wasted potential: dairy queen

Here’s another post on brand disappointments — this is a series in which I’ve asked brand experts to discuss brands that could have been really good, but have failed to live up to their potential. This week’s post is from John Moore, of Brand Autopsy fame.  John’s speaking and writing is always filled with provocative insights about brands, marketing, and management — I hope you enjoy his take on a brand disappointment.

A regular feature on the Brand Autopsy blog is the “Would You Miss” series. This is where a business is put on the examining table and readers respond if they would miss the brand if it were to go out of business.

The question is simple; however, the implications are anything but simple.

Businesses that would be missed if they ceased to exist have obviously formed an emotional connection with customers. Such emotional connections with businesses help fuel sales when the economy is good and conversely, help sustain the vitality of a business when the economy is bad.

Businesses that would not be missed have failed to make meaningful connections with people and are in danger of becoming irrelevant in the marketplace. (Not a good place to be in any economic climate.)

As marketers, it is our job to assist in forming emotional connections between businesses and customers. Forming those connections is easy in theory, but difficult in reality.

Nearly 20 brands, ranging from UPS to The Cheesecake Factory to Crate & Barrel to Pizza Hut, have been featured in the “Would You Miss” series. The comments have been brutal to these brands with people declaring they wouldn’t be missed at all.

Interestingly, just one brand included in this series has emphatically formed emotional connections with customers and would be dearly missed … DAIRY QUEEN.

The responses from readers were fascinating. Almost every commenter said they would dearly miss Dairy Queen if it were to no longer exist. Many comments touched upon wonderful childhood memories of visiting Dairy Queen for soft serve ice cream, Dilly Bars, and Blizzards. Other comments shared sentiments about the realness and heritage of a classic Dairy Queen experience.

Digging deeper into the comments you realize the untapped potential of the Dairy Queen brand. Readers talked about how they already miss Dairy Queen because recent rebranding efforts have squeezed out much of the endearing old-school essence of the brand.

I’m sure Dairy Queen’s internal customer research findings detail the brand gap between what their customers want and what the company is delivering.

In the comments section of the post, Denise summarizes the brand gap dilemma Dairy Queen faces by writing, “It’s too bad the company seems more interested in modernizing the brand vs. tapping into the rich emotional connection people have with [the] brand they grew up with.”

And Oran writes this, “For me DQ just gets lost in the noise. I see their new ads, but have yet to have a single one make me think twice about stopping in.”

Dairy Queen has passed the “Would You Miss” test. However, by refusing to fully embrace its old-school heritage, Dairy Queen is failing to live up to its full potential as a brand.

Thanks for great entry, John (and I’m not just saying that because you quoted me!)  You’ve made me think of other “old-school” brands that have lost their luster — like Corvette or A&W Rootbeer.

Check in next Monday for the next in the brand disappoinments series — I’ll post other stuff during the week.

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  • Dairy Queen’s biggest mistake is spending so much of their marketing money on non-core products. They will never be competitive with other fast food outlets for burgers, fries, and chicken. So why waste so much money and time trying to convince people to go to DQ for those things?

    DQ would be so much wiser to simply focus on the soft serve ice cream, dilly bars, blizzards, and other cold treats. Nobody can touch them in that arena, so why not claim total dominance of it? Baffling to me.