Wednesday, March 7, 2007

You Can't Eat or Drink Lifestyle

CRM Buyer has reproduced a story by Donna Goodison for the Boston Herald on a recent customer loyalty poll in the chain coffee shop business. This is an annual poll conducted by Brand Keys based on a few straightforward criteria:

The New York market research firm's survey measures how well a company meets loyal customers' expectations based on location and value, in-store experience and service, quality and taste, and variety and range of offerings.

Here is Goodison's summary of methods and results:

Brand Keys, which has conducted the customer loyalty surveys for a decade and partnered with Brandweek to bestow awards to winners since 2004, added the coffee and doughnuts category five years ago. It conducted telephone surveys of 20,000 U.S. adults, equally split between men and women ages 18 to 60, from nine census regions. Those who buy coffee three or more times a week were asked where they make their purchases and were classified as either Dunkin', Starbucks or Krispy Kreme customers.

Dunkin's scores rose in all four measures judged. It scored higher than Starbucks in both in-store service and experience, and quality and taste.

Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, see this as a clear statement that customers care more about product than about "lifestyle experience," which has been the emphasis is recent Starbucks branding:

When you think of Dunkin', you think of doughnuts and coffee. You don't think of CDs, you don't think of sandwiches, you don't think of newspapers.

I found it interesting that Brand Keys did not consider price a factor in customer loyalty, particularly in economic times when many people are more careful about how much they want to pay to have someone else prepare their coffee. However, if we are to believe the March 2007 issue of Consumer Reports, a Starbucks cup, at $1.55, came in a dime cheaper than the Dunkin' Donuts cup ($1.65). (That Consumer Reports piece, by the way, gave best price ($1.35) and best taste to McDonald's; but I, personally, have never been that confident in the assessment of either taste or nutrition!)

So if price is not the determining factor, could there be an issue of cultural rebellion? Is America losing its taste for the "Seattle trendy" cachet, if not for the beans and brewing? Could it be a matter of perceiving Starbucks as an "evil empire," from the same mould as that other mega-corporation in Washington state? Probably it is not worth too much speculation. Consumer behavior has always been highly volatile; so, while Brand Keys may conduct this survey once a year, the half-life of the results is far shorter!

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