SBJ/August 15-21, 2011/In Depth

Dunkin’ Donuts fed ideas on social media

Dunkin’ Donuts was fresh off signing new sponsorships with the New York Giants and Jets when the head of the Center for Sports and Entertainment Studies at Iona College called the company’s vice president of brand marketing, Scott Hudler, to offer up his students to work on a consulting project.

Because it would be difficult to manage from Dunkin’s corporate offices in Massachusetts, Hudler turned the project over to the marketing director responsible for the company’s push into the New York market, Russ Romeo.

“I’m glad we did it and I’ve already told them I’d be happy to do it again,” Romeo said. “I was energized by working with the students, who came to the project with the passion and enthusiasm that you don’t always get from someone with more experience. I think we benefited from getting a fresh perspective.”

Students suggested ways to use social media to boost sales of iced beverages and coffee.
The task was one that was a priority for Dunkin’: Designing ways to use the high-profile sponsorships to drive sales of its iced beverages during the early stages of the NFL season and of hot coffee during the bulk of the season. The brand had ideas but was struggling to find creative ways to use social media to attract younger consumers.

“When you have all these 20-somethings that you can put to work, that’s appealing to people,” said Glenn Horine, who heads the program at Iona. “A lot of the Dunkin’ project was based around social media. You have this petri dish of 20-somethings who are not only your consultants, but also your target. You may not take the global idea that they propose; you may take bits and pieces. Either way, when you go back to your counterparts with the insight, you seem that much smarter.”

The project began with Romeo meeting with students to go over the sponsorship and outline Dunkin’s objectives. From there, he met with them as groups and encouraged them to ask questions both by phone and via email.

“What I focused on with them was what I focus on and ask my team and agency to do,” Romeo said. “Find ways to use the sponsorship to drive revenue and income and build the brand that we’re stewards of. We wanted to grow coffee and [iced] beverages. That’s exactly what I’d ask my team to do.”

One difference was the degree to which Romeo shared financials with the students. He said he spoke in terms of percentages rather than actual dollars most of the time. When he did need to use numbers to give them a point of reference, he said he used fictitious figures.

“You can talk in general terms and still give them enough to come back with something that’s real world,” Romeo said. “Even if this dollar amount is fictitious, what would you do against it? How would you use it? You’re still giving them the opportunity to think and present a sound business case.”

While most of the students’ recommendations involved social media, one that stood out for Romeo was more of an in-stadium play. They suggested a program around premium packages called tailgate packs, with boxes of coffee and doughnuts that fans could take to the stadium. The concept required too much packaging and bundling for Romeo to implement it immediately, but he saw merit in the idea.

“Most of the people who work for me aren’t tailgating, so something like that wouldn’t have occurred to them,” Romeo said. “Maybe it’s not the answer, but it could be a path to the answer. You could do something during the week where fans can show their support. Office parties. We’d need a little more time to hone it, but it’s an interesting concept with a thought-provoking way to leverage a love of sports.”
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