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Dunkin' 'on the Offensive' in Coffee War

Q&A: New Marketing Chief Aims to Establish Chain as Beverage Leader

By Published on .

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- America may run on Dunkin', but Dunkin' runs on Will Kussell.
Will Kussell: 'You've got to educate the consumer on what your brand stands for, because in making the case, some people have a dated perception that we're more oriented toward doughnuts.'
Will Kussell: 'You've got to educate the consumer on what your brand stands for, because in making the case, some people have a dated perception that we're more oriented toward doughnuts.'

As the coffee war with McDonald's heats up this year, the $4.7 billion, privately held doughnut chain has tapped Mr. Kussell, 49, as president-chief brand officer. Mr. Kussell has held a variety of marketing jobs, including senior VP-marketing and retail concept officer, during his 13-year tenure with Dunkin' Donuts, which has 5,300 U.S. locations. He was most recently chief operating officer of parent company Dunkin' Brands.

Mr. Kussell, who said he likes "to be on the offensive," was quick to point out that Dunkin' is No. 1 in hot coffee and has sold lattes and cappuccinos since 2003 -- although he admitted many consumers aren't aware of it. To combat that problem, the chain is introducing a new store design featuring more coffee tones and prominent placement of its espresso station. It's also introducing hash browns, flatbread sandwiches and sweet tea.

In addition, it is bringing its brand to a number of new markets, including Nashville and Las Vegas, and expanding in others, such as Chicago and Indianapolis. The company opened 500 stores last year.

The chain also undoubtedly will leverage its $100 million-plus advertising budget to beat back the coffee incursion from rivals. Mr. Kussell "is never one to rest on his laurels or be satisfied with just having a successful brand," said Mike Sheehan, CEO of Dunkin's agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holiday, Boston. Ad Age spoke to the Dunkin' marketing chief about what's ahead for the chain.

Ad Age: How would you describe your consumer?

Mr. Kussell: Our consumer is mainstream American. We have a very broad demographic. We equally index across all income levels; male and female is very balanced.

Ad Age: With a coffee war coming in 2008, what will be Dunkin's place in it?

Mr. Kussell: We really are the leading beverage authority. Marrying that with our bakery authority, we have a two-fisted punch, and of course it's built on speed of service. We are fast. And the last piece is we're reasonably priced for the quality and service. ... We're typically more reasonably priced than one of our competitors.

Ad Age: What are the challenges as you enter new markets?

Mr. Kussell: You've got to educate the consumer on what your brand stands for, because in making the case, some people have a dated perception that we're more oriented toward doughnuts. The big challenge is making them understand that we are a beverage leader.

Ad Age: What are some of the changes we'll be able to see in Dunkin's marketing this year?

Mr. Kussell: You'll see us focus on what we always do: delivering great quality and speed of service at a fair price. That's how we built the brand over the past several years, and that's the bedrock of the tremendous passionate loyalty.

Ad Age: You have a facility design that's slated for all new restaurants and remodels. What are some of the changes we'll see?

Mr. Kussell: We try to bring forward the brand and brought in more coffee tones both exterior and interior, more visual merchandising of the espresso area and more comfortable seating. [It] speaks to a more contemporary feel but still captures who we are as an accessible, fun brand. From a visual perspective, we're making the espresso more prominent.

Ad Age: Dunkin's "I'm freezing at peewee hockey" spot introduces Milky Way hot chocolate, an area that's been successful for you in the past. What was the idea behind the new ads?

Mr. Kussell: The hockey spot is for any of us have been to the hockey rink at 6 a.m. when it's 10 degrees and can't feel their hands. It's how we fit into people's lives. We make it a little bit better.

Ad Age: What tweaks are you making to menu in Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines, where you're also expanding?

Mr. Kussell: They like fruit, so more variety with pineapple and jelly and guava, more products on the beverage side -- green-tea Coolatta -- and then we also have other products that we have innovated that have really resonated.

Ad Age: How did Dunkin' become involved with Rachael Ray?

Mr. Kussell: We had been looking at ways to energize our women's business. ... We were excited by her energy and appeal. She is mainstream American, and we felt she would fit with our "America runs on Dunkin'" platform with her insight and enthusiasm and passion.

Ad Age: Ms. Ray took some serious flak in the cooking community for partnering with Dunkin'. Were you surprised by that?

Mr. Kussell: Well, she's not a chef. She's the anti-chef. She makes meals simple. That's the whole premise. ... She's very authentic about who she is. It's part of her charm, but for some people ... everyone forms their own opinions.
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