The Big Brand Theory: Dunkin Donuts and Its Community of Fans

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ImageRight after World War II, William Rosenberg cashed in some war bonds, borrowed some money, and opened a food truck business.  He grew that entrepreneurial endeavor to over 140 catering trucks, and then opened a coffee and doughnut shop, later renamed “Dunkin’ Donuts.” That was the start of the franchise that has over 10,000 stores around the world, and serves about three million customers each day.

Jessica Gioglio, Social Media Manager at Dunkin Donuts, discusses with me some of the energy that emerges around the brand in social media, “We have this amazing fan community that really views Dunkin Donuts as a daily ritual. As a result of that, our mantra is that we don’t own our social media channels; our fans do.”

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You might call Dunkin Donuts a love brand – one of those brands like Harley Davidson or Coca-Cola that has earned a strong loyalty from a larger portion of its customers. As a result, social media engagement around the brand’s profiles is high.  Gioglio says that when she started with Dunkin Donuts over three ago, she was amazed at the quantity of interactions. “People love to talk about how Dunkin coffee keeps them going,” she says, “what occasions they drink coffee to kind of give them a boost; whether its dealing with a case of the Mondays, or taking that great first bite out of a doughnut, then taking a picture of it to share it to their friend community.”

This means that a large part of the job around the brand’s social media is about social listening so that content can be crafted in a way that is inspired by how customers engage with the brand. Gioglio explains, “the magic is in the mix when it comes to talking about ourselves and our brand. We think of it as we want to be an all day, everyday part of our fans’ lives in a way that makes sense and adds value.”

A lot of that valuable content does point back to the store’s products.  People really want to know about new menu items. And as some of those menu items are seasonal, they also want to know when they can get a favorite item.  An example that Gioglio provides refers to October, “you feel like a rock star the day you post the date that pumpkin is returning!”

Content Plans and Real Time

With central brand social media profiles and countless regional variations, it’s important to have a well-maintained content calendar.  At the same time, in order for the brand’s social posts to be as relevant as possible, it must roll with what Gioglio calls the serendipity of real time. She explains, “it’s not abnormal for us to leave certain blocks in the content calendar. To make sure we’re timely this week, we’ll leave a little bit of it open for our agency to come up with ideas that are more real-time based on what might be trending, or what might be a popular conversation topic.”

ImageThis might include the weather and sports. And of course, those big variables tend to be very particular to specific regions or cities.  It’s a fine line for large brands: to speak from a central brand, and yet be specific to different audiences.

Gioglio says, “As marketers and social marketers, you always want to be the most relevant to your community: the right message to the right person at the right time. There’s a way to do that in a very conversational kind of fun way on social media that doesn’t feel like traditional marketing; and that’s the beauty of what we’ve tried to actually advocate across the markets that represent Dunkin; is just really show the local flavor of your community and how they run on Dunkin.”

Getting Visual

Gioglio, incidentally, co-authored along with Ekaterina Walter the book The Power of Visual Storytelling: How to Use Visuals, Videos, and Social Media to Market Your Brand. It’s no wonder that Gioglio is bullish on the visual, “When you think about food, people eat with their eyes. A lot of what we do with our visual content strategy on Facebook and other channels like Instagram, Vine, and Twitter, is to be an all-day, everyday part of people’s lives. Visuals are a great way to tell a story; they’re a great way to get people to pause and interact. A great beautiful mouthwatering photo of a doughnut is going to spark your cravings and keep Dunkin top of mind.”

Gioglio says that informal photographs are in line with the experience their customers are having with the brand. “They’re stopping into Dunkins; snapping a picture of their coffee cup as they’re getting into their car; tweeting it out; and then they’re going on with their day. If we can replicate that behavior through our social channels I think that’s a huge win for us.”

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3 ways Dunkin’ Donuts celebrates fans on social media

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“If someone is going to get a tattoo of your brand, you should figure out a way to celebrate them,” says Jessica Gioglio, social media manager for Dunkin’ Donuts.

According to Gioglio, Dunkin’ Donuts’ celebratory strategy was inspired by a Facebook fan who sent in a photo of her Dunkin’ Donuts tattoo.

In her presentation at SocialMedia.org’s BlogWell conference, Gioglio shares how a fan-centric approach has helped Dunkin’ Donuts earn customer loyalty, create fun content and keep the conversation going.

Here are some lessons she shared in her presentation:

Surprise and delight your fans.

When someone shows his love for Dunkin’ Donuts, the brand shows love back through little gifts and handwritten notes. Gioglio says these moments spark even more conversations and customer loyalty.

Tell a visual story.

Gioglio’s team knows photos and videos win on social media. The team takes inspiration from fans to make things like Vine video TV ads and Instagram photo contests.

[RELATED: Ragan’s biggest social media conference returns to the Walt Disney World Resort in April!]

Make contests fun for your fans.

While you might get more contest entries by asking people to like something, that’s not real communication with your customers. Higher-level contests, while they may have fewer entries, earn more inspiring, reusable content.

Watch Gioglio’s full presentation below. The slides are available for download.

A version of this article originally appeared on SmartBlog on Social Media. 

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