CMO50 #6: Allan Collins, CMO, Domino's Pizza
“Never change your personality to suit a company, change the company to suit your personality and you’ll always be a winner,” Domino’s Allan Collins claims.
It’s this very maxim that has driven Collins as a marketer and executive leader, from his early beginnings as a marketing graduate at Hamersley Iron (now part of Rio Tinto), to a sales cadet selling new drinks products for Diageo, through to assistant brand manager on Stolichnaya Vodka. It also prompted the switch from premium brand, Johnnie Walker, to a virtually unknown Red Bull, and his decision to take up the marketing post at Domino’s in 2007.
“Funnily enough, I also went for a job at Pizza Hut and they didn’t give it to me,” he tells CMO. “I know why – I just wouldn’t fit culturally in the company.
“I’d met Domino’s CEO and MD [Don Meij], who was looking for a marketing director to help relaunch the Domino’s brand. It was a sick brand in those days, but I loved talking to Don and it suited me.
“Over time, Domino’s has become bigger and bigger. Marketing was just four people when I joined, now we’re up to somewhere near 45 people. It’s not just A/NZ , where I am more hands-on, I also oversee France, Belgium, Netherlands and Japan.”
Over the last nine years, Domino’s has transformed its image from poor product quality and service, to consumer-powered, socially savvy and digitally innovative brand. The road to success wasn’t easy, Collins admits, especially given its franchise structure.
“We had to convince franchisees to pay more and change the quality of the food,” he says. “But as we went on that huge path of improving the quality, we celebrated with consumers as we were doing it. There was a huge step change in terms of our sales, customer account growth and profitability as a result.
“The next level was about challenging ourselves, and being honest about what’s not good. Don was our figurehead and went on a path of improving our service and image. Technology was a big part of this. These days, we don’t talk about product so much, but technology, and how that makes interactions with us easier.”
Demonstrating technology smarts
Collins agrees the line between marketing and product development is blurring, but also believes the same can be said of marketing and technology.
“At Domino’s, it’s all about reducing customer friction, whatever that may be, and however possible,” he says.
There have been plenty of technology-fuelled advancements in recent years. One is interactive retail platform, Pizza Mogul, which allows customer to create their own pizza, brand and social identity within a purpose-built platform. They can then share their creations via their own marketing campaign and earn a slice of the profits.
Collins took ownership of this program and spearheaded a new team of brand managers and customer engagement specialists to create the Pizza Mogul brand under the Domino’s umbrella. Since its launch, more than 70,000 customers have registered, submitting 145,000 pizza combinations, 11.400 pictures and 860 videos, all shared on social media. Collins has even provided the most entrepreneurial of the bunch with master class sessions at head office.
Another major digital breakthrough in 2015 is GPS Drive Tracker, which allows customers to track their pizza order from the store via delivery drivers to when it arrives at their door. This is an extension of Domino’s live Pizza Tracker, which allows customers to access every step of the pizza making process.
“We embrace technologies and like to be on the leading edge,” Collins comments. “We have great relationships with major companies in Silicon Valley, and we visit regularly to discuss the emerging technologies to stay ahead of the curve.
“When the iPhone launched, people thought we were nuts investing in an app, but people do order online and over 60 per cent of business is now online.
“Then it’s all the other technology coming out – how can we make the consumer experience the best possible, while improving the quality of the product. That’s what GPS Driver tracker has done for us.”
Working on a project as fundamentally transformative as pizza tracker required collaboration between marketing, IT, operations, training and digital teams.
“As a CMO, you have to have a closer relationship with the CIO; marketing is now more involved in the CIO role, whereas before we were more mutually exclusive,” Collins says. “We made the decision that marketing drives it but the CIO has to get behind it as there are so many technical considerations.
“Technology and digital presents an entirely different way to reach the consumer. It’s so much more fragmented, but the exciting thing is marketing can now be more tailored to the individual. Amazing opportunities come out of that.”
It’s also changed the nature of brand competition, Collins suggests. “When I grew up, when two companies had a brand war – such as Coca-Cole and Pepsi – it was by TV or by billboard and everyone saw it,” he says.
“Today, you could be having a massive war with your competitor online and customers would have no idea it’s happening, it’s so targeted to that one consumer. You shouldn’t be scared by it, just start using the technology.”
Creativity also comes back to two-way engagement with customers, and Collins highlights recent work to introduce a new creative research method internally to prompt out-of-the-box thinking to problems. This research method allows Domino’s stores to trial new product launches to highly targeted audiences before launching nationally, he says.
“Having this research method in place, the marketing team are able to be creative with the way they solve problems as little or no budget is required to test these ideas,” Collins says. “This gives our team the scope to think beyond what may be normal or practical and leads to a higher level of customer engagement due to highly successful, proven product launches.”
Mastering customer advocacy
Getting on the good side of customers requires listening, then an ability to act on the insights, Collins says.
“About four years ago on Facebook, a customer came to us with an idea for a type of pizza. We paid him for it and only talked about it on Facebook,” he recalls. “It went to 4 per cent of pizzas sold, which was massive. That is where it started to change the DNA of who we were and turning our head towards being all about the customer.
“That got us embracing social more, and our CEO understood that and welcomed it. We started to open ourselves up as a business, then the comms started to change as we could prove we were listening. We’ve now realised we’re all about people powered pizza.”
Helping ensure constant interaction and customer advocacy is a 24/7 social media team, which responds to all comments across social platforms within 30 minutes. “We listen to the consumer, but importantly, then act on it,” Collins says.
Domino’s today is recognised internationally as a brand that’s both innovative and customer-centric. Collins sees innovation as ongoing, iterative improvement.
“Innovation is being better tomorrow than what we were yesterday,” he says. “It’s about looking at ways of how to be better – it doesn’t matter what those are. We’re challenging the status quo all the time. It’s not change for change’s sake, but about reducing consumer friction with us. If you’re innovative, as we are, the consumer rewards you for it.”
Not surprisingly, Collins says his priorities for 2016 are all about what the consumer wants.
“I accept we have to be constantly agile and fluid,” he says. “Having said that, I do know what technology I want to launch in the next 1-2 years, and am working with our CEO on things that will make consumers’ lives easier.”
For Collins, the sign of a successful of a modern marketer is how well they tell the story to consumers as well as internally.
“That’s also what I tell our creative team – they’re paid not to add things, but to keep the distraction out,” he said. “That’s why we in-sourced the agency function here a few years ago - we wanted to keep the promise simple.”
Other key attributes for the modern CMO are leading by example, being adaptive to change, open-mindedness, a willingness to take risks, and an ability to “have fun in the job”, Collins says.
Ultimately, business success at Domino’s is about keeping franchisees profitable. And to do that, it all comes back to the customer, Collins says.
“If every day we listen and have one more customer, then the business is growing,” he concludes. “If you don’t lose customers, you can’t go backwards. Customer count is the sign and true worth of a healthy business.”