marketing strategy

Flunkin’ Dunkin Donuts


This is going to be one sweet blog.  It’s about donuts and ice cream.  What’s not to like?

Am I out of touch or does the following statement also strike you as deep-fried, chocolate-covered hooey?

“Customers will decide what our brand is about. And there is nothing we can do about it.  And that is a very liberating thing. In the end, you can’t control it. And that’s the beauty of social media.  And that means marketers have to let go – a little.”

This is a comment made by Dunkin’ Donuts Brand Marketing Officer Frances Allen during last week’s OMMA conference in NYC.*

I had a visceral reaction to this statement.  It hits all the popular social media buzzwords about the power of consumers and letting go of the conversation … but let’s not sugar-coat anything (yes, that was intentional) — this  just strikes me as so wrong.

I don’t know France Allen and I’m not that familiar with the history of DD, but I do know quite a bit about Ben & Jerry’s (a U.S. premium ice cream brand) because I teach a case about the company in one of my classes.  Seems like this is a similar, sweet, occasion-based treat, so for argument’s sake, let’s lump the two companies in the same product category.

There are so many ice cream brands on the grocery aisle, it can make your head spin.  But B&J stands out like no other brand by promoting three core values:

1)    Fun. Everything about B&J is playful: the names of the flavors, the packaging, the website, their crazy contests.

2)    Quality. It’s an expensive treat and B&J are fanatic about their ingredients and how they’re blended. One famous R&D innovation was developing the first real marshmallow stripes in an ice cream.

3)    Social responsibility. The founders of the company set out to show that you could create a company that can also take care of people and the planet.

The B&J marketing folks go to extreme measures to develop and market products that enhance this precious brand image.  And they have done a superb job, creating a powerful brand equity for the B&J name.

Who decided these three brand pillars – what the brand is about?  Consumers?  Perhaps indirectly, but no, a marketing team is responsible for the brand vision. No focus group handed it to them on a silver platter.

Are consumers in charge of the brand image?   No again.  While every nuance of their product offering is tested exhauastively, talented marketing professionals drive the image through brilliant products, strategies and advertising.

Have the marketers “let go” of their brand since the advent of social media?  I honestly don’t think anything has changed at all.  Sure, there are new tools to “listen” and “engage,” but marketers have ALWAYS listened and engaged. This is just a new way to do it.  I think it’s pretty arrogant of any marketer to assume they had control of a consumer conversation in the first place.

So how do you reconcile the Dunkin’ Donut position with my views of social media’s impact on traditional marketing?  Or can you?  Are we flunkin’ Dunkin Donuts?

Disclosure:  I would choose a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cinnamon Bun Ice Cream over two dozen Dunkin Donuts any day.

*This comment was featured in a blog by Nitin Gupta, a regular contributor to the {grow} community.  I highly recommend his blog ‘Digital Marketing Today.” 

Please ignore your customers


This might be the strangest marketing article you read in awhile but I’d like you to question  conventional wisdom about listening to your customers.  Sometimes, it’s simply best to ignore them.

One of the hottest buzzwords is “socialistic marketing” implying that social media enables you to place the brand power in the hands of the people.  I don’t think the world is ready for that quite yet.  Here’s why:

Customers don’t know what they want.  One of the most disturbing lines of commentary I see these days is the reliance people are putting on social media tools for new product development.  SM is a revolutionary “listening” device, but if you rely on it for development ideas, you’ll have a steady flow of incremental improvements based on customer complaints but it’s unlikely you’ll find the next big blockbuster.  That’s because consumers typically don’t know what they want it until they see it.  As the chairman of Sony famously said, they never would have invented the Walkman if they had asked customers what they wanted.

Big mouths dominate.  One of the biggest challenges with focus groups is that the most dominant participant tends to drown out the majority.  Their opinion overwhelms the true sentiment of the sample because they command most of the air time. Social media is like a focus group on steroids. It’s all about finding a way to get attention.  Are the people shouting the loudest on social media really the ones who represent your target market?  When you tune in to the social media cacaphony, are you hearing the signal or the noise?

They’re learning to play the game.  If somebody discovers that complaining means they can get attention, or better yet, a free product, a trickle of product complaints can turn into a tsunami, whether there is a real problem or not.  One company president recently told me they simply don’t address most consumer complaints any more because the cost of customer service became so high — they couldn’t afford to determine what’s real and what’s a scam.  Is that smart business?  I guess if it’s the only way they can afford to keep operating, it is.

Obviously today’s headline is a bit sensational — of course you need to embrace and cherish your customers.  I just want you to think twice before embracing this notion of marketing socialism and putting TOO MUCH power in the hands of consumers.  Agree?  Disagree?


The marketing genius of KISS. Seriously.


My son is a professional musician and has wanted to be a performer since he was a little boy.  Once I determined that this was his true life goal, not a “phase,” I figured I had better support him and do everything I could to help him succeed.  I wanted him to think a lot about the business and marketing aspects of the music business and I decided the best classroom for that was a KISS concert.

For any serious marketer, a study of KISS should be a required curriculum.  I just read where the glam-band has a new album coming out and are preparing for a world tour.  So here is the question every savvy marketer should consider:   How can a quartet of 60-year-old men prance about in high heels, sell out a 25,000-seat arena anywhere in the world in 30 minutes, hawk millions in merchandise, and attract a passionate legion of fans known as their “army” nearly FORTY YEARS after they picked up their first guitar and discoverered they had no talent?

Polish your boots, tune your guitar and turn it up loud.  We’re all going to the classroom of KISS:

1) Give your customers EXACTLY what they want.  When you go to a KISS concert, you don’t get breath-taking improvisation and cerebral lyrics. You get pyrotechnics, explosions, costumes and decibles of sound that make your heart pound out of your chest.  You know every note and every word and can sing along in a fun and predictable manner.  This is what KISS fans want and this is what the band delivers — every time. At one point the band abandoned the makeup, tried more serious stuff and spectacularly tanked. That was their equvialent of New Coke. Put the make-up back on, and the fans returned.   Consistent brand image is essential.

2) Then give them MORE of what they want. The new KISS tour promises one of the largest, most extravagant stage productions in history.  Bigger, badder and louder for a band like KISS is their version of “now with lemon scent.”  That’s what keeps the fans interested and coming back year after year — a chance to see what new tricks are in store!  So innovate, but don’t ever abandon your core brand promise or your core customers.

3) Develop adjacencies. An adjacency is a new product related to your core offering that can provide new revenue streams. KISS has relentlessly spun off new ideas in merchandise, video games, toys, television programs and comic books that have attracted their own devotees.  Of course Gene Simmons has a reality show in the U.S. and Jeremy Bramwell told me he has a different hit show in the U.K., too.

4) Develop a brand and ferociously protect it.  One of the most fun KISS stories: When the band was just starting out and broke, they would surround their stage with mountains of empty speaker shells – none of them worked — to give the illusion that they were bigger and more important than they were (I guess that is like Twitter followers today?).  Was this tricking the customer?  No less than getting somebody to believe that Coca-Cola stands for something more than colored sugar water.  To be the biggest band in the world, they had to ACT like the biggest band in the world!

5) Put customers above everything.  I can’t imagine applying that kabuki make-up in a different city every night and playing the same songs over and over and over again … the same way … for decades. I’m sure they get sick of it.  But somehow (money) they find a way to approach their job, and their brand, with fresh passion every show because they HAVE to. They’re well-rewarded, but they also sacrifice a lot for their fans.  Say what you want about them.  KISS knows their customers and ALWAYS delivers.

What do you think?  What other business lessons can we learn from KISS or your favorite band?