she said. “They tend to be very hard-working people, down-to-earth with a strong sense of self. So it’s not really about the job, it’s about who you are as a person. You can look into any of our parking lots and see [everything from] BMWs to trucks.”

Don’t believe her? Take a look next time because she’s right on the money.

Get in, get out, get on with your life

“I would say what Starbucks has done is turn coffee into identity, as a way to make a statement about who you are,” said Bryant Simon, a history professor at Temple University who researched Starbucks for a book. He goes into more depth: “McDonalds is trying to compete against Starbucks – going wireless, putting fireplaces in – but Dunkin’ Donuts is realizing they can position themselves differently,” says Simon. When he asked one of the head honchos at Dunkin’ if they would ever offer free Wi-Fi, he was told they wouldn’t. The last thing they want is to have tables taken up by “a bunch of people in ties banging away on their laptops,” leaving other customers with no place to sit for a quick bite to eat. Dunkin’ knows their consumers and their values, all of which indicate they don’t need to stay for hours on end. Most of them just want a place to grab a hot cup of coffee (and a donut) and hit the road.

Here’s my favorite quote from Mr. Simon that perfectly sums up this coffee tycoon and speculates whether or not Starbucks can ever claim a successful nickname like Dunkin’ Donuts: “Starbucks is like the guy who introduces himself to you as Alexander,” says Simon. “It doesn’t want its name shortened. And anyway, what are you gonna call it, Bucky’s?” Once you’re comfortable with someone it seems almost second-nature to give them a nickname, and Dunkin’ has this going for them.

Okay, I’ve blabbered on enough about why I love Dunkin’ Donuts. I’ll now give some suggestions for what you can do to have this loyal of a following:

There has to be a secret ingredient to making their coffee

1) Have an outstanding product that gets people excited about your brand. If you want people to come back for more, then give them a reason to. I love their coffee because I find it balanced and not as strong like other coffee shops. Plus, I have a theory that they use the powdered sugar from their donuts in their coffee instead of the standard sugar, or some other controlled substance. What else can make it so addicting?

2) Have a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter. Depending on your market, this is where your fans are getting their information. Be there to answer questions and provide advice when asked. Dunkin’ Donuts is very good at giving responses to customers on either social networking site within a few hours of it being posted.

“$12.50 for a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee?!”

3) Don’t gouge your customers and expect customers to come running back for more. Prestige pricing only works for some products, so don’t automatically assume you can overcharge. They offer a great price for their products. C’mon, a medium coffee for under $2.00 is pretty good for me. Plus, when you order a breakfast sandwich and a coffee there’s a discount, which is something I always take advantage of.

4) If you’re able to, offer coupons! To go along with their fair prices, Dunkin’ also offers coupons for things I actually purchase, like discounted coffees, breakfast sandwiches, free donuts, etc. Not your typical “hey-this-thing-never-sells-so-we-always-offer-a-coupon-for-it” style that some restaurants use.

When I was asked to think of something that I was really passionate about, I thought about it for a while and had a list of things that I like: The Office, photography, Chicago history and some favorite movies (Sgt. Bilko, Tommy Boy, and You’ve Got Mail). Then it hit me — in the form of a major mid-afternoon Dunkin’ Donut coffee craving — and I had my answer.

Is there a company out there that you like (bordering on fanboy/fangirl status)? What do you like best about them? Is there anything you’d change?


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  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    I was never a DD coffee girl until Dunkin became the only non-gas station coffee place on my way to work. And now I’m a huge fan of their iced coffee. I also appreciate their “get this and get out” casual attitude — especially in the morning. It’s nice that they aren’t trying to rebrand themselves into another Starbucks copycat.

    Given the option, I would still pick Starbucks over DD, because I DO like the free wifi and the sense of community. I like to get a latte and sit down with my friends. Plus I know how to save money with my “ghetto lattes.” 😉

    But since DD does send me a lot of coupons, I still show up there often enough. Now if only the Aurora-area Dunkin Donuts would stop letting me down…

    • Amy Swanson

      Their iced coffee is pretty fantastic, I really enjoy it too! I completely understand where you’re coming from on the “community” idea. When I meet up with friends it’s always at Starbucks to sit, relax, and chat. But when I need to just grab a cup on my way to work I love DD’s speed. In, out, done.

      I wish I knew why all the Aurora-area DD were conspiring against you. Must just be lucky 😉

  2. Joseph Giorgi

    I do love me some DD!

    You’re right about their coffee being addictive. There’s just something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s weird — it’s like their coffee has this strangely delicious flavor to it that coffees at other big-name establishments don’t seem to have.

    It’s refreshing that the higher-ups at DD have opted to forgo the free Wi-Fi and inviting atmosphere that upscale coffee brands rely on. DD’s great-product-at-a-great-price approach has obviously been working well for them over the years, so it’s good that they’re sticking with what works. After all, not all consumers want the Starbucks or Caribou experience when they buy their coffee. Sometimes, folks just want a great, inexpensive cup-o-joe — which is exactly what DD is about.

    Great post, Amy!

    • Amy Swanson

      I’m pretty sure I have an addiction to them. It’s both awesome and sad at the same time LOL

      The DD closest to my house offers free Wi-Fi, but of the times I’ve been there (typically before 7 AM on weekdays and before 11 AM on weekends) I’ve never seen anyone with a laptop there. So, they must be trying it out to see if it’s worth it for them to do nationwide… I guess?

      I also like how they have a strong sense of self and haven’t sold out to become the next Starbucks or Caribou. When I want a quick breakfast sandwich and a coffee that I can eat on the road, I know where to go 😉

  3. Jill Tooley

    How interesting that DD isn’t going for the typical “let’s rebrand into a fancy little Wi-Fi cafe” concept like so many of their coffee rivals! I completely see what they’re saying about laptop users hovering in competitors’ stores and placing orders perfunctorily. I just prefer to get my coffee or donut and get the hell outta there without weaving through 10 different Wi-Fi users to get to the counter! I’ve never thought about Dunkin’ that way before but now it makes me appreciate them more — great post, Amy. 🙂

    • Amy Swanson

      Thanks, Jill 🙂

      I love Panera, but I hate going there and seeing one person at every single table with a laptop and no available tables. Then comes the awkward hovering waiting for the one little old lady to finish her coffee at the table set for six. For this reason I’m really glad DD sees this problem too and wants to avoid it all costs. They definitely got points in my book when I realized they avoided free Wi-Fi on purpose!

  4. Rachel

    Great post, Amy! Though I’m not a coffee person, it’s neat to see how they’ve decided to position their brand among competitors. I’ve gotta say, another perk from DD’s is that you can get a delicious doughnut to go with your coffee! Starbucks and Caribou don’t have that, as far as I’m aware. Sure, they have pastries and stuff, but you can’t beat a doughnut drenched in frosting and covered in sugar and sprinkles. Aaaand now I want a doughnut. 🙂

    • Amy Swanson

      I know Starbucks has doughnuts, but I’ve never tried one before. Nope, for doughnuts Dunkin’ has me covered too 😉

  5. JPorretto

    Oh Amy and your DD coffee…

    I’ve never personally enjoyed their brand of brew, but I sure love their business model! They make me fell just… invited. That’s the best way I can describe it.

    Way to make some great points!

    • amy

      I know, I’m bordering on “creeper” in regards to their brand. I’m sure there’s a 12-step program somewhere, but I don’t think I want to overcome my love towards them 😉

      Thanks for commenting, Jeff!

  6. Eric

    I ran on Dunkin’ during my college years. There was one right underneath the “Loyola” Red Line stop. Pick your size, pick your flavor, and – for a couple bucks – you’ve a whole lot of delicious, caffeinated beverage. The thing I respect most about them – which has been solidified by this article – is their own sense of self as a company, and keeping true and honest to the people they serve. Respect points, big-time, for that. Great article, Amy.

    • amy

      Thanks, Eric! I always like companies that know who they are and who they want to be. After researching this post, I love how true and transparent they are. They stick to what they know and they rock at it!!

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