For DD and Starbucks, stereotypes play out in online conversation

Our office here in Cambridge, MA is blessed with talent from all parts of the country. As a result of our mixed geographical heritage, few topics are as hotly debated in the office this time of year as pro football and coffee chains. After a recent debate on the latter topic in which every side claimed that ‘most people’ agreed with them, we decided to take a peek at the online conversation and see if our assumptions were reflected in reality.

Deciding to limit ourselves for the time-being to Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, we analyzed over 230,000 blog and forum posts from June 1 to yesterday in an attempt to settle the debate whether internet’s perceptions of these brands matched our own. We analyzed content every day, but summarized the results as the conversation was fairly stable over that time. Dunkin’ Donuts, as a mainly regional player had about 10%† of the volume of its much larger peer.

As those who have grown up in the Northeast know, DD is much-beloved local institution and 14% of the conversation were general exclamations of love. Those who had moved away from the region and missed their local shop were especially passionate in their praise for the chain. Matching our own experience in the office, a large number of people (17%) mentioned Dunkin’ as a regular fixture of their daily routine; particularly for morning coffee runs.

Dunkin' Donuts

A number of Dunkin’ customers weren’t as satisfied with the experience of grabbing their coffee – complaints about sloppy service emerged quickly as a theme. However, the regional devotion to DD’s syrupy take on coffee far outweighed the complaints. We knew about the coffee but in training our analysis algorithm we were surprised at the amount of love for DD’s low-cal flatbread sandwiches and praise for their taste / calorie ratio.

Not everyone was impressed by DD’s commitment to their health, with 18% complaining about the caloric content of their baked goods.

Starbucks managed to avoid major health complaints despite Starbucks’ fattening drinks, which owned the cravings of many posters. Their regular coffee, on the other hand, did not feature nearly as prominently or as well, with a category of negative posts specifically about the coffee and only a scattered few posts in praise of it (we rolled these compliments into the ‘Other Positive’ category.)† Despite the lack of enthusiasm about the basic coffee, a significant slice of the conversation mentioned Starbucks as part of daily routine as well. For us, its position less than a block away trumps any concerns for pleasing our taste buds during our caffeine fixes.

Starbucks Conversation

Commenters also complained somewhat about the price of Starbucks’ offerings, long a symbol of casual decadence, but perhaps not as much as we expected. An equivalent number of people felt that Starbucks was ‘evil’ on account of their scale, competitiveness with local business, and homogeneity. (The company is addressing this) Not exactly shocking for us, as the DD proponents usually bring up the Austin Powers reference at least once an argument.

These complaints were minor compared to the biggest surprise to come out of the analysis: that such a large number of Starbucks customers are vocal and satisfied with the shops’ ambiance (Good Experience.) We read a number of posts by students who appreciated Starbucks as a study space and stressed out moms who sought it as a daily sanctuary. The Seattle-based company has long emphasized this component of their brand, and it appears that their attention to the details of everything from the furniture to the music continues to pay dividends.

We haven’t managed to settle any internal debates here with this analysis, and no money changed hands on the side bets, but at least next time we’ll have proper statistics to hurl at one another. Or possibly just stick to debating whether the Vikings are overrated.


Written by Wayne St Amand

Wayne St. Amand is a veteran marketing leader with a track record of significantly accelerating the growth trajectory and valuation of technology businesses. At Crimson Hexagon, St. Amand is responsible for driving business expansion through the company's global corporate and product marketing efforts.

English Japan France Usa Australia Slovakia