Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Starbucks vs. Dunkin - The Challenge of Strategy Convergence

Bloomberg reports today that Dunkin' Donuts has launched a mobile ordering and delivery initiative.  In Maine, they are testing a service that enables customers to order drinks and food through a smartphone app.  Meanwhile, in Texas, they are testing a delivery service.  Dunkin's move follows the launch of mobile ordering several months ago by rival Starbucks.  

The competitive dynamic between these two coffee chains reminds us of the perils of strategy convergence.  Think about these two chains twenty years ago.  They were quite different.  Each had a very unique competitive position.  Today, their positions are more similar (though clearly not alike).   Twenty years ago, Starbucks did not offer drive-thru service, while Dunkin' did.   Starbucks offered wi-fi many years ago, while Dunkin' added that service later.  Starbucks has offered lattes from the start, while Dunkin' added that product more recently.  Dunkin' has had a lucrative food business to go along with its coffee from the start, while Starbucks has struggled with its food lineup and made changes numerous times to improve it.  For many years, Starbucks has sold its packaged coffee in supermarkets for customers to brew at home.  Dunkin' started doing that as well in recent years.  

What's my point?  Well, the strategies of these two firms have converged in recent years.  Yes, they are still quite distinct, but not as different as they once were.  As markets become more mature, strategy convergence tends to occur.  However, the worry is when strategies converge to the point where company positions begin to blur.   The challenge is to remain distinctive even as markets mature.  Gary Hamel put it best when he wrote, 

In nearly every industry, strategies tend to cluster around some central tendency of industry orthodoxy.  Strategies converge because success recipes get lavishly imitated…Aiding and abetting strategy convergence is an ever-growing army of eager young consultants transferring best practice from leaders to laggards…  The challenge of maintaining any sort of competitive differentiation goes up proportionately with the number of consultants moving management wisdom around the world.

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