Email showdown: Starbucks vs. Dunkin' Donuts


It’s a debate for the ages: Who makes a better cup of coffee, Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts?

Coffee is serious business, and as such, everyone has a favorite go-to spot to grab that morning cup of joe. Saying you like one brand over another can be as contentious as saying you don’t like "Game of Thrones" to an Emma staffer – AKA, complete and utter blasphemy.

So we thought it’d be interesting to see how two of the largest coffee chains in the U.S. are doing when it comes to their email marketing. The battle between Starbucks and Dunkin’ is an interesting one, so grab a hot beverage (we won’t ask where you got it) and enjoy!




The sign up process

As soon as you open the Starbucks home page, you’re greeted by a small pop-up in the bottom right corner of the browser asking you to sign up for their email list. The sell? 10% off your next order and first-look access to all their latest promotions.

It immediately grabs your attention and only appears once, keeping it from becoming too intrusive. And if you accidentally “X” out of the pop-up or change your mind and decide you'd like to sign up down the road, you still have the option of filling out a small banner at the bottom of their page that simply says, “Join our email list.”



The welcome email

Immediately after you sign up for their list, Starbucks fires off an automated welcome email that contains that promised 10% off code. We’re not in love with the design (our team recalled an old Starbucks welcome email that was a little easier on the eyes), but we’ll still count this as a win in terms of follow through and a solid brand introduction.



The next few emails

After that first welcome email, Starbucks sends a few promotional offers that are much more attractive, with streamlined, mobile-friendly designs and minimal copy. We loved this one promoting their spring clearance…



…. and this one that revolved around iced coffee drinks for warm weather.



Some other notable sends included this one about their referral program (an awesome way to organically grow your fanbase)...



...and this email notification about a free drink reward. This is the mobile view, and it looks absolutely fantastic on a small screen!



Overall, the most popular java joint in the country has a solid email program with some impressive design and strategy worked in. Well done, Starbucks!



Dunkin’ Donuts

The signup process

From the Dunkin’ homepage, it’s actually pretty difficult to locate their email signup form. Turns out, you have to click that teeny “Sign-Up” text link in the top right corner…



…which takes you to this page. Altogether, it provides a pretty strong incentive to join their email list: Everyone loves free coffee, and the fact that they ask for my birthday signals another free or discounted treat in my future.



The welcome email

But wait… it’s now days later, and I still haven’t gotten the free medium beverage they promised, let alone any sort of welcome email! In fact, my first email from them is this one (about a week after signup).



A pretty send, for sure, and I do love a good espresso… but where is my free coffee? To give them the benefit of the doubt, I had five other Emma staffers sign up for their list. And still nothing. We checked our spam folders, signed up using non-Emma email accounts, and used different email clients. Still nothing.

Something is probably amiss with their automated workflow (we get it – mistakes happen), but this is a great lesson for email marketers everywhere: If you’re going to promise something to incentivize signups, you HAVE to make sure you follow through.

Because despite the fact that I’ve gotten some cute promotions from them in the past few weeks, like this one for Mother’s Day...



And this – a great example of utilizing brand advocates with a live social feed….



And this, a compelling co-marketing effort with Live Nation…


… each and every one of their sends has been tainted by the fact that I’m still waiting for the free medium coffee that never was. It may seem like a trivial mistake, but those first touch points are absolutely critical when it comes to developing a solid, positive impression on new subscribers.

That kind of simple error can cause your brand to lose (loyalty, conversions, subscribers... and in this case, an email battle) before you’ve ever really gotten started.

Winner: Starbucks



About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a senior content manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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