For decades, the global chain pizza landscape was fairly stable. Pizza Hut has long stood front and center as the largest pizza company in the entire world, with nearly 14,000 locations to date. The brand — whose early years were marked by rapid expansion — is known for firsts: it was the first company to deliver a product in space. It was the first to deliver food to the White House. Simply put, Pizza Hut was the king of pizza — but no longer. After the brand’s parent company Yum! Brands experienced a precipitous decline in 2017, a formerly faltering competitor has stepped out from under its shadow. And at the beginning of this year, Domino’s Pizza — long an underdog of the industry — took the title of “largest pizza company in the world” from Pizza Hut, after generating a cool $12.3 billion in global revenue.
So how did this tremendous upheaval occur? Commentators are hardly split on providing an answer: Domino’s transformation from the scrap-heap it was only 10 years ago to the powerhouse it is now directly stems from its tremendous and consistent initiative in perfecting digital marketing practices. While its overlords sat comfortably in the arms of strategies that had worked well for half a century, Domino’s — which had nothing to lose — embraced the new, the weird and the revolutionary. In this article, we will examine the key moves which enabled Domino’s historic victory in a war that seemed unwinnable.
Listening to Criticism
“Customers looked at us for fast food, and they looked at us for cheap food. Unfortunately, they didn’t really look at the brand in the context of good food or even good food for the value“ — Dennis Maloney, Domino’s CDO
In the mid 2000s, Domino’s Pizza had an image problem. The stock price hovered at an all-time low of $3.00. Customers complained that the product was “cheap.” The crust tasted “like cardboard,” and the recipe was unoriginal. Brands like Papa Johns — which focused on “freshness” as a marketing slogan — stole wind from an increasing number of consumers seeking quality over low prices.
Into this stew of disappointment, a startling idea occurred to company executives: admit that the pizza is bad, and change. After this, a complete overhaul of Domino’s existing recipes was launched, complete with consumer focus groups and culinary professionals to supervise the makeover. All this effort culminated in the “Oh Yes We Did” campaign, which was memorable for its unusual frankness.
Onlookers were surprised by the ad, which Slate Magazine deemed “self-flagellating”. But the company was pleased with its results; following the new recipe initiatives, it experienced a 32.2% increase in sales.
A Turn to Social Media
In many ways, Domino’s adoption of digital marketing begins with this turn to consumer feedback. As social media became widely adopted throughout the 2000s and into the 2010s, Domino’s launched its “Think Oven” initiative to garner insight from customer opinions and brain-storming. Participants were encouraged to submit ideas on a Facebook page. The ideas that garnered the most amount of attention were rewarded with a monetary prize, and actually implemented with executive approval.
Following the success of these initiatives, Domino’s began a radical overhaul of the company’s entire ethos, transforming it from a fast food business into a company imbued with programming hires, digital marketers, and other tech personnel. In short, the idea was to create an “e-commerce company that happens to sell pizza.” To accomplish this, Domino’s entire corporate structure was revised — beginning from the top down — to focus on digital sales and advertising.
In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Domino’s SVP of eCommerce Development and Emerging Technologies Kelly Garcia explained the steps of modernizing the company. After focusing on talent acquisition, the biggest drive was to create new opportunities for online customers. To this end, it became the first pizza company to launch an online tracker and voice ordering app. Domino’s was keen to insist that ordering be possible on every popular Internet platform, which is an ongoing effort facilitated by its AnyWare platform.
As of right now, pizza can be ordered from
- Facebook Messenger
- The Company’s mobile app
- On Twitter with the use of emojis
- Google Assistant & Alexa
- Smart TVs
And more. Analytics hires also helped the company to fine-tune these developments with constant A/B testing to try different versions of the same features, and evolve the ones that worked.
In order to make this continuous push for digital development feasible, Domino’s execs insist on the importance of a unified company ethos, beginning with higher-ups, and trickling down to casual personnel.
“ The connection between our IT organization and the marketing organization is probably the best relationship between any two groups in the entire company, which is a really unusual thing to say. Our organization’s structure ensures these two groups are working completely in lockstep.”
According to Forbes, the success of this strategy is largely attributable to an example that extended from Domino’s board of directors, to its CEO, to its Digital officers and partners. A singleness of mind in the move to digital ensured that funds were always going to the right areas of development, and innovation always moved in a digital direction.
While digital marketing remained the staple of Domino’s transformation, other areas of development focused squarely on innovation raised its brand image, building public trust and pushing investors to take the plunge. The company gained wide media recognition for experiments with autonomous vehicles, drones, artificial intelligence, and mobile marketing stunts.
By far the largest boon to Domino’s direct product sales was facilitated by an early adoption of mobile apps and channels. In the 2000s, the company poured much of its attention into iOS while other businesses were still in the stages of considering adoption. The app became popular on iPhones and iPads for its customization features, which included graphical abilities to design a unique pizza, and save individual orders.
The move was smart. In 2018, over half of all Domino’s sales are placed on mobile devices, whether from the apps developed for iPhone and Android, Slack, Twitter, or even the “One Tap” feature which allows mobile customers to repeat an order without entering any information.
Domino’s has an early start on self-driving cars, after partnering with Ford to develop an automatic delivery system which has already been tested in markets where it is legal.
The company has also poured money into developing robots which can navigate the sidewalks of metropolitan areas, bringing pizza directly to businesses and residents. In 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported that Domino’s will be using its Robotic Unit (DRU) to deliver pizzas in Germany and the Netherlands.
While many companies are now turning to AI assistants to facilitate customer support and ordering on Facebook or other platforms, Domino’s started earlier than most. In 2014, the ‘Dom’ assistant was launched as an effort to take customer orders by phone. Since then it has also transformed into a chatbot which customers can message.
According to CEO J. Patrick Doyle, the goal is that all orders to the company will eventually be placed digitally, whether through apps, phone assistants, or via in-store technology. This radical, forward momentum has helped more than anything to propel the company ahead of its competitors, and establish it as the king of its industry.
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-Brandon Shutt, Editor at OMI