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Domino’s reloaded



After 20 years of its India debut, the American pizza giant goes for a makeover

Call it an inevitability of the marketing universe. Big brands— even somebody as large as Domino’s with over 70% market share in India — sooner or later, take their eyes off their biggest asset: consumers. During such potentially-tricky moments, flipping through Philip Kotler helps. “It is no longer enough to satisfy your customers. You must delight them,” the father of marketing pronounced a few decades back. “Who should ultimately design the product? The customer, of course,” is another rule to live by: listen to consumers, let them own the brand.

Domino’s, after over two decades in India, appears to be invoking Kotler. It’s going back to its roots to delight the Indian consumer, who was once content with the roti-looking pizza introduced by the American giant in 1996 but has evolved a lot in the last 20 years. India’s largest pizza player has now reloaded its offering: there’s a new crust with liberal amounts of cheese, toppings, new imported sauce and visibly-pleasing packaging.

“It’s the biggest upgrade of Dominos since its India debut,” claims Pratik Pota, chief executive officer of Jubilant FoodWorks, the master franchisee of Domino’s in India. “We’ve brought the focus back on core pizzas,” he says. ‘Aapne kahahamne kiya’, the new brand campaign is based on consumer feedback and echoes a highly successful marketing effort rolled out a few years ago in the USA.

Whether it’s upgrading pizzas, improving packaging for oregano and chili flakes, launching everyday value on medium-sized pizzas or starting late-night delivery in few cities, every move is prodded by consumer insight.

For instance, the launch of a special menu for small towns, with pizzas as low as Rs 49. Customers in such towns cribbed about two things: expensive pizzas and inhibition in navigating through an alien-looking menu. “So we simplified our menu and trained our staff to handhold first-timers,” says Pota.

All-night delivery in cities such as Mumbai, Gurgaon and Bangalore is another service launched after scores of consumers whined about the lack of eating options. Earlier, Pota explains, one would either opt for a cheap roadside stall or a prohibitively expensive hotel. “Now all-night delivery is driving incremental customers for us,” he says

These efforts are spurred by a stark realisation: the Indian consumer today is spoilt for choice, especially by online food aggregators. Domino’s, therefore, has to ensure that it keeps raising the bar and gives a product that the consumer finds outstanding. Twenty years back, he lets on, Domino’s was the only kid on the block and set the benchmarks. “We have to go back to setting the benchmarks again,” he adds.
Agrees Murugan Narayanaswamy, senior vice-president (marketing) at Domino’s. While Dominos has been increasing prices over the last few years, it was not putting back anything in terms of adding value.

Innovations in the product miss out the core offering: pizzas. Discounts, especially BOGO (buy one get one free), on selective days added to its woes. Consumers loved discounts, points out Narayanaswamy, but also complained of an associate irritant: they paid full price of pizzas on certain days and were bombarded with offers on days they didn’t want to order. “The value proposition was missing,” he says. The result: BOGO was discontinued, and a value offering on medium-sized pizzas began. “For `199, two people can have a hearty meal,” reckons Narayanaswamy.

Another consumer insight was less paneer in vegetarian pizzas. It was also observed that a portion of the crust was left by consumers. “So we improved the product, beefed up our mobile app for better navigation, and improved in-store ambience and service,” he says. Use of technology — IOT (internet of things) — was another fundamental shift. A large number of stores were fitted with sensors to keep an eye on energy management, which cut back operational cost. Data mining was streamlined, and riders armed with GPS so consumers could track the movement of delivery boys — a la Uber. “The willingness to go back to basics and listen has done wonders for the brand,” he avers.

The upgrade of Domino’s, reckon food experts, is timely. Domino’s is more than pizzas and delivery. It introduced middle-class India to global ingredients such as mozzarella, olives, jalapeños and pepperoni, says Jaspal Sabharwal, a food industry veteran and the co-founder of TagTaste, the world’s first professional network for the food industry. Domino’s, he lets on, has quickly realised they can’t serve liquid synthetic cheese to the very people they introduced mozzarella to in the first place.

“India has always been value-oriented,” he says, “and due to inflationary pressures, maintaining the value proposition is easier said than done.” At times, brands take the ingredient-substitution route, but that usually does not turn out well. It is important to protect core products and positioning. If the centre of the plate is protected, the side dishes automatically fall in line. “Domino’s quickly realised the need to reboot,” he says.

Marketing experts too reckon the brand was fast getting jaded and a makeover was the need of the hour. “Domino’s was and is a pizza brand, but the innovations over the last few years were about side dishes and not pizzas,” says Ashita Aggarwal, of SP Jain Institute of Management and Research. Last year, the company, she adds, went overboard to launch burger pizzas. “People come to Domino’s for pizzas and not burgers,” she says, adding that going back to the core and winning consumers will help the brand.

Pota, for his part, claims that Jubilant has already started reaping rewards. “Product satisfaction scores have improved significantly,” he claims. Product quality and innovation, enhancing value for money, ensuring seamless customer experience and leveraging technology would be the focus area for the brand, he points out.

With fire back in the belly, it’s probably time to ask: Hungry Kya?

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