Tuesday, April 27

Pushing Pies: Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's


With speciality pizzas ranging from coal-fired to innovative gourmet pies crowding out chains for the sitdown crowd, the big three — Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's — are looking to retain dominance over the delivery game. So who's winning?

A Breakdown Of The Big Three.

Pizza Hut. For Pizza Hut, U.S. sales are up 5 percent in the first quarter after struggling last year. The turnaround is hot as the chain believes it found the magic formula. When people order pizza, what they really want is an unbeatable value and quick order convenience.

Pizza Hut has a clear advantage in this arena. By investing in easy order applications across various platforms and networks, ordering is super simple. Quick order apps have also helped make Pizza Hut the most talked about online, often by a margin of 2 to 1. And while the 1958-established pizza chain doesn't cross-connect its online assets, it has still attracted 1.3 million Facebook fans and 29,000 Twitter followers.

Of all its smart moves, the one that stands out the most is its work to implement a global marketing strategy with a localized appeal. Every application allows users to pinpoint their local Pizza Hut and receive hyper-localized offers from franchisers. The biggest misstep, of course, was attempting to be super cool in calling itself "The Hut."

Domino's. Domino's seems to have been hit by a string of bad publicity luck, ever since it accepted blame for two employees who ran amok on YouTube. Every time someone searches the headlines, Domino's has the corner on bad behavior.

Its marketing isn't always much better lately. Even on its Web site, the pizza company calls out its competitors, driving up their brand names as if this number two pizza chain was somehow a distant third or fourth. As for the 30-minute guarantee that helped it rise to to the top? Long gone.

The most recent marketing investment demonstrates heavy exposure without the buzz in connection with American Idol. However, what seems to have always worked well for Coca-Cola didn't translate for pizza pies. The campaign was barely mentioned by anyone online. (In contrast, fans are still taking about Justin Bieber's cameo on the show.)

When Domino's is mentioned online, most of it is related to the recipe mistake. Most people post how bad it sucks. On Facebook, Domino's is closing in on 500,000 fans. On Twitter, a scant 12,500. The most noticeable reason is that there doesn't really seem to be a reason to join. Its increasing corporate image is a turn-off.

Papa John's. No matter what you might think about the Papa John's push to be more Italian, which seems to drift well away from beginnings as humble as Pizza Hut, there is always something to be said for the pizza company that came on strong enough to carve out a niche that used to belong to Little Caesar's and Godfather's.

Despite its 1.2 million Facebook fans, it isn't talked about much online, capturing only a fraction of mentions when compared to Domino's or Pizza Hut. On Twitter, it has only managed 12,000 followers, which is simply a matter of its shout out, no-follow approach to messaging.

Papa John's is hoping to change all that with its "Papa's Specialty Pizza Challenge." People join on Facebook, submit topics, and provide a short write-up of why their pie is unique.

The fine print makes the contest a bit of a spin. The winner gets 1 percent of the sales, up to $10,000, and free pizza for life. The contest finalist also receive $1,000 to help market their creation to victory.

It's Not All About Social. Stick With Core Services.

In terms of domestic sales, the three pizza chains are lock step in order, with Pizza Hut on top, Domino's second, and Papa John's third. If Papa John's could make a break in some segment of its marketing, it could theoretically take on Domino's for the second spot in the next two years (with better expansion plans). Unfortunately, the social media contest isn't it.

The reason Pizza Hut is winning with its promotions isn't only about price. It seems the pizza company has figured out what hits the right spot with U.S. consumers. When consumers want cheap, convenient pies, they want cheap, convenient pies. Pizza Hut is delivering these two points, leaving social media to take care of itself. Consumers seem to like it that way.

In contrast, Papa John's is shooting for social to attract new fans despite saying they are offering the content to "loyal customers." While they might attract pizza fans, the real question is whether they can convert those pizza fans into Papa John's lovers.

Maybe. But right now, it seems more likely they'll attract contest entrants just before those entrants click on one of those super simple Pizza Hut apps and then tweet their friends how easy it is. Get it now? Give people something to talk about and social media will follow. Cater to them too much and they'll talk about everything except your product.
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