Fan engagement at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts

John's reflections, Key to communities, Marketing and branding, Storytelling, Storytelling and marketing Leave a comment

In the previous post, I wrote that Dunkin’ Donuts seems to do better than Starbucks at engaging their fan community.  Let’s look at why.

As a regular visitor to Starbuck’s Facebook page, and a subscriber to their emails, I am often puzzled by the lack of storytelling in their communication.  If there is a company with some good stories to tell and an impressive following of loyal customers who could write about their in-store experiences, it would certainly be Starbucks.  So, I sometimes wonder: Are they still living mostly in the old world of marketing, the world of one-way messages to their fans?

Much like IKEA, Starbucks seems to have a remarkable group of followers, and a comparable reluctance to engage them in storytelling.  The company sends out frequent emails, but these are usually no more than announcements of a new flavor, or of an offer promoting reduced prices.

Why am I frustrated when I get email from Starbucks?  As a fan of the Starbucks brand and of coffee in general, I would like to hear the stories of the baristas who make the coffee, the buyers who source the product in exotic places, or to see pictures and hear tales from the lives of the people who pick the beans.   As a fan of storytelling and imagery, I want to “feel” and smell the coffee, not just know it is on promotion.

In addition, I would like to read stories of outstanding customer experiences, of great service, of humorous experiences, of why people go to their favorite Starbucks and what they feel when they are there.  For a company such as Starbucks, getting consumers to share their stories would be a relatively easy task.
In sending out promotional messages, Starbucks is still putting their product and the promotion of their product at the center of story.

Dunkin’ Donuts, on the other hand, focuses its communication on its consumers and their relationship to the company. Starbucks beats Dunkin’ Donuts in number of fans but loses when it comes to customer advocacy.  This is because Dunkin’ Donuts focuses on involving its followers in more active ways.
When we visit their Facebook page or read their newsletter, we see that the customer is squarely at the center of the action.  We see customer photos and stories, rather than promotional messages about the product.

Each week, Dunkin’ Donuts changes its profile picture, featuring one of its customers as “Fan of the Week”.  The chosen fans posts a picture and also has an opportunity to tell a story of what he likes about Dunkin’ Donuts, or an anecdote of some unusual experience in one of the company’s stores.  From time to time, the company runs a contest, asking consumers to send in their photos and stories, for example stories of drinking a Dunkin’ Donuts drink in an atypical or unusual circumstance.  These contests usually generate wide-scale responses from the brand community.

What is the difference between Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts?  To me, Starbucks is still mostly living in the “old” world of marketing and customer relations.  In the old days, we used media to promote ourselves.  It was the world of unidirectional marketing.  Today, the most effective companies understand that e-marketing offers opportunities to engage consumers and fans in a bidirectional relationship, a true conversation.  It is by putting its community at the center of this conversation that Dunkin’ Donuts turns its fans into brand advocates.

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