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Admitting that you’re doing something wrong can be hard for anyone. It’s especially hard when the criticism is directed toward something you’ve been doing for as long as you can remember – say, for example, a pizza recipe you’ve been using for the past fifty years. When Domino’s Pizza started hearing from customers that they were hitting expectations in all but one area – the food itself – it would have been easy to cry “tradition” and leave it at that. But Domino’s Pizza decided to try something different, and it’s a move that paid off with the profits and awards to prove it.
It all started a couple of years ago, and can only be attributed to the recent rise of social media. From behind the anonymity afforded by the internet, people talk freely about anything and everything, passing judgment and sharing experiences both positive and negative. But while others might brush off the chatter of the internet as unsubstantiated white noise, Domino’s Pizza was busy taking note.
“I think that a lot of the appeal of social media is honesty,” says Domino’s spokesperson Chris Brandon. “So it’s a natural fit to meet consumers in that place: not only do they feel comfortable giving feedback and sounding off about what they think could be better, but it gives us a great opportunity to listen and factor that into the direction that we want to take things.”
From formal focus groups to informal social media research, the feedback showed overwhelmingly that customers were still impressed with the service and speedy delivery that made Domino’s Pizza famous so many years ago. The food, on the other hand? Not so much.
The result – a full recipe renovation. “We reinvented our pizza from the crust up,” says Brandon. “It was literally a complete overhaul of the recipe that we had used for fifty years.” That meant a new blend of cheeses, a spicier sauce, and a new buttery, garlicky crust recipe designed to combat a common complaint that Domino’s Pizza crust had all the flavor of the cardboard box it came in.
Once the menu was updated, the task at hand was getting the word out in a way that would engage the public. Instead of trying to spin the new recipes, Domino’s decided to go the other way entirely, with a full-scale ad campaign based on leveling with the customers, promoting dialog, and attempting to show that Domino’s was listening and needed – even welcomed – the public’s critical eye to keep improving.
The commercials for the Pizza Turnaround, as the campaign came to be called, paired apologies for letting loyal customers down with earnest intentions of stepping it up in the flavor game. Domino’s Pizza CEO Patrick Doyle actually went on air and asked for customer feedback, in the form of e-mailed pizza pictures and uncensored comments broadcast (within reason) from a live Twitter feed on the company’s website. When Domino’s later upgraded its boneless chicken wings, the brand took the routine even further by emblazoning the packaging with a scorecard and staking chicken chef Tate Darrow’s fate on customer feedback in the accompanying ads.
By now, this kind of direct and open dialog has become a common marketing technique – but at the time, it was pretty much unheard of. “We’ve become kind of a case study,” says Brandon, “by going out there in a very bold, honest way, which frankly a lot of brands the size of ours haven’t always had the bravery to try.”
The imitation since has likely come about because of how well it worked. The campaign was an overwhelming success: in the first quarter after the Pizza Turnaround launch, Domino’s Pizza saw 14% sales gains, and the franchise ended the year up 9.9 percent compared to the year before. The critical response was equally positive – since the overhaul, Domino’s Pizza has won back-to-back Chain of the Year awards from Pizza Today, the top magazine in the pizza industry. As Brandon points out, “I think being the first delivery company to win it back-to-back says a lot for what we’ve done in the last couple of years.”
Success through honesty and transparency – who’d have thought such a simple concept could be possible? Then again, no one thought delivery in thirty minutes flat was possible back in 1960, either. Nobody, of course, except Domino’s Pizza.