At The ANA, A Call To Differentiate Or Die

Dunkin' Donuts is on the move. The chain rolled out no fewer than 43 products last year and hit record profits. And on Oct. 14, Dunkin will debut a new TV campaign.

John Costello, president of global marketing and innovation for the brand, talked about brand strategy and equity at the Association of National Advertisers’ Masters of Marketing conference in Phoenix on Saturday. Costello, who also oversees the Baskin Robbins brand, said the key to staying on message, and being relevant and unique, includes keeping brand equity simple and not straying away from equity, while at the same time making sure the brand is unique in the category. "Differentiate or die," he said. 

The company does have the wind at its back: some 10 million Facebook fans and over 390,000 Twitter followers. And, he said, it's got several guiding principles that help keep the 63-year-old icon relevant to consumers today. They are also good lessons for any marketer.

First off, confront reality. "Marketers tend to be optimists, but hope is not a strategy," he said. "The reality is our customers don't think about the brand every day the way we do." Thus, the message has to be simple: if marketers can't say what the brand is in a sentence or two, it will get lost. 

Dunkin' is like other brands -- Porsche, Coca-Cola, Apple and Twitter, for example -- it has a real clear point of product differentiation, "how everyday folks who keep America running keep themselves running every day."

Second point, does the positioning resonate? Is it authentic, relevant and distinctive? "Does it align with your brand personality; be who you are because customers today are very savvy."

He projected several graphic idea maps about how Dunkin' tries to infuse all touchpoints with the brand promise. "We have a 360-degree approach to meeting customer needs. Not just in marketing, but also in products, mobile, convenience, PR, social, POP, advertising, speed of service, and digital/social. We have all seen brands spend millions on TV but customers still hate them." 

Marketers are wandering in the forest of screens, and -- Costello noted -- it's pretty easy for both brands and consumers to get lost and distracted. “More devices equal more distractions,” he said. “We are finding that in a distracted world we really need to have consistency of message. We are finding a greater premium on making all of those screens consistent.”  And he made the point that social, not  TV, is the center of the media consumption world. "The most powerful marketing tool is a friend's recommendation.” 

Within the company, the structural imperative, he said, is to build a team better than yourself. "We have a culture that on the one hand takes risks, but on other hand believes in analytics," he said, noting that Dunkin' has "a world-class consumer insights group, and partners closely with finance and consumer insight. And we have a really close team relationship between Hill Holliday, [Baskin's AOR] 22Squared. 

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