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By Michael D'Antonio

Domino’s Pizza was never a brand that invested its intellectual capital (or its actual capital for that matter) into its marketing and branding. They focused instead on real estate and operations. Franchises popped-up in every C- and D-county strip mall across the country, and the key selling proposition became “30 minutes fast or free.” This is hardly a claim of quality or commitment to craft and the customer. It was a one-dimensional dare instead of a fully formed vision of company purpose that can actually be of some value to the customer’s life.

The outcome were drivers that exceeded the speed limit to beat the 30-minute clock, resulting in myriad accidents, traffic violations and a brand that ultimately stood for nothing – at least nothing positive. It was the kind of slogan-based marketing that many companies employed in the 80’s and 90’s, and it even worked on some occasions. But then the world changed, consumers changed, information dissemination certainly changed and alas…so did Domino’s.

Now, this is not to say Domino’s advertising is particularly great. It is to say that their strategy is all of this and more. At some point, Dominos did something incredibly risky and irreverent – they admitted they weren’t perfect. Blasphemy among the brand management ranks. Domino’s had learned humility, turned itself inside out and brought their consumer base into their very own self-help process. As CEO Patrick Doyle put it:

“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.”

Instead of pretending to have all the answers, Domino’s simply asked some hard questions of itself and built a documentary- style campaign that tracked their progress to becoming a better pizza maker. Suddenly they were an underdog – a flawed character, not unlike us all, and people responded. And Domino’s was consistent in their commitment and messaging across all channels – the corporate site, microsites, social media platforms, radio and television, stores and print advertising.

More importantly, Domino’s didn’t just say something. They actually did something. They sourced better ingredients, hired better talent and stood behind their product in ways they had never done before.

There was now a narrative – an arc of a story – and every stakeholder was complicit in the telling, including the folks who eat the pizza. Turns out their customers wanted to be a part of something, too, and joined in with Domino’s.

And there is hard data to support this soft sell. Eighteen months into the turnaround campaign, Domino’s shares increased 75% compared with 15% for Papa John’s International Inc. Since the end of 2009, when Domino’s announced its plans to change, the stock has gained 233%, compared with 37% for its rival.*

In a marketing world where having all the answers is considered the gold standard, Domino’s highlighted their weaknesses, humbly acknowledged they needed to work on those weaknesses and then proceeded to do just that as consumers cheered them on. And a perfectly imperfect go-to-market strategy was born.

“Fast Food Sales Benefiting from Economic Concerns,”