Monday, January 4, 2010

Marketing with a capital M

So imagine you run marketing in a company that sells 400 million units of anything a year. You're one of the largest players in what most people consider a promotion-driven, commodity category. You must be doing something right. Right? So naturally you go to your boss with the idea to radically reformulate almost every aspect of the product. That's apparently what happened at Domino's where they just introduced their "Pizza Turnaround." New crust. New sauce. New cheese. On virtually all their pizzas. The only thing they did not change appears to be the round shape. See the details (as have 170,000 or so other people) in the video below.

Why gamble with a product that's so ubiquitous and successful? For one, I'm sure there's a lot of pressure on that poor little original recipe over time. Decades of procurement and operational "refinement" as well as vapid focus group input can really have only one effect - to identify the lowest cost item acceptable to the most people.

Instant gratification through speedy delivery originally distinguished Domino's. Aggressive promotional marketing drove things further. Product quality was never a big issue for most of the brand's history.

Competitors like Papa John's hammering for years about how their "real" and "fresh" ingredients are superior helped illuminate the issue. Old fashioned conversation amplified by newfangled social media makes product quality transparent. We've reached a point where Domino's is the least objectionable, instantly available but virtually unloved option in our personal pizza pantheons.

Hat's-off to the Domino's team for having the stones to tackle the real issue. That's marketing with a capital M. Taking a step like this is rare in a world where brand and product managers often want to make their mark with a quick but modest win then move on in 12-to-18 months.

Here's what I think Domino's is doing right with the introduction:
  1. They are honest and genuine. They admit to what we all know (they actually say "cardboard crust" out loud multiple times in the video) and get credibility points for doing so. Communications are straight forward and feature the head of the company and what appear to be real employees emoting honestly about their problem and their enthusiasm for doing something about it.
  2. They are giving "the people" credit for identifying the issue. A little pandering here for sure but Domino's seems a little less like a faceless corporation by actually appearing to listen.
  3. They went "all-in." Domino's did not decide to offer this as a new menu item or "premium" offering. It's appears to be on every regular Domino's pizza from now on. By going all-in, people sense sincerity and conviction. You don't bet the farm on spin and people know it.
In a time where the quality of your product (and that of your competition) is transparent, marketing needs to think beyond promotion or even what we used to call "brand building." A move like this could yield exponential growth in category wallowing in incrementalism.

We don't know if history will lump this effort in with Apple's overhaul of Macintosh with the eMac or the misadventure of New Coke. Maybe people actually like the lowest common denominator. That reminds me - the new season of American Idol starts January 12th.


  1. It appears Bob Garfield and I are on opposite sides of this issue. Check out his POV.

    Who's right?


  2. So we did a taste test last night to see how different and better the new Domino's pizza is.

    My wife and I thought it had definitely improved. More flavor and the cheese tasted less like plastic. The sauce was not as spicy as I had hoped for (or was led to believe). The crust still had a lot of that weird Domino's elasticity.

    My teenage kids both thought it was dramatically improved and suggested we order it again.

    Bottom line: I don't think our local wood-fired Neapolitan pizza maker has much to worry about but among hard core pizza eaters, Domino's has redefined its core proposition from "fast" to "good and fast."