Thursday, February 24, 2011

The efficiencies of a perfect pizza

By Kate Hellman

As an IMC’er, I try to stay abreast of technological trends and advances. IBM has developed a computer that detects nuances in language and meaning. Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland have succeeded in re-creating the conditions that developed shortly after the Big Bang. Google is developing a car that starts, steers, and stops on its own.

And yet none of these developments flabbergast me quite as much as recent technological developments in the greasy pizza industry. A few weekends ago on a frigid Chicago night, some friends and I ordered in Dominos. What I discovered on that night blew me away, admittedly more so than news of recreation of the Big Bang.

When you order a Domino’s pizza online, you can now track it in real-time. Want to know if your pizza is still being prepped, or whether it’s in the oven yet? Pizza Tracker has the answers for you. There’s really nothing quite as satisfying as watching a terrible TV show while simultaneously checking on your pizza every 45 seconds on your computer. Now that’s what I call synergy.

Similarly, Papa John’s (which happens to be my all-time favorite pizza, this coming from a native New Yorker) has stepped up its game in the ever-exciting online world of pizza creation. On, you can personalize your pizza exactly how you want it. Thin or thick crust? Jalapenos or anchovies, three-cheese blend or banana peppers? And do you want those toppings on the left or right side of the pizza? Watch as animations of each topping you select fall onto your virtual pizza like delicious confetti. You can even choose to have your pizza cut in squares. I chose this option last weekend, and was disgruntled to discover that my pizza came sliced normally—not exactly a tragedy, but I was pretty excited about the squares. Of course, if Papa offers all of these options, he should deliver (literally). The risk of disappointing customers given such an array of options must be managed.

The best of all of these websites is Chicago’s own Homemade Pizza Co., where you can even specify a whole wheat crust. The website is as chic and good-looking as the pizzas themselves.

These developments have several critical marketing implications, and apply to far more categories than just pizza. If a brand has a marketing objective to lower costs, driving customers to websites that grant them as much (or more) control over the desired product as they have by phone can significantly decrease calls and other expensive methods of interaction.

That’s great news for companies and stores like Domino’s and Papa John’s, which have only a few employees working at a time. An effective website frees employees from being tied up on the phone and enables them to focus on the product; this is pivotal during busy times, such as Superbowl night for pizza chains. Customers, meanwhile, are more satisfied with the product, given their increased control over everything from amounts of cheese to shapes of slices. In fact, they may even discover options that they didn’t know existed. It’s a win-win for all.

Most importantly, all three pizza websites appear to reflect serious collaboration between IT and marketing. On each page and at each step, brand character is clearly evident. The Domino’s site emphasizes its high-quality ingredients, in line with its recent TV campaign. Papa John’s site makes abundantly clear that it’s the perfect pizza for football games (this aligns with the company’s sponsorship of the NFL). Homemade Pizza Co. has a sleek, earthy-feeling website design for its upscale, health-conscious customers.

In an age of technology with seemingly limitless possibility, collaborations like this, especially in consumer-centric organizations, will move from “strategy” to what Harvard Professor Michael Porter calls “operational effectiveness.” That is, in-house silos will be broken down and collaborations between marketing and IT (and other groups) will become more commonplace. Porter argues that operational effectiveness is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for organizational success. Companies that are not operationally effective make themselves vulnerable, even if they have sound strategy.

That anyone can create their vision for a perfect pizza and have it delivered to their door in 30 minutes proves the pronounced benefits of convergence of marketing communication and IT activities. Companies should take a hint from the Papa and learn that in order to be operationally effective and thus stand a chance of surviving intense competition, these collaborations become as necessary as practices like quality management and benchmarking. Companies with good strategies but that lack partnership among marketing and other groups threaten their own viability. In other words, there’s no other way to go but forward—or, as we like to call it at Medill, towards Integrated Marketing Communications.

Kate Hellman is a student in the Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University’s Medill School and can be reached at


Rob Berman said...

Interesting take on branding. Domino's needs to do something different after the debacle about their ingredients last year. I would be interested in the squares idea instead of the traditional triangle slices. You usually only see that on Sicilian pizza or party pizzas.


Wilmayxi042 said...

Hey Pizza Lovers!

I while back someone posted something about the oven temps Heston uses.

I've been a bit slack about responding but someone went to the trouble to try to answer the was gunnaknow..I've pasted his response above.

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