Differentiate or die: Dunkin' innovation chief warns retailers about new digital age

May 24, 2016 | by Judy Mottl

John Costello, Dunkin' Brands president, global marketing and innovation, doesn't mince words when it comes to the state of retail and what retailers must do to survive and beat competition.

"You must confront reality, disrupt, adapt or be left behind," he told hundreds of retail industry professionals attending his presentation at the ShopTalk event in Las Vegas last week. "You must differentiate or die and ask yourself if you can survive disruption," he added, listing out points retailers must ponder in attaining a required balance between new and old strategies.

"Retailers tend to be optimistic, but hope is not a strategy," said Costello, explaining Dunkin' is asking itself one question all the time: 'Who is Dunkin' for?'

The answer is a simple one, according to Costello, if a retailer knows itself and its customer.

"We must be defined by an attitude, not status quo, we must be authentic and not afraid to laugh at ourselves."

Dunkin', as a brand, is all about coffee, Costello acknowledged, and the cup of Joe accounts for 50 percent of sales. But to survive and prosper, Dunkin' must be ore than just a coffee seller.

"It's about keeping a 65-year-old icon relevant, and that involves determining the right role for digital and mobile marketing," he said, noting 17 million consumers have downloaded the Dunkin' Donuts mobile app since its release in 2012. In the past four years it's been focused big on mobile. At the end of 2015 Dunkin pulled in Apple Pay so guests can use the system to purchase, gift or reload virtual Dunkin' Donuts cards through the app.

Regarding mobile commerce and customer experience advancements, Costello described the current retail climate as feverish.

"Change is happening in retail faster than any time I've seen in my career. It can be distracting to a point, the urge to chase the next shiny thing," he said.

The goal is to stay focused, stay true to your authentic self, he explained, admitting it's not an easy challenge to hurdle.

One key for Dunkin' is ensuring its franchisees are staying connected to the customer, and that, as a business, Dunkin' is agile to meet customer needs and wants. The fact Dunkin' produced 40 new products in the last year illustrates its success, he said.

"We are focused on everyday folks and keeping them running. We are engaging [with customers] around the world faster than ever," he said.

A more recent strategy related to customer experience is tapping customer stories from fans via social media. The #MyDunkin campaign reflects real-life fan experiences, he explained.

"It's the way we are sharing the Dunkin' story," he said, and the campaign reflects the connections being made between traditional media and digital media.

"We are putting mobile first. It's about lots of synergy. Mobile is now a platform and not just a device a consumer is using," he said, adding the focus should be on making it as easy as possible for the consumer.

In late April Dunkin' announced it planned to deploy its mobile ordering feature for members of its DD Perks rewards program at locations throughout New York beginning in mid-May. Members can place a mobile order up to 24 hours in advance, select their desired location, and then confirm via the Dunkin' Donuts mobile app when they are ready to pick up their order inside the restaurant, or at the drive-thru.

The order is automatically paid for using their Dunkin' Donuts Card within the app. In the restaurant, DD Perks Members have no need to wait, as they can skip the line and go straight to pick up their items at a designated area. They also have the ability to save their recent orders as a favorite to speed up future visits.

Dunkin' is rolling out the to-go ordering in 1,500 New York stores and its success will be tied to having a strong back-end process, explained Costello, and ensuring mobile data related to ordering is secure and protected.

While heavily focused on mobile and new customer-focused functionality, Dunkin' Brands is also busy with store developments, as QSRweb has reported. In April Dunkin' signed a multi-unit store development agreement with new franchise group Hyde Park Ventures to develop 10 restaurants in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and four new restaurants in northwest Arkansas.

When it comes to strategic leadership in retail customer experience and innovation, there is one true necessity, Costello said.

"You must surround yourself with people who know more than you do, people who have big ideas, in the organization and at agencies," he said, describing the Dunkin' app as one of the "most inclusive products in the company's history."

"If you're doing business today like you did last week, the competition is gaining on you and if you're doing business like you did last year you may soon be out of business."

Flickr photo. 


Topics: In-App Payments, Loyalty Programs, POS, Restaurants, Trends / Statistics


Judy Mottl / Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.
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