I Can’t Bring Myself to Say Venti: Looking at Dunkin’ Donuts

When I go into my local Starbucks, I’ll usually ask for a “large” chai, or coffee. The word “venti,” which they use to indicate their largest size, just can’t make its way out of my mouth.

Something about fake foreign languages maybe. So, it means 20, as in twenty ounces. There’s a pretentiousness to the sizing that I just can’t bring myself to buy into.

There is also a Dunkin’ Donuts in the small college town I live in, and I have no problem asking for a large coffee there. In Dunkin’ Donuts, a large is a large. There are also at least eight or nine other coffee places in town (it’s a highly caffeinated place). Most of them are better experiences than either Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. A few are cheaper than Dunkin’ Donuts.

With news of the sale of Dunkin’ Donuts, I decided to take a look at their web site. There are some strange things going on there.

The first that struck me immediately is that the site uses a secure protocol (https) throughout. I’m not sure why. There are no forms to fill out on the front page of the site. Do the folks who work on their web pages understand why a secure protocol exists? Maybe they have a reason for what they do. They are getting pages indexed in the search engines, but it does look like they could use someone with some SEO knowledge taking a serious look at their pages.

The other thing that I noticed was that it’s all about the coffee. The focus of their site definitely isn’t about donuts, but rather the dunkin’. From the coffee cup logo, to the page title that tells us “Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee | Buy Coffee Beans Online.”

Now a company that spends $75 million a year on advertising is pretty serious about being noticed. And a pretty smart campaign on the Yankees web site a couple of years ago shows they have some folks working with them who are internet savvy.

Of course, even very large companies stumble sometimes. A web page titled What I Would Do If I Were CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts (no longer available) talks about a marketing nightmare Dunkin’ Donuts ran into back in 1999, when the New York Post ran a picture of some mice feasting on donuts in the window of a New York Dunkin Donuts’s franchise. The company quickly became the butt of jokes on the David Letterman show. How would you react if this was your company? The writer of this article has some good ideas. Dunkin Donuts probably got it wrong. But, it looks like they’ve put it behind them, and learning from your mistakes is valuable in itself.

I remember the “time to get up to make the donuts commercials” that Dunkin’ Donuts used for years. Back then, it did seem to be about the donuts. I don’t see those commercials anymore. Here are a few articles that look at some of the strategies that the company has used in the last few years.

It’s Not About the Doughnuts
A Fast Company look at Dunkin’ Donuts, notes that it’s not about the experience, but rather speed and price. Faster and cheaper than Starbucks, it’s a “hit and run” kind of place.

A Java Jolt For Dunkin’ Donuts
Last December, Business Week took a look at the expansion plans of the Coffee and Donut Giant.

Average Joe
Some interesting observations here on marketing segmentation, and placement (everywhere, apparently), and how the focus is the coffee, and not the food. Thoughtful article.

Regardless of those articles, I wonder about their online approach. It seems like some of the smartest internet marketing for Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t even by Dunkin’ Donuts. For a look at how a blog can help a business, see: More on the Dunkin’ Donuts Blog

A few weeks ago, Search Engine Journal’s Loren Baker took a close look at the local search strategy of Dunkin Donuts. Or is that a lack of strategy? In Dunkin Donuts Doesn’t Get Local Search Marketing, he pinpoints some of the things that Dunkin’ Donuts could do to make their focus on being everywhere work more to their advantage.

It wouldn’t take much of that $75 million per annum advertising budget to fix some of the SEO issues on the Dunkin’ Donuts web site. Maybe the new owners will consider it.

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2 thoughts on “I Can’t Bring Myself to Say Venti: Looking at Dunkin’ Donuts”

  1. I’m with you on the issue of false languages. Of course, in Italy, they don’t know what 20oz are, which makes it doubly disingenuous!

    I had a similar thing ordering from Pizza Hut yesterday. I kept asking for ‘deep pan’ or ‘thin crust’ stuff, and the girl on the other end of the phone kept translating it into PizzaHut-ese. This was annoying.

    On another level, I react against this all-pervasive branding as it feels like a corporation is trying to own every aspect of my experience. “If you come in our store, you *have* to use our terminology.”

    We’ve had this for years in pubs etc., where you ask for a coke (small ‘c’, i.e. the generic term, rather than the brand name, and they have to ask you “Is Pepsi alright?”. That gets on my tit-ends.

    Behind this branding of bevarage cup sizes there lies some kind of abominable arrogance. The thinking goes, “If we can get everyone saying Venti instead of Large, then they’ll want to come into $tarbuck$, because they talk our talk.” Is there any sense here?

    Good usability means modelling the experience of the system to match as closely as possible the user’s mental model, rather than the functional model. In other words, make the experience fit how I see the process, rather than how it happens behind the scenes.

    In this instance, you could get better usability by adapting the language to the user’s vocabulary, rather than the other way round. If I say “large” give me a large, and call it a large. If I say “deep pan” give me your equivalent. That surely isn’t too hard.

  2. Thanks, Ben.

    Great points on the usability issues.

    Of course, in Italy, they don’t know what 20oz are, which makes it doubly disingenuous!

    Glad you brought that to light. I guess that isn’t what someone in Italy would ask for either.

    Tension between branding and usability is an interesting area to examine. I wonder sometimes if the folks in the Marketing Department at Starbucks and the people in the Usability Department have hostile relationships with members of the other department.

    I like when a pizzeria has only medium and large sizes of a pizza. I sometimes will ask for a “small pizza” and they trot out the well reheased line; “We do not have small. We have only medium and large.” I usually respond to that something like “I’ll take the smaller of those then.”

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