Stop chasing shiny new tools, says Dunkin’ Brands

The 65-year-old Dunkin’ Brands has long used traditional marketing, but still fully embraces digital. They key to balance? Not just chasing shiny and new.

“America runs on Dunkin'” is more than the brand tagline; it’s the brand’s purpose, according to a Q & A with John Costello, president of global marketing and innovation for Dunkin’ Brands at ClickZ Live New York.

Costello said Dunkin’ Brands “gets our customers running in the morning and keep them running all day long.” And part of meeting customer demands means understanding both the brand’s purpose and its utility to its target audience, thereby converting brand interest into brand loyalty.

For example, at a recent Dunkin’ Donuts store opening in Germany, Costello saw a huge turnout, with lines around the block. However, he knew the brand’s true utility lies in coffee and not curiosity about doughnuts.

“Dunkin’ is very much a cult brand,” said Costello. “Sixty percent of our business is beverage and less than 20 is bakery, so it’s important to get people into coffee and starting the day with Dunkin.'”

And one way the brand turns curiosity into cult loyalty is by marrying mass marketing with digital personalization to show customers that Dunkin’ knows them.

Traditional marketing works well for Dunkin’, but the brand tends to view mobile as more personal, like having a conversation with a friend. If you drone on and on, your friend will start to tune you out.

So instead of offering a lot of flashy gimmicks on its app, Dunkin’ Donuts has focused on utility.


“Our app is technologically superior, but it’s based on what customers wanted,” said Costello. “Our store locator isn’t the sexiest tool, but it’s highly relevant for our user. We also recently partnered with [navigation app] Waze so that when their users want a cup of coffee, Dunkin’ pops up.”

And the focus on utility over flash has proved effective. In an app-crowed landscape where smartphone users are generally only using three apps with any real regularity, Dunkin’ Brands continue to be popular with their coffee-seeking fan base with more than 17 million downloads.

Another way the brand is marrying their digital strategy with its traditional content is by engaging customers both on and offline simultaneously. For example, Dunkin’ recently partnered with Iron Chef to challenge professional chefs to cook with their coffee while also inviting fans on Google Hangouts to submit their own recipes.

Their traditional/mobile content synergy also serves to create engagement on a local level. Dunkin’ Donuts, a longtime sponsor of the Philadelphia Eagles recently took that sponsorship digital by offering app users a free coffee for every Eagles win.

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Appealing to fans on a local level often drives more engagement than expensive, time consuming national campaigns, according to Costello.

“We had more downloads from the free coffee than we had from national campaigns,” he said. “Customers are looking for that local engagement.”

On both a local and national scale, Dunkin’ has managed to rely on data-driven marketing without moving the brand too far away from its core values. Costello believes that data “should supplement experimentation, not replace it.”

To guide decisions without becoming slaves to data, every morning, the Dunkin’ Brands data team reviews the previous 24 hours’ sales by item in the U.S. That provides valuable consumer insights but also informs chefs of trends and preferences, allowing the brand to latch on to trends like iced coffee, while still remaining true to the brand’s focus on fun and flavor.

“Doughnuts like Boston Cream and chocolate are popular throughout the world,” said Costello. “But in Asia, savory doughnuts with shredded chicken and pork sell well. We have to get to our core principals and take them down to the local level.”


The mobile revolution has left many brands wondering where they fit in a new, often overwhelming digital landscape. Costello says that Dunkin’ Brands has found its way by staying true to the foundations of consumer-focused marking instead of seeking the next big thing.

“Tactics change, but fundamentals don’t,” said Costello. “Don’t get caught up chasing shiny new tools.”

And for the record, Costello’s favorite doughnut is Boston Cream.


Emily Alford is a freelance journalist and contributor to ClickZ.

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