Master Manipulators

Master Manipulators

Brand is personality; it’s human; it leaves an impression; it’s a voice calling out in the market wilderness longing to build awareness, but most of all, brand is perception.

You can say, for example, I want to be “the best-tasting pizza franchise,” but if others don’t believe it, then it’s only your perception.

On the other hand, the candy coating of a brand is its identity: how it presents itself to the world or the visual manifestation of a desired perception. It is here where my role as a designer comes into play at COACT.

Design = Manipulation?

Design is an interesting concept; it’s such a large umbrella term that encompasses many things. Even more interesting is to think about design, as my professor once put it, a “manipulator.” I was almost offended when I heard her say that “the best designers are master manipulators” because I had never thought of myself as a sinister, scheming type, plotting to get people to do what I want them to do.

Over the years of working as a designer, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe my professor wasn’t too far off.

When it comes to building a strong identity, the design of the system – the color choice, the imagery, the tone of voice, the plan for implementation – all has the potential to get people to feel and do what you want.

It manipulates – to manage or influence skillfully. The consistency of these things working together influences people to trust and builds loyalty. It can persuade them to make decisions and act on those decisions.

Brand is perception, and design is just one element that helps to build that perception.

Domino’s Pizza: The Ultimate Example of Brand Perception

In the case of Domino’s pizza, the perception of the pizza eating customer back in 2009 was overall… pretty bad.

You often came across comments like “It tastes like cardboard and ketchup” and “It’s the worst excuse for pizza.”

Domino’s Pizza CEO Patrick Doyle knew it was time for change – a change that would push them to the forefront of franchise pizza and ultimately transform the perceptions of their customers.

How did Domino’s get what they wanted from their customers (you know, increased sales, brand loyalty…etc.)?

  1. They listened to the voice of their customer, and in this case, the voice of their toughest critics. Put simply, they did their research and decided to change their pizza recipe. After lots of testing, they switched to a handmade, non-frozen, garlic seasoned crust, 100% mozzarella cheese, and a bold but sweet sauce.
  2. They humanized the story. Domino’s had complete transparency, authenticity, and maybe a trace of humility in their “pizza turnaround story.” Launching the website, Domino’s documented the story, told by some of their own employees, of how they redesigned the recipe and then fed it back to their toughest critics. They even bashed themselves publicly on TV commercials, admitting that the pizza was less than great. They added a very human element here, and, as branding consultant and author Chris Malone put it, a demonstration of vulnerability and warmth.
  3. They had a plan. They strategically communicated their new value propositions to their customers, spending $75 million on a six-week marketing campaign. Not only did Domino’s use very candid television commercials to promote the new pizza and a money back guarantee if anyone didn’t like it, they also redesigned the pizza boxes, and even boldly encouraged their customers to post their responses to social media outlets. They then displayed the live twitter feed (#newpizza) on the pizzaturnaround website.

What were the results, you might ask?

According to the Ann Arbor News, the company raked in $105.3 million in sales in its fiscal 2011 year, up 19.8% from 2010 when the company experienced a year of straight sales growth.

The company’s fourth quarter profit in fiscal 2011 was $30.9 million, a 27.9% increase from the fourth quarter of 2010.

I would say they’re doing fairly well.

Conclusion: Listen to Your Customers to Make an Authentic Brand Image & Identity

So, what’s my point? Plain and simple, companies that choose to listen to their customer will relate with them.

And when you can relate with your customers is when you can really design and implement a strategic marketing plan, as in the case of Domino’s Pizza.

Additionally, companies that are forthright and boldly authentic in their brand image will continue to do well in the future. These are the companies that will capture the heart of their audience, a very human audience.

Was this an extreme marketing manipulation tactic, or was it just showing the human element behind the company? I would argue both.

*Note: This article was originally published in January 2014 and has been updated and revised for relevance.  

*Image Source: UnderConsideration/Brand New

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