After facing its toughest critics, Domino’s Pizza executed its Pizza Turnaround campaign and reinvented its pizza — and its marketing strategy — from the crust up.
By Nona Phinn
Last year, I ran into an old friend of mine whom I was extremely close with during college. We decided to catch up over breakfast, where she spent most of the time proclaiming how much she had not changed and how she was still the same person. We ended our meal by promising to keep in touch. We did for a little while, but I soon realized she was right. She was exactly the same person. Not one thing had changed about her. It was an alarming reminder of why we became distant in the first place.
Where life has moved me has required me to change, to grow, and to continually transform into a better version of myself. Despite how much her own life changed, my old friend opted to stay right there in her 20s. My friend isn’t the only individual who is comfortable with sameness. You hear it all the time: “I am still the same person. I haven’t changed.”
When did being stagnant become a positive thing? When did it become okay to pretend the world isn’t growing and evolving, and therefore you don’t have to grow and evolve either? Think about it: Children are expected to become smarter, wiser, and more capable and independent year after year. Yet adults are often encouraged to remain the same — to stay right where they are. I think we have taken on that same sentiment when it comes to business.
Domino’s Pizza found itself in that place when Russell Weiner joined the company as Chief Marketing Officer in 2008. Weiner faced declining store sales and an underwhelming stock price. “We were stuck in our glory years,” admits Weiner, who’s now President of U.S. Business for Domino’s. “We weren’t realizing how we needed to change.”
Domino’s took the world by storm by beginning as a single pizza restaurant in 1960 and growing to more than 14,000 pizza restaurants in more than 85 countries (Domino’s, n.d.). Delivery became the brand’s focus and what set Domino’s apart from competitors. However, in the 21st-century marketplace, delivery is no longer unique; it’s the norm. There isn’t much today that we can’t have delivered right to our doorsteps.
By 2008, Domino’s had reached a point where it had to change to survive. Weiner describes this position as lucky. “Things were so bad we had to do something,” he says. In the same breath, he reminds me of the book The Art of War and how author Sun Tzu wrote that the best way to win a war is to fight on an island, preferably an island with a bridge as the only way onto and off of it. That bridge then must be destroyed so no one else can enter or exit the island. “So your army can’t retreat. They are going to fight to the death. They will win, as they have nothing to lose. They have no choice,” Weiner explains. “When you listen to your customers and you communicate it in your marketing, you blow up the bridge.”
That is what Domino’s did with its Pizza Turnaround campaign. The company found that the condition of the island it was fighting on required it to start listening and talking to customers. By doing so, Domino’s learned it was facing two major barriers to success. “It came down to the strength of the product and the strength of the brand,” Weiner explains.
The first step Domino’s took was pouring its heart and soul into making its pizza different in accordance with customer feedback. Once Domino’s knew the pizza was ready for prime-time, the company then had to figure out how to market its new product differently to aid the brand in walking away from the identity the world knew and embracing the brand change the market was demanding.
To accomplish those goals, Weiner and his team aimed to uncover the broader sources of tension in customers’ lives. Domino’s brand tension had already been identified. Domino’s understood how the brand was being viewed by customers and where it was failing them. The company needed to understand how customers were seeing the world at that particular time.
Domino’s went beyond demographic and psychographic data and looked into the hearts and minds of its customers. It sought to identify both personal and global sources of tension (what was making people anxious or afraid and keeping them up at night) to truly connect with and relate to customers. “We were seeking to understand the brand tension and how we can deliver on the consumer [tension],” Weiner says.
Our goal was to know how the tension that the brand was going through collides and intersects with the tension that our customers were experiencing.”
Domino’s revealed its new pizza recipe in 2009, at a time when the economy was like a rug slipping from beneath our feet. During this time, the media kept our attention on bailouts, banks going under, and the housing market crash. The instability of the time diminished trust and made it hard to identify truth. Consumers were frustrated and tired of what they perceived as dishonesty and secrecy. “Our feeling was we have a really big secret,” Weiner admits. “People think our pizza isn’t good, and they’re right. It could be better.”
This idea gave birth to Domino’s Pizza Turnaround campaign. Through marketing, Domino’s revealed its secret to the world to break the tension the brand and its customers were experiencing. “What I found is when you can break a societal tension by breaking a brand tension, you are standing up for what everyone is looking for,” Weiner says.
And stand up it did. Domino’s boldly showed the world its transformation. The company went as far as showcasing verbatim focus group responses that did not paint its pizzas in the best light and sharing photos from customers who received their pizzas in less than ideal conditions. Being transparent took Domino’s from an uncertain future to “ten years of growth in one year,” Weiner mentions. It also has made Domino’s one of the fastest-growing restaurants today, he adds.
Throughout its Pizza Turnaround campaign, Domino’s was an open book. We watched its chef visit the homes of focus group participants to have them try the new pizza and give honest feedback. We’ve seen franchisees embrace the brand’s new direction while knocking down walls in their restaurants, excited about taking on the brand’s new look. We’ve also engaged with the technology Domino’s provides, which includes online ordering, order-tracking tools, and the ability to order a pizza by texting an emoji.
Domino’s turnaround wasn’t an invitation to come to its restaurants to see what’s new. Instead, Domino’s brought its new brand and pizza directly to customers. The company met its customers right where they were and filled a void by breaking their tension and providing relief. In the grand scheme of things, Domino’s did not solve the world’s biggest problems, but it did let its customers know that it understood what they needed and when they needed it. “When people are looking for something more globally in society, they don’t care who does it, as long as someone does it. People are willing to get behind that,” Weiner states.
Meeting customers where they are is not just a campaign for Domino’s; it is the company’s lifestyle. Part of the brand’s reinvention is ensuring it will not become stagnant again, according to Weiner. Domino’s calls itself a work-in-progress brand — a brand that is never done progressing and evolving. To continue to innovate, the company has found it must always be listening to what consumers say and using what they say to get better.
Weiner advises companies to be distinctive and to consider how they’re listening. “When you listen to your customer, you can’t be selective about what you listen to,” he says. “What some companies do is listen and then decide what it is they want to answer. If something is too inconvenient, then they don’t do it, and so they are not really listening.”
Domino’s vows to continue actively listening to its customers and wowing the world by connecting its brand tension with the tension of its customers. The company will continue to remain transparent and honest, as it sees these traits as proof points of listening and as a sure way to gain trust. “We are going to continue to show we are never content,” Weiner says.
We don’t think we will ever arrive. We don’t call our transformation ‘new and improved.’ We call it ‘new and inspired’ because it was inspired by our customers.”
So take a page from Domino’s book next time you run into an old friend. Tell them you are a work-in-progress brand, that you are never content, always changing, and forever evolving to be better than you were the day before. Tell them you are new and inspired.
Domino’s Pizza. (n.d.). About pizza. Retrieved from https://www.dominos.com/en/about-pizza/
Nona Phinn is a marketing and brand strategist with over 10 years of hands-on experience. Her diverse background provides her the skills necessary to develop and drive integrated marketing programs and strategy.
Images provided by Domino’s