John Costello

What is your role, and what are you personally responsible for within your organization?

I’m the president of global marketing and innovation. This encompasses advertising, marketing digital, social, mobile, R&D, culinary, and consumer products business.


How do you measure your personal success?

Success boils down to three things: Strength of brand equity for both Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins brands; growing profitable sales for franchisees; and growing profitable sales for Dunkin brands.  


What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

“America runs on Dunkin’” is more than just a slogan, it’s our brand purpose. Our goal is to get customers running in the morning and keep them running all day long with great coffee, beverages and food, at great value, in convenient locations.  


What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

I’m a big believer in simplicity. One of the keys to brand marketing success is to build strong differentiation for your brand, and I define brand differentiation as providing the answer to the question, “why should customers choose your brand over all others?” In my career, I’ve found successful brand have a simple brand premise and that the strongest brand differentiation can be summarized in a simple but relevant context. In too many cases, brand marketers complicate their premise. We put lots of emphasis on boiling down to the core. For Baskin Robbins, for example, it’s a simple premise of making people happy: more flavors = more fun. It’s helping people recapture the fun they had as a child searching for a favorite flavor.  


How does your organization strive to create simple experiences? Please provide a specific example?

For example, our culinary and product development efforts are focused on creating differentiated products that are easy for franchisees to make, quick to prepare, and very portable for the customer. There’s an example of where getting people going morning and keeping them running all day is a fundamental premise of R&D and product development efforts. We work closely with franchisees to give them training on hiring and employee retention. Much of our success is based on great customer experiences our franchisees provide. We are known for intense loyalty—we’ve won Brand Keys for 9 years running, and part of that is the intense loyalty consumers feel for their local Dunkin’ Donuts. Franchisees know their cities, towns, and neighborhoods more than anyone – connecting with customers on a one to one basis is critical to the success of our brand.  


What are the challenges creating simple experiences for customers? One could argue about the complexity of serving fresh food and beverages. Each cup of coffee and sandwich is prepared fresh for every customer. Food service is actually a complicated business, particularly when you try to apply speed, value and simplicity into the experience. We also introduced 40 new Dunkin’ Donuts products in the U.S. last year. But providing a simple guest experience can be very compelling. When you stop for breakfast at a Dunkin’ Donuts, you can get coffee, sandwich, or donut quickly. Simplicity and speed of customer experience is an important, along with cost and convenience.  


How do you strive to conquer complexity within your own company?

We have both a consumer and a customer. Consumers are the end users, while the franchisees are our customers. So we are developing in-store experiences critical to the consumer, but easy for our franchisees to implement. The Dunkin’ Donuts app has more than 11 million downloads in 2 years, and the DD Perks loyalty program has 3 million in just more than a year. We built a mobile app that was not only very compelling for consumers, but that could be handled by our restaurant crews in store, in a simple way. We did a fair amount of consumer testing to ensure it was easy to use, but also operational testing to make sure it could be implemented in our restaurants and didn’t slow up the drive-thru..  


What benefits has your company experienced from simplifying?

I think there are several benefits for us, and for customers. We built the mobile app based on features the customers told us they wanted. This includes the ability to pay with our mobile app and a store locator. We were also one of the first to launch a bilingual app in Spanish, and we layered that on with a compelling DD Perks program that provides meaningful incentives for our most loyal customers.  


How do you strive to keep things “simple” for your marketing team every day? What’s working?

We focus on fewer, bigger things—it’s a mantra we have. Find out what makes a difference and eliminate the little things that create a clutter. We get people to focus on the 3-5 things in their area that make a difference, and ignore the noise.  


How overt is the focus on simplicity?

Very overt. Sometimes we refer to it as simplicity and sometimes we just call it focusing on what is most important to customers and franchisees. We are interested in focusing our efforts on the most important things required for growing a profitable business, while differentiating our brands. Focus and simplicity are cornerstones of that. We try to avoid the course of “incrementalism” — which is making every little thing better than the previous year – and instead focus on a few things that will make the biggest difference.  


What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had personally (e.g., product, service experience, etc.)?

I purchased new glasses on Warby Parker it was a fantastic experience. I make a practice of visiting different retail outlets across the country, and I was intrigued by their store in Atlanta. My first experience was with their website, which was highly curated and had a good selection of current styles. I then went into an actual store where sales associates were terrific, followed up by a store manager and optician who helped me pick the right frame and prescription. Ten days later I got the glasses in the mail. The company’s combination of a curated selection, great customer service, tech support and great value was compelling. I tweeted at them that I had a great experience there. Three hours later they responded by thanking me. I would say the Warby Parker experience is probably my most recent, very positive, omni-channel experience. I also continue to be pleased by how Amazon keeps getting better and better. I am a Prime member, and what has been fascinating to me is how each year they capture a higher percentage of my total non-food spending. Both Warby Parker and Amazon have compelling brand differentiation, and both provide a simple customer experience.  


What is the top piece of advice you’d give to other brands trying to simplify?

I would say, first, develop a simple, compelling point of brand differentiation. I’m a big believer that you can separate winners and losers by how simple that is. Second, focus on fewer bigger things. Have the discipline to say “no” to the clutter. Third, build a very strong team that buys into brand differentiation and simplicity. Fourth, as a leader, walk the talk. As leaders we need to not only set a focused direction, but to make sure we can help our teams focus on the most important things, and clear the non-important things off their plate. Also don’t clutter team members with projects that don’t meet the priorities.  


What is the biggest mistake brands are making in regard to simplifying?

Letting complexity creep in. I once read a compelling two-page brand manifesto which was inspirational, but the brand only ran 15 second ads.. So what was the relevance of the two-page manifesto? The two big challenges are always scope creep, and the inability to say “no” to good small projects.  


What does “simplicity” mean to you?

I would say simplicity to me means focusing on those things that are most compelling to your consumer and your company. To me simplicity is focusing on the things that differentiate our brand, build strong brand equity, and produce profitable sales for our company and the franchisees. It’s worth focusing on the importance of saying “no.” It’s more compelling to start with a simple marketing plan than letting tier 2 ideas creep in. Saying “no” to what is not important is as important as saying “yes” to the right things.