How Tim’s Can Be More Than a Global Bit Player

[Cache #190]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding


“There is no reason that the rest of the world shouldn’t be able to experience what Canadians get to experience at Tim Hortons every day.”
Daniel Schwartz
CEO
Restaurant Brands International
Tim Hortons’ Brazilian owner

Tim Hortons wants to be a household name not just from BC to Bonavista, but now, from Buenos Aires to Beijing.  But does the rest of the world really want watery coffee, so-so sandwiches and diabetes-inducing doughnuts?

This is a different question than asking whether what we recognize as the Tim Hortons brand can thrive abroad, because the emotional elements of the Tim’s brand as we know it – steeped in the Canadian experience and slathered with hockey – are too alien to resonate on foreign shores.  They have shown limited evidence of resonating even with our American cousins, many of whom share our passion for hockey and the winter experience, but in whose country Tim’s is running just 800 stores, concentrated relatively close to the Canadian border.

Absent the emotional elements of the brand, Tim’s is left with these brand elements:  products, customer experience and pricing.  How does each fare?

At risk of my passport being revoked, I offer that the products are just not that good.  The coffee has little in the way of taste, although it is very hot, an accomplishment that reminds of the line from the comedic mock-umentary Spinal Tap, in which the legendary heavy metal band of that name is revered as “one of England’s loudest bands.”

Tims did introduce a Bold blend of coffee to great fanfare last year, which may have been not just a reaction to the stronger coffee on offer at Starbucks and a variety of independent coffee houses, but also a trial balloon toward making the Bold blend its pillar abroad.  Self-respecting Europeans and Latin Americans, for example, would be unlikely to embrace Tim’s traditional coffee, which they would regard as an amusing attempt at lightly flavoured water.

The sandwiches and other non-doughnut food offerings are functional.  They get the job done.  They fill a hole.  (Insert Timbit pun here)

The doughnuts, on the other hand, are great.  They are in essence a dessert offering, and I have no clue whether Berliners or Bengalis have any affinity with them.

The customer experience is also best classified as functional.  There are always smiling staff in the TV ads, but sightings are rare at the actual stores.  The job could be equally well-performed by robots, but then again I live in Toronto, and that level of warmth is pretty much the GTA standard; it could well be that Tim Hortons’ staff in Halifax or Calgary are able to force a grin.

And after all, doesn’t it all come down to price?

The one truly amazing thing about Tim Hortons is that you go to the counter, you order some stuff, and they charge you almost nothing for it.  That is the real remark-ability piece.

Strip away the Canadiana, therefore, and what you are left with are the matters of product and price – value, in other words.  As much as the media and people like me carry on about the distinctly Canadian elements of the Tim Hortons brand, not nearly enough credit is given to the fact that they’ve nailed just the right value proposition of food, drink and price.

Assuming that people love a good deal no matter where they live, Tim’s best shot at global relevance is to stick with this very sweet spot.


Read Hollie Shaw’s story on Tim’s global plans here, in the National Post.

Dear Reader:
Why leave a comment on the blog?  I greatly appreciate the emails I get each week from people who’ve enjoyed the blog.  Yet most people do not actually leave a comment on the website, at the end of each blog.  I’d like to encourage you to use the comment field instead of sending me an email, because:
-It is fun and enlightening to get a conversation going with other commenters, as Cache readers are an extremely smart and good-looking bunch.
-I respond to every comment you leave.
-If you have a website, your comment helps your website rank higher on Google (because there is a space for you to leave your web address).
-Even if you do not have a website, your comments definitely help build the Coin brand as a provider of thought leadership related to branding.

OR, you can just continue to send me your emails, which I love to receive and respond to.

With thanks –
Andris.

This entry was posted in brand differentiation, brand experience, customer service, positioning, rebranding, remark-able and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How Tim’s Can Be More Than a Global Bit Player

  1. Michael says:

    Just before Christmas, my wife relayed a surprising comment from a US visitor to her office about Tim’s. This woman’s statement was to the effect that the people in her neck of the woods visited the Tim Horton’s in Michigan for the soup and sandwiches, and not for anything else on the menu. Apparently everyone this US customer knew had marked Tim’s as the place to go for value-packed lunches. If this is more than just a stray data point, it would make for some interesting conversations at Tim’s HQ…

    • Coin says:

      Thanks Michael. Very interesting that the pillar product for them is not the coffee. Instead, it is the affordable lunch items. I do wonder how sustainable an offering built around low prices can be, though. If “cheap” is the essence of the brand, Tim’s could find themselves in a race to the bottom. Thank you again – Andris.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *