Coffee, doughnuts and Big Data: Q+A with Dunkin’ Donuts VP Sherrill Kaplan

Brands often talk about connecting with consumers. It’s particularly important for brands that sell coffee, which is such a personal product to so many people. Have you ever, in the morning, heard someone say they hadn’t had coffee? No; it’s “I haven’t had my coffee yet.”

Coffee, doughnuts and Big Data: Q+A with Dunkin’ Donuts VP Sherrill KaplanNaturally, loyalty is hugely important to Dunkin’ Donuts, which, despite its name, mostly sells coffee. The brand launched DD Perks in 2014, a big topic when John Costello, the former President of Global Marketing and innovation at Dunkin’ Donuts, delivered the keynote at ClickZ Live New York two years later.

How has the loyalty program evolved since then? Dunkin’ Donuts updates its app regularly, and today it’s got a fully digital menu so you’re “walking around with Dunkin’ Donuts” in your pocket, says Sherrill Kaplan, the brand’s Vice President of Marketing and Innovation whose responsibilities include customer relationship management, the mobile app, and DD Perks. Convenience is the centerpiece of the the latter, designed to get you in, out and running on Dunkin’ as quickly as possible.

We spoke with Kaplan about what inspired DD Perks, striking the right balance of communicating with its members, the importance of personalization and what’s to come.

ClickZ: What was the insight that inspired DD Perks?

Sherrill Kaplan: Dunkin’ is all about being a fast stop on your way, and we wanted to make sure the program was quick, easy and accelerated that vision. And we wanted it to be beverage-based. Perks members and on-the-go users overindex in beverages even more than regular guests because we’ve made it so easy and quick.

We have an incredibly loyal fan base. When our guests come in every single day, we wanted them to feel the love back. That was the genesis of the program.

Coffee, doughnuts and Big Data: Q+A with Dunkin’ Donuts VP Sherrill Kaplan

CZ: How does personalization factor into the loyalty program at Dunkin’ Donuts?

SK: You never equate Big Data with coffee and doughnuts, but that’s the next frontier. We have all this personalized data around spend behavior: How many times you go to Dunkin’ times 8 million people times 15,000 ways to order coffee.

We’ve started that journey and are really excited to dive in more, using machine learning and AI to look at people’s spend behavior to give them offers and communications that will resonate with them. Last year, we launched our first product trial offer so we basically looked at all the data sets and said, “What is Mike likely to buy?” Then we’d send an offer for whatever that is and something else that people similar to you buy. We saw some fantastic results. It’s about combining technology and data collection to give you the most customized and relevant experience.

dunkin' donuts refill app

CZ: Regarding notifications, how do you find a balance between communicating with customers enough but not too often?

SK: Our customers are very routine; business is exceptionally busy during the 7 to 9 a.m. window, for example. Coffee is not a purchase you plan for weeks and weeks. We try to gear messages toward the end of the day, so people have them the next morning. We monitor customer feedback, email unsubscribe rates and inactivity periods very closely because we want to make sure people are informed, but we don’t want to be a pain in the butt.

CZ: What’s been your most surprising-but-valuable data set from DD Perks?

Once people try on-the-go mobile ordering, we have an 80% retrial rate, which is pretty unbelievable. That’s a great show of customer satisfaction we really wear on our sleeve.

CZ: What’s the feature you’re most proud of?

SK: In 2016, we completely redid the app and digitized our menu and transported it into your phone so you’re basically walking around with Dunkin’ Donuts in your pocket. That means 15,000 ways to order a coffee, so what we find most useful is the ability to save your favorites. Having that one-click order makes it incredibly convenient.

Coffee, doughnuts and Big Data: Q+A with Dunkin’ Donuts VP Sherrill Kaplan

CZ: From a consumer’s standpoint, what’s your favorite loyalty program (besides your own)?

SK: I’m a JetBlue Mosaic person. I have three little kids and can get free drinks on the plane, free baggage check, and can board first. JetBlue doesn’t have a lot of frills, but it’s very simple and convenient, and really focuses on what the consumer wants.

CZ: What’s next for DD Perks?

SK: The biggest thing that prevents people from signing up is that they don’t want to load their payment information into the app. Later this year, we’re doing a pretty extensive test to see if we can remove that barrier in certain markets. We want to see if people will be more satisfied. We’ve also launched mobile ordering capabilities within Waze so you can see a Dunkin’ pin pop up and order right there. And there’s also another integration through a General Motors dashboard, where there’s a visualized Dunkin’ menu that lets you put in an order from the cloud. We’re thinking about all the customer distribution points so we can be even more convenient.

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