Case Study: What Pizza Can Teach Us About Branding

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How Domino’s Reinvented Itself Using a Underused Tactic

What Pizza Can Teach Us About Branding

The history: According to the Domino’s website, the Monaghan brothers bought “DomiNick’s” in 1960 and renamed it Domino’s in 1965. The company opened its 200th store in 1978 and its 5000th store in 1989. Its website launched in 1996, and by 2000, it domino's logohad over 6500 outlets spread across the globe. It celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010. Today, Domino’s has over 9000 outlets across 60 countries.

The challenge: Domino’s faced a classic “perception vs. reality” issue. Domino’s was often the butt of jokes, eliciting “tastes like cardboard” punch lines. Even its convenient “delivered in 30 minutes or less” promise didn’t help much. A consumer taste survey in 2009 had Domino’s coming in dead last, tied with Chuck E. Cheese. As a result, Domino’s announced its plan to reinvent itself in late 2009, starting with its pizza.

The process: Domino’s used something that’s quite unusual in marketing and advertising: honesty. Domino’s highlighted its own weaknesses and failures, with its affable CEO Patrick Doyle leading the charge. In fact, real people from inside the company — from the head chef, to marketing folks, to delivery drivers — became actively involved in the messaging that people began seeing in 2010, starting with the “Pizza Turnaround” documentary that was posted on Domino’s new Pizza Turnaround microsite. We’ve embedded it below.

As Doyle says in the documentary, “You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite you and energize your process of making a better pizza. We did the latter.”

The messages in this documentary became the key messages in all media. The company recreated its pizza, conducted taste tests, reached out to critical consumers and documented them trying the new pizza, engaged consumers through social media using fun prompts like “show us your pizza,” provided money-back guarantees, and, of course, unveiled its new catchy and pointed tagline: “Oh Yes We Did.”

Domino’s spread these messages consistently across all channels: its corporate site and its microsites, its social media platforms, its radio and television commercials, its stores, and its print advertising. Over the last two-plus years, it’s been almost impossible to miss the “Oh Yes We Did” message or the CEO’s face.

The results. Did the brutally honest work? Sales would suggest yes. Bloomberg noted in an article from October 2011 (a little over a year-and-a-half after the re-branding efforts got under way) that “Domino’s shares have risen 75 percent this year [2011], compared with 15 percent for Papa John’s International Inc. (PZZA) in Louisville, Kentucky, Bloomberg data show. Since the end of 2009, when Domino’s announced its plans, the stock has gained 233 percent, compared with 37 percent for its rival.” Domino’s reported quarterly profit for its fiscal third quarter in 2012, exceeding Wall Street expectations. Judging from consumers’ reactions on social media platforms, like Domino’s Facebook page, the campaign has been well received overall.

Marketing take-away. Brutal honesty can hurt. But, as we’ve seen with Domino’s, it can also pay off, simply because consumers don’t expect it. Part of Domino’s success with the “Oh yes we did” campaign is that it showed the company’s and its workers’ humility. Another thing: people appreciate feel-good, comeback stories where the underdog or failing character finds his or her own inner strength and rises to the occasion. Domino’s essentially did this to itself: it highlighted its weaknesses, humbly acknowledged that it needed to work on those weaknesses, and then proceeded to do just that as consumers cheered them on. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better turnaround story.

So how can you leverage this in your business? Do you need to launch a pricy “mea culpa” campaign about your company’s weaknesses and failings? You don’t have to do it at the same scale as Domino’s, but you can certainly use some of the ideas from the Domino’s playbook.

First, ask yourself this question: Is there something about your product, service, or overall company — a “weakness,” for lack of a better word — that you’re willing to invest some time and money into honestly addressing, changing, and fixing?

If yes, outline a strategy, document the entire process, and share the experiences with your audience. Think video, articles, and social media:

  • To begin, do a simple video where you talk about a particular product or service, the complaints and suggestions you’ve received, and how you plan to address them. Plan other videos throughout the process so that you can provide updates/results.
  • Do a series of newsletter articles to your database. You could write about the challenge and solution in the first newsletter and hint about the results (Domino’s did this at the end of the video embedded above). In the follow-up newsletter, you’d share the results. Remember that first-hand accounts — real words from real customers — speak volumes.
  • Get the word out on social media. Don’t overthink this too much. Simply share the content you’ve been creating elsewhere, like videos, and push it out over channels like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Think PR. One of the reasons the Domino’s campaign worked so well was because the CEO put himself out front and made himself available to the media. He was humble and made no excuses, and media outlets pounced and ran stories as a result.
  • Rinse, lather, and repeat. You don’t simply “rebrand,” make a few announcements, and go on about your business. The campaign needs to be embraced by everyone and every department in the organization. You need to be in it for the long haul and understand that it will take time for your message to be heard, accepted, remembered, and shared.

Note: Depending on the type of company you have, and how large of a following your brand has, you will still have critics, despite all of your efforts. Domino’s still had people complaining about the pizza even after its recipe re-invention. Domino’s didn’t censor these folks (in fact, it made “we can do better” commercials around them). Let people have their say, thank them for their feedback, and let them know that you’ve taken their criticism to heart and will continue to work on improving the product or service. Then, let it go. Do not go into defense mode.

Even if you don’t plan on a complete rebranding campaign, you can still use some of Domino’s marketing techniques:

  • Genuinely acknowledge customer complaints and criticism. When you receive an email, call, or tweet from a customer with a complaint, don’t dismiss it. Don’t provide a pat “We’re sorry” line. Make an effort to get to the bottom of the situation. Most of the time, people just want to be heard: they want someone to bear witness to their frustration and to provide a genuine apology. Do that, and you might just save the customer relationship (and possibly gain new customers when the person tells his or her friends about the experience).
  • Offer money-back guarantees. This can provide customers with peace of mind and show people you stand by your products/services and that you care about customers’ experiences.
  • Provide an easy way for customers to give their feedback — both positive and negative. Solicit regular feedback and make the process easy and painless for customers, since this can also go a long way in easing customer frustration and disappointment. Regular feedback (both good and bad) will provide you with customer insights that can inform your future marketing efforts.

What other companies can you think of that have successfully rebranded themselves or one of their products/services? Have you ever gone through a rebranding campaign? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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