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There are lots of discussions on whether Domino’s is brilliantly innovative or colossally mistaken in the redesign of its pizza with new crust, sauce, and cheese. It’s obviously a multi-dimensional brand question involving both major product and communications decisions.

Not having eaten Domino’s for years, I don’t know whether it’s better or not. Instead, the question here is how to creatively present a major strategy change to customers? Do you do a mea culpa, as Domino’s has done, saying we’ve heard you, and it’s necessary to change? Or do you take an even more aggressive stance and sell against what you were doing previously?

While some commentators have said Domino’s is doing the latter, it depends on what communications you’re watching.

Its 4-plus minute “documentary” version of the story presents a Domino’s message of, “We’ve heard your concerns and have been working hard to address them.” Editing to sound bites for a TV spot, however, pushes the message closer to, “We sold you crappy food, and said it was good.” By the time comedians and the public get a shot, it’s, “We suck, and frankly, we didn’t care…until now.”

Here are three communications take-aways from Domino’s to consider when implementing a major change:

  • Go out of your way to NEVER sell against what you used to do. Violating this simply makes you look stupid (“If you knew you sucked, why were you doing it in the first place?”). Your loyal customers will also FEEL stupid (“They say they suck; what does that make us for liking what they did?”).
  • There’s a fine creative balance since your focused change message will change based on who’s shaping it. Even if you followed the first lesson, somebody outside or inside your own organization will wind up messing up the message (intentionally or unintentionally), ensuring you will be selling against your history.
  • This issue isn’t limited to brand changes and turnarounds. It applies to internal programs, reorganizations, career changes, etc. When you’re making a dramatic change, really think through your strategy and what you really want to offer as the rationale.

The Conan-Leno Tonight Show debacle at NBC is a relevant example of these three fundamentals. I’ve never been a big Conan fan, but watched during his last week to see how he handled the messaging relative to the three lessons above:

Periods of major change are great proving grounds for brand marketers. Go to school on these two very prominent examples for approaches and learnings to use in future turnarounds you face. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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6 Responses to “Domino’s, Conan, and 3 Fundamentals for Communicating Big Brand Change”

  1. Vince says:

    My 13-yr old son saw the Domino’s commercial and after several views during a football game he asked over and over for me to get Domino’s for dinner. We ordered one and after his first bite he said “It’s still stinks”

    I think your insights are right on target. Domino’s planted the negative image in his head and then when the pizza wasn’t as fantastic as they said the new one was going to be he labeled Domino’s as awful. The campaign was unique enough to get him to trial, but set the stage for the past in a negative light and set the wrong expectations for quality.

  2. Mike Brown says:

    Great to hear from you Vince.

    A burning platform is a fundamental part of creating change. Shouting “Fire!” to the end customer certainly adds drama, but it also raises the expectation you’ll have a lot of water to dump on the fire. Sounds like your son’s reaction was that Domino’s had more of a squirt gun than a fire hose!

  3. Mike Brown says:

    Sorry everyone, but NBC pulled all of the Conan video from its website and Hulu: http://www.tvsquad.com/2010/02/05/nbc-takes-down-all-of-conans-tonight-show-content/

    Will try to find another link to this great closing video from Conan, but not holding out any hope.

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