Domino's New Recipe: (Brutal) Truth in Advertising

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Domino's Pizza Inc. / AP

Domino's Pizza Inc.'s Wisconsin six-cheese pizza

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The Domino's example offers lessons for marketers everywhere. "People are tired of companies talking at them instead of with them," says Doyle, the Domino's CEO. "I think customers are, frankly, just tuning companies out. Great brands in the future are going to be built by engaging customers in a dramatically new way." Domino's actively solicited feedback on its Facebook page and posted all Twitter comments — good and bad — about the new pizza on the company website. Social media, Doyle says, have empowered consumers.

You can no longer just pound misleading messages into their heads. "The old rule of thumb for companies used to be that for every complaint you hear, people are telling 10 other people," says Doyle. "Well, those were the days when people were having one-on-one communications or talking through one-on-one phone calls. Brands, because of their big marketing budgets, could overwhelm consumers with the volume of their message. Now, if a customer has a bad experience, it's immediately on Facebook or Twitter. Hundreds or thousands of people hear about it. You've got to adapt and understand that's the dynamic out there. It's pretty powerful."

With a strong message in place, the new pizza recipe still had to deliver. It did. The sauce has more kick, the crust is richer, and the new mozzarella cheese stretches when you pick up a slice. But what took Domino's so long to tweak the pizza? Since the chain exploded onto the scene in the 1980s with its eccentric "Avoid the Noid" ad campaign and promise of a 30-minute-or-less delivery, Domino's carried the "cardboard" reputation. If you wanted a quality product, you called the local pizzeria, not the Domino's delivery guy. To have finally gotten around to improving the product doesn't seem all that innovative.

"The Marketing 101 lesson is always focus on what you're good at," Doyle explains. "Define your point of differentiation. And for 49 years, our point of differentiation was, 'We'll deliver our pizza to you very quickly and reliably. We'll give you good value, and the pizza will be O.K.' As long as we're given credit for delivering, we should focus solely on that. We knew there were people out there who didn't like our pizza, but as long as we delivered it quickly, that was good enough. We realized that there was simply no conflict between not only delivering quickly but in making a better pizza. So we took our time and made sure we had it right. And it clearly worked."

Though it's surprising that it took some 50 years for a company to realize consumers appreciate both speed and quality, give credit to Domino's for finally figuring it out. Now the company is also promoting a new boneless-chicken product. But will anyone buy chicken...from Domino's? In fact, the company has been selling chicken for almost 20 years. "Chicken has been our next-best seller after pizza," says Doyle. "And talking about how the change in our pizza continued to drive sales, our goal is now to make sure everything we sell can be as good as it can possibly be. Chicken was next up."

While the company will have to cope with cheese-price volatility for the rest of the year, Domino's got lucky with chicken. "I wish I can tell you there was this brilliant bit of foresight on the part of management," says Doyle, "but chicken is the only major commodity that's down right now."

New commercials that have been in heavy rotation since the NCAA basketball tournament encourage viewers to tell the company what they think of the new chicken. They feature chicken chef Tate Dillow, a soft-spoken Kentucky native who seems mortified that customers are allowed to rip apart his product. Dillow is not too comfortable with his newfound notoriety. A stranger even followed him in a car. "When I got home, he actually pulled into the driveway and said, 'Hey, aren't you the guy in the Domino's commercial?" says Dillow. "That was a really weird one."

But being the chicken guy at a pizza place does have its benefits. "If you were to go up and down the street and poll people, most probably didn't even know that we had chicken," says Dillow. "So I had a lot more freedom to change it." For Dominos and its customers, the changes are spicing things up — for the better.

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