Dunkin’ Donuts and the Art of Rebranding

One of the country’s iconic coffee chains is considering dropping "donuts" from its brand name to focus on that all-important cuppa joe. It’s a good time to reflect on the reasons behind some pretty bold association rebrands.

America already runs on Dunkin’. But does its name need to remind people that it sells donuts? Apparently, the company doesn’t think so. Word is that Dunkin’ Donuts is testing locations labeled, simply, Dunkin’.

“While we remain the No. 1 retailer of donuts in the country, as part of our efforts to reinforce that Dunkin’ Donuts is a beverage-led brand and coffee leader, we will be testing signage in a few locations that refer to the brand simply as ‘Dunkin’,” the company explained in a statement to Nation’s Restaurant News last week.

The rebranding experiment, which will first be seen at a Pasadena, California, location, appears to be driven by changes in the company’s business model. Long story short: People love its coffee.

Rebranding, association-style

Of course, this is familiar territory for associations, which have a rich tradition of reinventing themselves when the times or their members or business conditions demand it. Here are some of the more interesting reasons behind association rebrands over the past five years:

A strong face amid consolidation. With the mobile industry seeing acquisition of smaller players left and right, the Rural Cellular Association renamed itself the Competitive Carriers Association in 2012 to allow smaller carriers to create a unified front in the industry.

An unfortunate acronym. Last year, the International Species Information System announced a rebranding in part because its acronym became better known as the name of a terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “In order to avoid some of that nuance and challenge publicly, we just needed to move on and find a new name since the name [ISIS] doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon,” CEO Jim Guenter noted in an interview with Associations Now last year. The association’s new name? Call it Species360.

A broader geographic focus. The Florida Yacht Brokers Association represented a broader share of the yacht market than just Florida, so it renamed itself last year. Now you can call it the International Yacht Brokers Association. The Snack Food Association did something similar, renaming itself SNAC International last year.

A good nickname. What happens when your association’s nickname is better than its proper name? If you’re the Council of Public Relations Firms, you embrace the nickname and rename yourself the PR Council, as it did in 2014.

A weak phrase. The Generic Pharmaceutical Association, which had long been associated with low-cost medicines, knew the word “generic” failed to convey its mission to put medicines within reach for millions of people. After its rebrand earlier this year, you can call it the Association for Accessible Medicines.

A more specific focus. Research by the Rubber Manufacturers Association found that people have a positive impression of the industry it represents—tire manufacturers—but the group’s name wasn’t clear. So this year, it changed its name to the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association.

A shifting industry. Direct marketing is still a thing, but for the Direct Marketing Association, it wasn’t really the story anymore. Ahead of its 100th anniversary this year, the group renamed itself the Data & Marketing Association to highlight the role that data has played in revamping the industry.

Has your association had a rebrand in recent years? What advice would you give the folks at Dunkin’ Donuts as they consider a name change? Share your thoughts in the comments.

(Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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