Since their brands were born, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks have been sworn rivals. As the two biggest coffee companies in the United States, each has created a fiercely loyal following of its own. Aside from the distinguishable coffee flavor (Starbucks being stronger than Dunkin’), there are many presumptions associated with each brand, from lifestyle choices to personalities (take this BuzzFeed quiz to figure out which one you are). 

In my opinion, Starbucks focuses more on the experience of ordering a coffee - combining various flavors and brews and even offering a “secret menu” for loyal customers who have heard from various sources about these undisclosed drinks. Dunkin’, on the other hand, focuses on being effortless in its ability to provide fast, efficient service and a menu that appeals to all ages and taste buds.

Brand Strategies

Ironically enough, these widely popular brands have completely different business strategies. Location wise, Dunkin’ dominates the northeastern region of America, but has no franchises anywhere else; whereas Starbucks has scattered locations throughout the country.

In terms of environment, Starbucks portrays itself as a premium brand with an emphasis on high-quality products tailored to the individual. Customers shopping at Starbucks are encouraged to stay, socialize, and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. In contrast, Dunkin’ has been a household name for the Northeast for over 70 years. Because it was established in 1950, the brand has become iconic. With a slogan like America runs on Dunkin’, this business implies that it’s “for the people.”   

Mobile Apps

Starbucks has one of the most successful mobile apps to date. Since its initial development in 2009, Starbucks has been building, personalizing, and expanding its mobile app to give customers a fast, easy experience. The app has various features including tracking rewards for free drinks and even a song tracker that tells the user what song is playing in which location across America.

Even though Dunkin’ was a little behind to capitalize on smart phone technology, they, too have a mobile app to make buying coffee that much easier. Dunkin’s app explores every angle of the business from nutrition value to navigation that locates the closest franchise. The “DD Perks” system tracks your purchases for rewards, even gives you a free beverage on your birthday.

Both businesses have a mobile order element that is my personal favorite piece of the app. There is no greater joy than ordering my coffee, strolling into the massive line at Dunkin’ (you caught me, I’m a Dunkin’ guy through and through), and cutting right up to the front to grab my pre-paid, medium black hot coffee before I head to Boston Digital in the morning.

The Future of Coffee

Like their business models, Starbucks and Dunkin’ are approaching the future quite differently when it comes to gaining loyalty and exciting their customers.

Starbucks is targeting a younger audience – appealing to Millennials and Generation Z with its products like the Unicorn Frappuccino and Pink Drink that have been exploding across social media. These wildly unique drinks are causing a stir on Instagram and Snapchat by kids of all ages simply because they’re unlike anything we’ve seen in the coffee industry thus far.

Meanwhile, Dunkin’ Donuts is trying a free sample approach to promote new items on the menu. They, too, are aiming for younger coffee drinkers’ audiences (with presumably smaller incomes because they’re still in school), because what college or high school student isn’t going to jump at the opportunity for a free coffee or donut? In return, Dunkin’ is getting positive PR about the brand as well as reviews for their new products.

Both brands are hoping that with their new PR efforts, they will attract the younger generations so that by the time they have entered the workforce they will have already established brand loyalty.

A Brewing Rivalry

Like the iconic feud between the Red Sox and the Yankees, Starbucks and Dunkin’ have unwavering fans that will follow them into the future of caffeine. While these brands have very similar numbers in terms of revenue, franchises, it’s amazing to see that both took vastly different approaches to building their brands and getting where they are today. Even though I will always run on Dunkin’, I tip my hat to Starbucks for its unique marketing and media strategies.

Ten years ago, nobody could have imagined that the coffee business would lodge itself so deeply into the digital world; it is safe to say Dunkin’ and Starbucks fans everywhere are excited to see where these brands are headed next.

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