Inside Dunkin’s influencer-marketing strategy, from hiring Charli D’Amelio to employees posting on TikTok

Charli D'Amelio / Dunkin

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Even before Dunkin’ was paying her, TikTok’s top star Charli D’Amelio was a superfan of the brand.

In many of her early videos, she’s seen holding an iced Dunkin’ coffee before breaking into a dance.

And in 2020, after D’Amelio had given Dunkin’ millions of free video impressions, the brand decided to hire her as an official brand ambassador. It quickly leaned into the partnership and even launched a limited-time drink with her name on it, which contributed to a Dunkin’ US sales increase in the third quarter of 2020.

“When we discovered her passion around our brand and people started to associate her with Dunkin’ and tagging us, we recognized that this was really something we needed to make official,” said Melanie Cohn, the director of brand engagement at Dunkin’. “What we’ve noticed, is in order for us to be successful, we really need to tap into what’s already happening around our brand.”

Dunkin’ recently launched another D’Amelio-related menu item, this time using her help to promote adding sweet cold foam for cold brew. The “Charli Cold Foam” has sold more in the first few days than the original “Charli” drink did at launch, the company said.

The brand’s D’Amelio partnership is indicative of its broader social-media strategy, which relies on identifying trends involving Dunkin’ that are already happening and then working to supercharge them. The company leans into what is happening online — like D’Amelio’s Dunkin’ obsession, store associates filming themselves making drinks, or fans tagging the brand on TikTok — as way to promote new products and build brand awareness. 

Among the brands that have harnessed TikTok as a marketing platform, Dunkin’ is one of the most prominent with 2.4 million TikTok followers. Other popular brands on the app include Fashion Nova (2.1 million followers), Chipotle (1.5 million followers) and Starbucks (1.3 million followers).

Dunkin' TikTok

‘We only follow those who are really die-hard Dunkin’ fans’

When Dunkin’ launched its TikTok account in 2019, the brand only followed D’Amelio.

Slowly, as more fans began tagging Dunkin’ in videos, the brand created a “follower list.”

“We only follow those who are really die-hard Dunkin’ fans,” Cohn said. “We want to keep that group small, and we have worked with them to create content and help us launch products.”

Dunkin’ has turned the act of finding new people to follow into a way to boost engagement, launching several contests around it on TikTok. For instance, Dunkin’s fifth follower made a video explaining why they were a fan. And as a result of that campaign, the brand saw a 37% increase in followers, Cohn said.

“Brands have the ability to make people big on these platforms just by loving the brand, so to me that is just an interesting new way to think about influencer marketing,” Cohn said. 

Dunkin crew ambassador program on TikTok

Tapping into workers by launching a crew ambassador program

After some Dunkin’ store employees began uploading videos talking about working at Dunkin’ and showing a behind-the-scenes look at their stores, the company decided to lean into this trend, and pay its employees to post TikTok videos while on the job.

“We noticed that a lot of our crew was already on TikTok posting about the brand and talking about new products – just doing funny skits about what it’s like to work at Dunkin’,” Cohn said. “So, we built a formal program to bring crew content creators into the mix and use them to help launch products and give them first access to some our campaigns. We felt like we should harness the power of these crew ambassadors, and work together with them, versus providing a policy that they shouldn’t be doing it. We wanted to embrace it.” 

For the program, Cohn’s team worked with the franchisees to pick employees to become TikTok crew ambassadors. Her team gives the ambassadors a challenge every month centered around helping the company promote the launch a new product. Dunkin’ also sends the ambassadors merchandise, and they get the chance to be a part of the brand’s larger marketing campaigns. 

Charli D'Amelio / Dunkin

Partnering with micro influencers and letting them take creative control 

To find unique influencers to partner with, employees across its PR and social-media departments keep a look out for what people are saying about Dunkin’ on social media, Cohn said. 

“It’s just all about social listening, having our trend hunters constantly looking for great ideas,” she said. “We are always looking to innovate, test, learn, and try. How we can be the first and test and try new features.” 

Dunkin’ has leaned into hiring micro influencers with a few hundred thousand followers on TikTok and Instagram who specialize in a particular niche like food to help introduce a new product. The only requirement: they have to be a fan of the brand. The next step is sending the creator a campaign brief and trusting them to take creative control.

“We give them a brief of here’s what the campaign is and the product is, but then we let them run with it,” Cohn said. “The reason we are working with them is because they specialize in an area, and their audience loves the way they do things. We never want to force fit what we want into their content.”

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