C Gopinath

Fit to be dunked

C Gopinath | Updated on October 15, 2018 Published on October 15, 2018

Re-branding can be a tricky exercise

Tribune Publishing, a 150-year-old Chicago firm that puts out well known papers like the Chicago Tribune, and New York Post, renamed itself a couple of years ago to ‘Tronc’. This is what textbooks call a re-branding exercise. The new name was supposed to represent Tribune Online Content, signifying the company’s new direction. After endless jokes, the company recently reverted to the old name.

The parent of ‘Dunkin’ Donuts,’ an international coffee retailing chain, announced recently that it will drop the Donuts from the store’s name, coming January. The company reports that beverages account for over 60 per cent of its sales and the renaming recognises that focus. Their Donuts (doughnuts), they reassure customers, will continue to be available in their stores.

And their customers are a feisty lot. They do need reassurance. Many years ago when the company thought it would call its grilled sandwiches ‘panini’, customers thought the name too pretentious and made the company change its mind. Dunkin’ Donuts (DD) appeals to the average middle class customer. The coffee is popular. The stores are clean and designed to cater to moving customers through fast. Some stores do have places to sit, but they are very different from their more up-scale rival, Starbucks.

Changing customer base

But let’s get back to this branding thing. There must be something to it if the company thinks that the new name will make people come to it more for beverages than doughnuts. Perhaps the new name is meant to capture the imagination of a changing customer base, whoever they are. If the old name was to suggest that people could dunk (or dip) the doughnut in the coffee, I’ve never seen anybody do it. There may be a better justification for dropping ‘dunkin’ than donut. Perhaps, under the company’s new strategy, you could dip a whole lot of stuff in a whole lot of beverages! A cynic may smell something else. With growing health consciousness, the name change may signify the arrival of ‘Dunkin’ Health Sandwiches’ or some such tripe. That would surely put-off the loyal DD customer.

Coffee retailers are in a tizzy finding new ways to grab customers who are shifting away from soft drinks into specialty drinks. Languishing afternoon sales is also a concern. The morning coffee is a ritual to many, but people’s tastes seem to be all over the place afternoon. Snacks and other drinks may be one way to get the post-lunch customer in. Perhaps removing ‘donuts’ allows them to serve other snacks.

Only recently, all restaurants were required to display the calorie level of the items they serve and I stopped buying the croissant at DD when I found it had 320 calories. DD’s name change is seen as an opportunity by some savvy customers. They are buying the mugs with the full name, hoping it has future value as a collectible.

When my university had a new president a few years ago, one of his first actions was to have the logo redesigned. (Everybody wants to re-brand.) He did not last very long, and the interim-president who followed set about his most important task — another redesign of the logo. Fortunately, he too went soon enough and our current president has rightfully focussed on more important issues than the logo.

Meanwhile, I hope the marketers at Dunkin have been following the Tribune story.

The writer is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston.

Published on October 15, 2018
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