It's the Donuts, Stupid

futurelab default header

by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Dunkin’ Donuts, which has been on a tear recently with no-nonsense, Joe Sixpack branding that is simple, obvious, and direct…is about to confuse everyone with healthy-for-you menu options.

It’s going to spend "several million dollars" marketing flatbread sandwiches, which will join multigrain bagels, reduced-fat blueberry muffins, and other items of lesser fat/sugar/calories on its "DDSmart" menu. More items will follow. 

"We’re staying very true to our brand and very true to our heritage," blathered the company’s CEO. "We just felt is was important to provide some choice in our menu," added somebody with the title of "chief brand officer."

Stay tuned for Dunkin’ Donuts branded floor polish, insurance policies, and…wait for it…music! My pick for the first disc to appear at checkout, right next to the lo-cal, no-fat fruit-essence lite dough wraps: the soundtrack for Dumb and Dumber

You can just imagine the wheels spinning in DD’s executive suite; they’re the same pulleys and cogs you’d find at Starbucks, McDonald’s, or any retailer of low-cost, high-impulse purchase items:

  • We sell a few things really well
  • Our customers buy other things, too
  • We should capture some of those additional purchases
  • Our brand is all about choice and serving the customer

The result is that lots of these companies march into the middle/muddle of offerings, staying true to their brand and heritage by trying to poach additional revenue from one another. McDonald’s wants a piece of Starbuck’s upscale coffee business; Starbuck’s wants some of McDonald’s sandwich sales. And every retailer thinks that, because they sell to customers across a countertop, that it qualifies them to hawk music, movies, plush, or any number of chotchkes. After all, customers want choice, so providing options to them is the epitome of service, right?

Nope.  It’s the donuts, stupid.

Dunkin’ Donuts should have locked in a room the trend and brand extension nudnicks who sold this latest nonsense to them, and force answers to two questions:

  1. What, specifically in terms of our business and our transactions with customers, makes you think our brand has any relevance, legitimacy, or unique differentiator to do what you’re proposing we do?
  2. How do you know that our customers want this from us vs. more/better products that are truly true to our brand and heritage (i.e. donuts)?

After all, the place isn’t called Dunkin’ Tofu.

There’s no obvious reason why they’d know how to make a good low-carb panini, or why a donut customer would want to buy one of them…other than some generic trend research that says people are generically "interested in healthy options." And every item that gets added to the offering — and is affectionately called another choice by the marketers who want to push the stuff — is also a potential distraction/dilluter of the brand and purchase experience.

Just ponder for a moment the unique blend of aromas possible when you fry turkey sausage and glazed donuts in the same room. Or the car-wreck display that is Starbuck’s checkout counter. CEOs can read scripted statements about brand and heritage all they want, but the reality of experience is the ultimate truth.

Is it such a dim bulb idea that a business stay focused on what it does, how it offers things to consumers, and incessantly finds ways to strengthen, grow, and deepen that proposition?

Original Post: