SBJ/Nov. 11-17, 2013/People and Pop Culture

John Costello, president of global marketing and innovation, Dunkin’ Brands

Veteran marketer who helped shape brands at Pepsi, Sears, Home Depot and Yahoo reflects on cultivating innovation and how to combine traditional advertising with social and digital media.



C
hange is so accelerated now [that] it’s become the norm. As a result, agility in marketing is more important than it ever has been.

The key to marketing now and driving profitable growth has become successful cross-functional collaboration — across your company and with outside partners and agencies. Our mobile app has 3 1/2 million downloads. That was developed through collaboration between marketing, IT, operations, and franchisees to make it a real success.

Costello speaks at last month’s Association of National Advertisers annual conference in Phoenix.
Photo by: BRIAN SALEE PHOTOGRAPHY
Like so many brands, we’re still learning the right role for digital and social media, especially when traditional marketing continues to work well for us.

One thing we know is that if we put a product picture up in our restaurants, we sell more. When we take that picture down, we sell less. … It’s easy to get caught up in doing everything new in marketing.

Differentiate or die. We think about our brands every hour of every day, but the reality is that our customers don’t. So if we can’t tell consumers in a sentence or two why they should chose our brand, we’re lost in the shuffle.

Everything that touches consumers affects your brand: products, in-store experience, or whatever. Are you reaching out to everyone to make sure all those touch points are working together?

We’ve all seen brands that spent millions on great TV campaigns, yet customers still hated them. It’s because they didn’t understand what all the touch points were and how they could fit and work together.

The question of advertising on mobile is an intriguing one. Mobile becomes a form of one-to-one marketing, which is really a conversation with your consumer. It requires understanding what your customer wants and providing them with information to fill that need.

In that context, relevant offers and information are powerful; spam is not.

The key to our growth as a brand has been convincing people that we are the place to get their “coffee-plus” meal every morning, and maybe stop by in the afternoon for more. “Time to make the donuts” was a great and iconic campaign from our past, but we realized that coffee was our future.

People like ritual, but they also like change, so a key part of our success has been understanding the value of product continuity and product innovation.

This is such a people-driven business that my No. 1 priority is assembling a great team, including our agency partners, and getting out of their way (laughs).

We had 43 product launches within the year, so I suppose you could say that we set high expectations and empower our people to deliver and achieve on those.

With that many new products, I go back to how important collaboration is. Our culinary team reports to me, and the way they work with the marketing team has everything to do with how fast and comprehensively new products get out the door. With that many new things, you can see we encourage innovation, but at the same time, we are not afraid to fail.

We discovered a couple of years ago that the power of the Dunkin’ brand lies in the passion of our fans for our coffee.

We found some of our biggest fans on social media, contacted those with the most interesting tweets and asked them if they wanted to be in an ad. The result is our new campaign, #mydunkin.

Given the increasing power of social media, you may see a lot more brands heading in this direction, because it just makes so much sense.

I am a huge consumer of every sort of media, including social media, because I believe an important part of my job is picking up on emerging trends.

My smartphone is my most indispensable device, followed quickly by my tablet, because I am increasingly getting all my media digitally. The first thing I look at in the mornings is still email, though, like everyone else.

The most important lesson I learned from my years at [Procter & Gamble] was just an overriding focus on the consumer and research. … If you understand the consumer better than anyone else, it means you will meet their needs better than anybody else.

The best career advice I ever got was at P&G, and it was “Focus on having a positive impact and building great relationships with your peers, and your career will take care of itself.”


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