2019 was not Tim Hortons’ finest year. Most recently, the iconic Canadian brand was heavily criticized in the Globe and Mail for undergoing a crisis of identity, which could harm its long term performance, not to mention relationships with franchisees. MacLean’s panned Tim’s new Dream Donut as merely ‘adequate’. But, let’s step back from the abyss for a moment.
Sure, launching and heavily promoting the Beyond Meat burger across its stores, only to remove it weeks later, may not have been the most strategically sound decision. Launching a Timbits cereal into grocery stores is also bit of a head scratcher. But, just like donuts, brands and brand experiences can quickly become stale without an injection of newness. The problem? If the newness strays too far from the brand’s core DNA and your most loyal customers say ‘NO, thanks’.
Personally, I know only too well the folly of trying to launch grilled chicken into KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) stores across the globe. If it wasn’t deep fried and ‘finger lickin’ good’, it didn’t sell, despite all the marketing you threw at it.
Starbucks, in the relentless pursuit of same store sales growth to report to Wall Street, ventured into new formats, new menu items and even music to bring newness to the brand, but most of it failed. Only when the founder Howard Schultz returned to the fold, did the brand’s same store sales consistently rebound. Schultz ceremonially closed the stores globally for three hours to retrain baristas and introduce a new signature coffee, Pike Place, essentially returning the iconic brand to its coffee house roots. The chain added labour to speed up service times and took out music and other ‘beyond its DNA’ distractions. Margin, guest count, and guest experience quickly improved.
So, I applaud Tim Hortons for trying new things to bring some much needed zip to its brand. It took McDonalds years of trial and error to get breakfast strong and profitable. But Tim’s needs to grow guided by a very clear and aligned, consumer-driven sense of the brand’s DNA, its identity. Personally, the new Hazelnut Buttercream donut is pretty good, but I’ll celebrate the return of the chocolate éclair anytime.