Is the Tim Horton’s brand at risk? How can they re-kindle the Love?

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market


Said with Canadian pride, Tim Horton’s is not just an emotional decision, it’s a personal one. How we feel about Tim’s is in part irrational. We are loyal, un-relenting, outspoken, and possessive. And we are OK to wait in a long line to get our double-double. Tim’s is still a Beloved Brand, but there are signs it might be getting tired and could be at risk at losing. The most Beloved Brands connect with their consumers in five common ways: a brand promise (positioning) consumers love, an emotional brand story (advertising) freshness (innovation), purchase moment and finally the experience (backed by the culture and operations).


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Over the last 20 years, Timmy’s had consistently nailed all five, which is what made it our most Beloved Brand.  But in the last few years, we are seeing slippage on the advertising and the customer experience.  We can see that in the stock price for Tim Horton’s. If you invested $10,000 in 2009, your money would have doubled in just 2 and 1/2 years–considering how badly the stock market was doing this would have been an ideal place for your money.  But since then, the stock has gained very little, and has basically been flat for the last 9 months. That’s not worthy of panic just yet, but from usually we see issues with Brand Health before we see issues of Brand Wealth. It seems that Tim’s has been so focused on the US expansion over the last two years, that they risk letting the brand slip in Canada.

Let’s use the five Brand Connectors to assess Tim Horton’s Brand Health:

  • The “comfortably Canadian” Brand Promise has been brilliant over the past 20 years, striking an emotional cord with our Canadiana more than any other brand. They have created a humble brand, with a simple comfortable menu.  Timbits-500x254It’s not the best food or coffee, but it’s comfortably predictable. People always point to how Tim’s coffee loses in blind taste tests. So would my mom’s dried out and burnt Roast Beef. But I love my mom’s roast beef, because I familiar with it, and it makes me feel comfortable. I’d grade the brand promise an A+.
  • As for the Brand Story, it is what has made the Brand, with deeply emotional and engaging advertising. Magical Canadian story telling at it’s best, whether an old woman walking up a hill or a grandfather at the hockey rink. What’s happened the last few years? Nothing. The last two great spots that connected with consumers were at the 2010 winter Olympics with the Sidney Crosby “wouldn’t it be great…” TV Ad and the other about an immigrant family arriving at a Canadian airport. Those spots made us proud to be Canadian and Tim’s owned that pride. But, the last few years, all I see are “cute” product spots, with a media plan completely void of the anthemic beautiful ads that made Tim’s a Canadian Icon. Please don’t show me how coffee is made. That’s completely off the brand character.  Tim’s has to return to using deeply emotional story telling to deliver the “comfortably Canadian” brand promise. I’d give the advertising an A+ for pre-2010, C+ since. I’d like to see Tim’s return to doing more ads like this one, a simple story about hockey, but beautifully told about a grandfather visiting the hockey arena to see his grandson play hockey:



  • As for Freshness, the innovation pipeline with Lemonade, breakfast sandwiches, grilled cheese, ice caps, maple donuts and oatmeal all delivering the “comfortably Canadian” brand promise.  Nothing wild, nothing crazy, very Tim’s. In terms of coffee, Tim’s has issues with McDonald’s which has an amazing coffee and a great trial strategy offering free coffee for a week. Tim Hortons vs McDonalds CanadaMost published blind taste tests show that McDonald’s clearly beats Tim’s. But improving the Tim’s coffee might be like changing the Coke formula. I’d rather Tim’s build on the comfortable taste of the Tim’s coffee linking it to memories. I’d give Tim’s an A- on innovation, lots of hits, a few flops.
  • The big gap I see “brewing” (pardon my pun) is the the purchase moment, where I am seeing a huge drop off.  The expansion utilizing the franchise model has created a dramatically inconsistent experience from one store to the next. I’m starting to hear a lot of horror stories from consumers. In my last 10 visits to Tim’s, I received friendly and polite service just once. (a shout out to the Aurora store where you feel good leaving)  Most times, the service is efficient, but completely impersonal. Rarely do you hear “please” and “thank you” from the staff. It’s not as polite as McDonald’s and not as friendly as Starbucks. If you want to deliver the brand promise of “comfortably Canadian” Tim’s needs to step it up on customer service to deliver that promise.  Polite and friendly are always free. Tim’s needs start by setting up customer service values, strategically aligned to the brand promise. They need to create action standards on service to hold franchisees accountable to delivering the brand promise. And they need to create a training program to help staff deliver the service values.  Until we see some improvement, the grade for Tim’s experience ranges from an F to an A+, due to inconsistencies. But overall, I’d give the Tim’s experience a D+.

So the report card for Tim’s looks like my grade 9 report card. A few A’s, a C+ and a stupid D+.  Most business people think “Brand” is what the Marketers do. And Culture should be left to Human Resources.  Everyone is responsible for Brand and Culture. Brand is not just about logos and ads, but is equally important internally where it acts as an internal beacon for everyone to follow. How does Tim Horton’s want their people to show up?  What behavior should be rewarded? If the Tim’s culture is not set up to deliver the brand promise, the risk is it all comes crashing down.  To read more on how Culture and Brand go together read:  Brand = Culture: How Culture can Help Your Brand Win

For the Tim’s brand succeed in the future and stay a Beloved Brand in Canada, they need to take that “Comfortably Canadian” Big Idea down to every part of their organization. There might be signs that the new CEO understands what’s happening at the store level.  He recently stated: “Future battles are not going to be won, in my view, with who has the best strategy or who has the best innovation. The companies that will win will be the companies that can execute flawlessly at the store level.”

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It’s time for Tim Horton’s to step it up on Service

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