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
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.

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