November 2, 2018

Remember that guy who got up before sunrise because it was time to make the donuts?

Today, he’s likely to just stay in bed. That’s because iconic 68-year-old Dunkin’ Donuts announced a rebranding that shortens its name to just Dunkin’. As the name implies, the chain will focus less on sugary and gooey pastries fresh from the oven and more on coffee and other beverages. And for good reason: The company says drinks make up 60 percent of its sales; Marketing Director Tony Weisman says beverages represent “the key to the future of the business.”

The rebranding of a legacy brand is not particularly new: We saw this when Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC; this month, last month, Weight Watchers announced it will now be known simply as WW. Then there’s IHOP, which flirted with changing its name to IHOB in an effort to boost its hamburger line.

What makes the Dunkin’ rebranding notable is that it prepared its audience long before it made the switch. Twelve years ago, Dunkin’ Donuts created the slogan, “America Runs on Dunkin’” — A shorter and more modern version of the traditional name, and one that allowed loyalists to become at ease with the unexpected tinkering of their favorite brand. In some areas, the new name stuck: In fact in the Northeast, Dunkin’ Donuts became known as “Dunkin’” for years.

More recently, Dunkin’ began test marketing what consumers felt about shortening its name and focusing its positioning around beverages. Last year, at a location in Pasadena, California, the company designed a storefront that displayed its new name and slogan: “Dunkin’ — Coffee and More.” The company also made public that it planned to design new store layouts, offer curbside service, and streamline menus at 300 locations to bolster its image as a “beverage-led, on-the-go brand.”

When you’re starting with a legacy brand that has widespread appeal, and you have the luxury of time, implementing a rebranding in stages, with healthy doses of consumer co-creation and feedback, may be a wise move in these restless times. After all, we’ve seen consumers react with hostility, especially online, when a rebranding is dumped on them, seemingly overnight.

The way Dunkin’ approached its rebranding shows sensitivity for its audience. The prolonged rollout also gave the company time to get a better understanding of what people will and won’t tolerate, and what opportunities there may be when moving its brand into the future. This kind of cautious conversation is somewhat rare these days; often brands forget that disruptions can feel like a volcano to loyal consumers; by taking small steps forward, they are helping consumers become part of the story. Think of it as a partnership in evolution.

So is the final Dunkin’ rebranding the result of a company embracing what consumer have projected on the brand for years (along with the company’s help, of course)? We’ll never know. But what we do see is a company that understands how, when given the opportunity, aging gracefully can be much more potent than an extreme makeover.

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