Going from commodity to being the only option

There are certain things that I think of as a complete commodity.  I don’t care about the "brand."  I don’t really care where I buy it. 

Milk.  Gas.  And pizza.

I’m not talking about pizza that you go out to get (in that case…Ray’s in NYC is the must)…I’m talking the "bring it to our door, we have a house full of teenagers" pizza that I seem to be buying on a very regular basis.

Dominos, Pizza Hut, Godfather’s, Papa John’s — whatever.  Basically the same.  A complete commodity at the McLellan house.

But not any more.  Now, I have a very strong preference. I would go out of my way to order from one over the other.   You’re probably wondering what in the world a pizza place could do to go from commodity to only option.

A new crust?  Some wild new ingredient combination?  Free food?

No, no and no.  Dominos knows that their pizza is pretty much like all the others.  So to differentiate themselves, they didn’t focus on the pizza.  They focused on my experience.

Most pizza places let you order online now.  But Dominos has taken it to a whole new level.  They have this new pizza tracker.  I can literally watch as my pizza is prepped, baked and boxed for delivery.

Here, you can see (feed readers…click to see the visuals) that my order has been placed and Charles is beginning to prep my pizza.  Right next to the the YOU GOT IT MADE line…it outlines who is doing what when.



Then, Charles puts the pizza in the oven.



I’m skipping a couple steps here…but after the pizza was boxed, Matt, their delivery expert, left the store with the food at 7:39 pm.



Now, you may be thinking…"wow…Drew needs to get a little more excitement in his life" and that may be true.  But…every time the McLellan household (and many hungry teen-aged guests) need pizza — instead of poking around for a coupon or just randomly picking one — I now always call Dominos.  That did not happen before the tracker.

Figure the average bill is around $50 when I am feeding a gang.  Figure that it’s dinner at chez McLellan, on average, twice or three times a month.  $150/month.  That’s almost $2,000 a year. 

Dominos figured out that their category (pizza delivery) had been so commoditized that they could compete on price (the "I don’t have a brand or anything that makes me different" choice) or they could somehow make themselves stand out from the crowd.  They knew consumers wouldn’t buy/believe the "we taste better."   So they thought about how they could alter the buying experience.  How could they make that different for me?

Smart.  Very smart.

So how about you?  Are you in a business where what you sell (the pizza of your industry) is pretty much the same?  Or…different but not in a way that the consumer could discern it? 

Is there some other aspect of your service, delivery, packaging, pricing etc. that you could make notably different?  If they won’t/don’t choose you because of your product — why else might they make you an "only option?"

Update:  Looks like I am not the only one writing on this topic.  Discovered Cale’s piece when I was doing the feedreader thing!

31 comments on “Going from commodity to being the only option

  1. BIG Kahuna says:

    I don’t see the connection. They promise to be there in 30 minutes already. Why do you get a benefit to the experience of knowing when they put the onions on it? The last thing I want to do is go online and watch my pizza order.

    Instead of going online why not just buy the best tasting pizza? Domino’s does not taste like Papa John’s at all. I buy my pizza based on my taste preference not by a pizza tracker.

    Pizza is not a commodity if you judge it by quality. Domino’s is about a half a step above frozen pizza in my opinion. I won’t eat it for free, no kidding.

    But hey, if the tracker does it for ya, keep tracking!

  2. Drew,

    Just thought I’d mention that the visuals came through fine in my feed reader (Google Reader).

    I can see the value of the tracker–mainly in cases where something goes wrong with the order/prep/delivery process and the order is delayed. It could also come in handy when you need to keep close tabs on the progress of your order (i.e., lunch meeting, order pick-up, etc.)

    Added value, whether actual or perceived, definitely enhances branding. But, I do agree with BK on one thing: I still like Papa John’s better. πŸ™‚


  3. Drew,

    In fact, I am on your side with this one. I haven’t ordered pizza from anywhere but Domino’s in the last year, and it’s largely due to the fact that they have focused on the experience of ordering pizza as a whole.

    Sure, Domino’s tastes different from Papa John’s which tastes different from Pizza Hut. But from what I’ve seen, where there’s a slight thrill from getting a jalapeΓ±o with a Papa John’s pie, the taste of the pizzas aren’t different enough for me to base my dinner decision on that alone.

    Thanks for the great post!


  4. Karin H. says:

    Hi Drew

    We live in such a small village non of the town’s pizzarias does home-deliveries πŸ™

    As for your question: I’m sure it is our rather quick replies to emails, quick sending out of quotes etc. Something that is still regarded as top service because most other businesses (in all kinds of trades/services) don’t do this. We use ‘time’ to get an edge πŸ˜‰

    Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  5. Drew:

    Great post once again. This gives me a great idea for my delivery business.

    We always order from Dominos Pizza. The pizzas are good and the service is dependable. This Pizza Tracker thing is another way to let the customer interact with their brand and differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.

  6. I agree with Big Kahuna, I don’t see any benefit about watching the progress of my pizza order. Also, if I have the time to track my order than I need to find a new hobby.

    Your post did give me food for thought however, and we will discuss this at my company to explore how we can make our translations business and “only option”.

  7. Scott (Big K),

    Your comment has been a great reminder (and future post fodder) about how brands appeal to different people in different ways.

    In my opinion, all of the delivery pizzas taste pretty much the same. I don’t believe any of them are any better than the others.

    So given that is where I come from as a consumer — they can either complete on price or something else. My point was…and Scott Fox said it better than I could here in the comments — good for them for not thinking they had to make better pizza to differentiate themselves. Because no matter what they did to the pizza — they’re all pretty much the same.

    If you ever come to my house…I’ll bend my own rule and order Papa John’s!


  8. Jeanne,

    And when you have a house of hungry teens…knowing exactly when the pizza is on its way is a big benefit.

    But, I have to admit, part of the reason why I like it is just because it is cool. So for me…that’s part of the brand experience. I can sit there, while I’m writing a blog post, and track my order.

    Wow…geek city! πŸ™‚


  9. Ingrid,

    This whole conversation really reminds us that brands need to remember that they can’t be a one trick pony.

    And that the product alone isn’t enough. It’s as much about the packaging/experience as it is about the product.


  10. Karin,

    Especially in your industry — a timely response must make you seem like you’re from another planet! I would although think that it is very talkworthy.

    How do you create the expectation that you’re going to wow me with your respect of my time? DO you give your prospects a hint that they’re going to experience that?


  11. Scott,

    I would guess, to a certain degree, that your products are sort of commodities. So your version of a pizza tracker or something that makes your deliveries remarkable could really differentiate you in a way your products just can’t.

    I’ll be curious to see what you come up with!


  12. Janine,

    You shouldn’t knock it until you try it. It’s kind of fun.

    And of course the pizza tracker was just an example. I don’t really care if you guys try it, like it or think it’s crazy. It was just opening the conversation.

    My point was exactly what you said. I wanted to get you to think about how you can move your company into the “only option” category!


  13. Clinton says:


    I watched the progress of my Dominos pizza with great interest when I saw the progress-meter appear online a couple of months ago. It was being prepared … it was in the oven … it was being delivered … and then at last it said that the order was complete. The anticipation at my house was at fever-pitch levels – the pizza was right outside the door … or so we thought. We waited for the knock on the door. We waited for half an hour more.

    When I sent feedback to Dominos that their progress-meter needed repairs, I was told that it was only a simple widget, and that they didn’t actually track the progress of each pizza. It was just a piece of fluff to look at. Boo … bad Dominos!

    What’s interesting though is that I actually had expectations that it was accurate. Why? Because of experiences that I’d had in a completely different category – courier deliveries. With FedEx, I do get a real read on where my package is, and while pizzas are completely different, it’s interesting to see how my expectations of my experience were being shaped by my experiences in another category.

    Marketers beware: consumer expectations are on the rise, and they are being set by experiences that extend beyond traditional category boundaries.


  14. Karin H. says:

    Hi Drew

    We have a AWeber question form in place which promises a quick and personal reply. Once the person asking the question has confirmed (conform our anti-spam policy) he/she arrives on a special page telling hi/her again we will answer as quickly as possible – within our normal business hours – and that our ‘average’ is 30 minutes πŸ˜‰

    Some days after we replied our AWeber sends out a new message to them: asking for feedback on a special webpage (again an AWeber form).
    One of the questions is: did you receive a timely response? 100% so far made an extra positive note of it.

    Quick responses and free advice seem to be the two main ‘brand-making’ features of our business.

    Karin H.

  15. Drew,

    Both points, well-taken!

    Isn’t it nice to know that, with today’s technology, you can have your geeky tendencies catered to so easily and thereby inject a little fun into an otherwise mundane activity like ordering pizza? Oh, the marvels of modern life! πŸ˜‰

    Keep on tracking!

  16. Clinton,

    If that’s really the case — bad Dominos indeed! It never occurred to me that it wasn’t accurate. Although I did wonder how the pizza makers updated the software.

    Now, I need to poke around to see if what you were told was true.

    Boy — will that be disappointing if it is.


  17. Karin,

    100%? Wow…that’s amazing. How do you make sure you (or someone) sees the form when it’s submitted? What’s your process that protects that 100%?


  18. Lewis,

    Thanks — I agree. Some excellent discussion happening here! Love the Marketing Minute readers! They bring their A game!


  19. Jeanne,

    Very true…today’s world celebrates and rewards the geek in all of us.

    But…if what Clinton says is true and it’s not actually tracking the pizza, boy have they had their idea backfire.

    Instead of differentiating their brand — they are just fooling their customers. That would be pretty disappointing.


  20. Karin H. says:

    Hi Drew

    If you are familiar with AWeber you know you can receive notifications of new subscribers by email. Especially with the ‘elaborate’ webforms I’ve made I make sure that box (in list stetting, sub-tab settings) is ticked and comes into my inbox. A communicator whistle (yes, I’m a StarTrek fan ;-)) goes off when an email receives and my email program (Eudora) filters separates some of our AWeber lists into dedicated folders. So none of those ever gets lost in the busy inbox.

    I’m very strict with myself to priorities following tasks: clients in shop, clients on the phone, emails from clients and prospects.
    (And when we do have a few days off, the Why-confirm page and 1st follow-up message will have a note of this on/in it – I don’t like surprises and think none of our prospects do too.)
    So far all of this has protected this 100% rate (of which I’m rather proud – or it that bragging ;-))

    Karin H.

  21. Cale says:

    Heya Drew–I was smiling when I was reading your post the other day and was glad to see you found the whole Domino’s experience equally remarkable.

    Good stuff!

  22. Karin,

    But what if you are away from your computer? (I know…God forbid!) Does it also trigger a message to a cell phone or some other way of getting your attention?


  23. Cale,

    Did you read the comment above from Clinton? We may have been completely fooled! Which would really change the way I feel about the experience.

    How about you?


  24. Ed ROACH says:

    You’re absolutely right Drew, it is a great differentiator. Even if a fraction of the market try it just once for chuckles, can you imagine the revenue. The experience builds relationships and that leads to advocates – money in the bank.

    It certainly positions them as a leader. The mom and pop stores just don’t have the resources to implement this baby. But there are other positioning strategies that they can do to top even the big boys. It just takes some great guidance.

    Terrific example Drew.

  25. Ed,

    Very true…mom and pops can’t compete with the same level of bells and whistles. But in a lot of ways, I think the mom and pop has a better chance of truly building a brand that will last and matter.

    Do you think that’s true?


  26. Karin H. says:

    Hi Drew

    Well, simple stated: our website visitors can ask questions through our forms 24/7, I answer them during opening hours (and our opening hours are rather long, even Sunday afternoons) as soon as I can. I am entitled to a normal out of office live too πŸ˜‰ (according to my partner I don’t care if I hadn’t one but he’s known to exaggerate widely).

    We are a small retail business and going over the top with instant replies even during the night would place us in a category I don’t think would attract the clients (middle to upper-end of the market) we attract now. I rather focus on answering as quick as possible and effectively/appropriate as possible then focusing on instant reply always – I think something would get lost. The personal approach for instance.

    Karin H

  27. Karin,

    I agree totally. Sometimes we have to step away and have a life! Whether we want to or not. πŸ™‚

    And while I believe consumers do demand faster and faster response, even they would agree that they don’t want you to work 24/7. Not because they care if you have a life…but they’d think it was more expensive!


  28. Cale says:

    Drew –

    Hadn’t noticed Clinton’s comment–and yes, that would have a serious effect on my feelings about the experience.

    Enough so that I went on a Googling spree and tried to find out of the tracker was a hoax.

    However, all I could find was articles describing how the tracker is supposed to be accurate to within 40 seconds. So, I’m still bummed just knowing it is potentially “just for fun,” but I feel a bit better now that I was unable to find any evidence suggesting it’s phony.

    But all this talk of pizza is making me hungry–and football is on… Mmmm…

  29. Cale,

    Whew, I feel better now too. I’m hoping your investigation was on the money.

    I wonder who at Dominos we’d have to ask?

    Go Vikes?


  30. Jim says:

    The tracker is real. Unfortunately there are times when people in the store click the dispatch button before the driver actually leaves with the pizza, which can make it look fake. While this does happen, it is against policy and it occurs just a small % of the time.

  31. Thanks for answering our questions, Jim. For everyone else’s sake..I did verify that Jim is really with Dominos. In fact, he manages the web & emerging technology functions at Domino’s.

    So thanks to Jim for the facts and to everyone else for a lively discussion!


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