'Easiest, fastest, tastiest': inside Pizza Hut's brand strategy to topple Domino's

The pizza wars: how dethroned Pizza Hut is fighting back to reclaim crown

“Our brand strategy in one line? We want to be the easiest, the fastest and the tastiest pizza brand,” explains Stephan Croix, chief sales and brand officer, Pizza Hut EMEA.

Brand boss Croix was honest about the fact that Pizza Hut has had to reforge its market credentials after being leapfrogged in global sales by Domino’s Pizza back in 2017. Over the next two years, it has created a formidable delivery service and expanding its menu to win back the favour of consumers.

But how is Pizza Hut delivering on - and communicating - its pledge to be the "easiest, fastest and tastiest pizza" in a competitive market space?

The Domino's effect

In 2010, Domino's offset a sales droop by improving its online ordering tech, investing money into its in-house team to become a "technology-enabled, nimble, category-disrupting machine."

But, while delivery-focused Domino's ventured ahead with its bold technology goals, Pizza Hut held firmly onto the belief in its substantial restaurant business. It currently has 10,000 staff across 260 UK restaurants, serving 3 million guests a month. This is slimmed down from 330 outlets in 2013.

Croix explained. “When I joined two years ago we were focused on the traditional ways of marketing and the traditional ways of managing a restaurant,” detailed Croix. Globally, this oversight saw Domino’s to unseat Pizza Hut in early 2018 to become the biggest pizza chain in the US and worldwide.

After a four year partnership, Pizza Hut parted ways with creative agency Ogilvy in 2018. it needed an agency to improve its customer experience and digital capabilities.

Along came Iris London - it had worked with Domino’s Pizza since 2012, racking up creative stunt after creative stunt, and tonnes of puns, after taking up the role of lead creative agency in 2013.

During its time with Domino’s, Iris is credited with influencing its investment into digital and tech over traditional advertising, whole also brainstorming innovations such as the brand’s ‘Easy Order Button’ and the ‘Pizza Legends’ campaign which it claimed helped it drive 38% higher average spend per-order. But last February, Domino's terminated the five-year relationship with Iris. It only took Pizza Hut five months to snap up the agency.

it was tasked with emulating its Domino's turnaround, by defining a fresh proposition for the fast-food delivery chain across TV, digital and customer experience. Together the two developed 'the easiest, the fastest and the tastiest pizza' platform.

Building a digital team

“We’re now leveraging digital to build a best in class consumer experience,” explains Croix. The 18-months building an in-house customer experience team called ‘Pizza Hut Digital Ventures' attests to this. The team is split across user experience, data analytics, design and computer programming - they specialise in performance marketing across social media, search and email roles, departments. These were roles once handled by agencies. They are making the most of first-party data “to reinvent its online customer experience".

This means removing friction from the customer journey to ensure it doesn’t take more than five steps to order - outwith that it is also "working on the pace and speed of the website,” Croix says. These five clicks have to load fast.

But there also more ways to order. Pizza Hut capitalised on the growing interest in conversational commerce with a chatbot for ordering food delivery in Israel.

The Twitter and Facebook Messenger bot allows customers to order pizza - a bid to drive sales by millennial customers without the need to download the Pizza Hut app.

Last year, Pizza Hut also established a loyalty programme called 'Hut Rewards' to engage new consumers and help it compete with its delivery service competition. Consumers may have been jumping between pizza deals from the top brands, it hopes to build longer-lasting relationships.

“I come from the hotel world, where loyalty programmes are a table stake,” Croix explains. “In our industry, [loyalty programs] are still very new, and we’ve been one of the first players to launch it. And it’s worked. We’ve signed up 1.5 million consumers in less than a year.”

Every time customers 'Hit the Hut' and spend over £10 on food, they earn one point on the app - with five points they get a free side, with seven a medium pizza, and £10 a large pizza.

Food strategy - 'the tastiest'

Part of Domino’s ‘Pizza Turnaround’ saw a menu reinvention. Since last November, Domino’s somehow sold 1.6m pizzas with a cheeseburger topping in the UK and Ireland (above) - its best pizza launch in years. Following that, it launched a range of ‘Delight’ pizzas - a healthier option with each small-sized pizza coming in less than 650 calories.

In a similar vein, Pizza Hut is putting time and energy into its menu to ensure it meets its promise of being ‘the tastiest’ pizza in town.

Over the past few years, Pizza Hut has upped the amount of work it does with its customers to ensure its website, delivery service and restaurant format aligns to their individual needs. It has applied a similar approach to the way it develops its menu.

“Food strategy is at the heart of what we do,” explains Croix. “And we’re very consumer-focused. We get thousands and thousands of data points on taste."

Last year, Pizza Hut launched its San Francisco sourdough pizza after 19 months research, whereby it consulted 4,000 consumers on the taste. Half of the pizzas it now sells are from the sourdough range.

It has also developed a vegan range. “Veganism is such a big trend, so it was an opportunity we identified,” Croix says.

Delivery - 'the fastest'

While it’s dine-in business continues to put strain in overall business, Pizza Hut is channelling a lot of energy into its delivery service.

Being the ‘fastest’ delivery is the ultimate goal - it is a space that has changed greatly since Domino's reinvented the wheel with its 2012 tech. JustEat and Deliveroo are among the brands disrupting a space where Domino's once had an impressive lead.

Regarding mounting competition from food delivery firms, Croix says: "Our strategy is to make our pizza’s available to as many consumers. We embrace all those players. Depending on the markets, we will have different agreements across Europe. It gives consumers options.”

Separating from other pizza chains or delivery services, Pizza Hut offers a speed guarantee. If the delivery exceeds 40 minutes, consumers are entitled to receive a £10 voucher.

“We’re also testing out other elements such as driver tracking, to give consumers better visibility of where their orders at,” said Croix.

But this does not mean the restaurants are a write-off, but the format is being looked at.

It has plans to build what it internally calls ‘Fast Casual’ restaurants too – a contemporary store with an open kitchen. “In terms of speed, we’re going to offer a proposition – five minutes, from order to pizza being ready,” Croix says hopefully.

'Now That's Delivery'

With Iris London, Pizza Hut looked to shape how it is perceived in the media and to develop a series of advertising campaigns to promote its delivery business.

“We figured out that we need to be very distinctive, a bit more fun, a bit more playful,” Croix explains.

Cue its series of ‘Now that’s Delivery' ads, where its plans to topple Domino’s in the UK isn’t exactly discreet - a brazen punch we have come to expect from the likes of Burger King’s in the fast-food circuit.

In the ad, Pizza Hut’s brand ambassador Parker J Patterson tells the camera cheekily “now we’re not ones to knock the competition…” upon which he promptly taps the edge of a line of domino, toppling them while saying: "As the dominoes topple over in chain reaction, he continues, “but guess who’s pizza you said tastes best? According to this independent taste test... ours.”

Patterson is referring to a 2017 report by Welwyn Research that compared the tastes of the two rival brands. After a blind taste test of three different styles of pizza, the study found 54% preferred Pizza Hut, while 39% preferred Dominos.

The scratching ad campaign didn't stop there and goes on to favourably compare itself to rival Domino’s in other aspects to ensure the viewer knows that unlike Domino’s, it offers reward schemes, has a speed guarantee and a £5 Favourites discount menu.

Will the campaign help topple Domino's newfound dominance in the sector? Croix is coy. "We welcome competition, we compete within a very friendly way. [Domino's] help us to be innovative and to grow in the marketplace."

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