Passikoff: On Cheesy Customer Expectations

With loyalty, customer expectations are everything, and that’s true no matter which country you live in and no matter what you’re thinking about having for dinner.

The phrase, “coals to Newcastle,” refers to the English city, famous (in the Middle Ages and phrase fable, and idiom) for its coal mines which, legendarily, shipped coal to the rest of England. So when you say, “coals to Newcastle,” you’re talking about a waste of time – taking something to a place that doesn’t really need it – the opposite of what they need, actually. So it’s a well-established idiom archetypically expressing a pointless activity.

The phrase first appeared in 1661 in Thomas Fuller’s The History of the Worthies of England: “To carry Coals to Newcastle, that is to busy oneself in a needless employment.” (And if you were thinking, “Where the hell does he come up with this stuff?” that book is available on Amazon). There are more modern variants. Like “bread to a bakery,” or “salt to the ocean.” I have an idiom to add to that list. “Pizza to Pisa.” It’s alliterative and, I think, intuitive. But as its new, here’s why this particular idiom came to mind.

Last month, Domino’s, extinguished their pizza ovens and lights and put up Chiuso per affari (Closed for business) signs on all 34 of their Italian franchises. Domino’s opened its first outlet in Milan seven years ago. It seemed like a good idea to someone at the time, Italy being the second-largest pizza market in the world, next to the United States. Before going on, let me say Domino’s has been #1 in the Pizza Category in our U.S-based Customer Loyalty Engagement Index for 12 years in a row! It has nearly 7,000 stores, offering different crusts and toppings, which can be mixed and matched. They have signature pizzas and seasonal specials. The most popular versions are Buffalo Chicken, Memphis BBQ Chicken, Cali Chicken Bacon Ranch (I have no idea what that is), Honolulu Hawaiian, Philly Cheese Steak, Cheeseburger, and Pepperoni. But that’s the U.S., not Italy.

Anyway, Domino’s did a deal with a Milanese company called ePizza. It would seem a natural fit, right? Italy, pizza, well. . . maybe not the brand. Seven years ago, in pre-COVID Italy, there wasn’t any kind of structured home delivery system like the ones in the United States. ePizza planned to expand to 880 locations in the next 8 years and expected to capture a 2% slice of the Italian pizza market pie. So very high expectation. They were of a mind that COVID would help because, even though Italy is the place pizza was invented, Italian pizzerias (and other restaurants) didn’t typically deliver. But then, in the face of the pandemic, local pizzerias began using food delivery services, like Deliveroo. Oh, and did I mention that ITALY, THE SECOND-LARGEST PIZZA MARKET IN THE WORLD!?

Putting aside the delivery infrastructure issue for a moment, one can only suppose the logic behind franchising the very popular U.S. brand was Italians were suffering from a lack of pizza options. That pineapple, BBQ chicken, and Cali Chicken Bacon Ranch (Nope. Still no idea what that is) would tempt Italians away from their local pizzerias. The thing is, pizza is an integral part of Italian life. Italians’ favorites include Margherita (mozzarella fiordilatte and basil), Prosciutto e Funghi (ham and mushrooms), Capriccosa (ham, mushrooms, and artichokes), Frutti di Mare (shrimp, squid, mussels, garlic, and parsley). Oh, and pepperoni (Diavola). And if all that sounds artisanal and local and not at all like Domino’s to you, you’d be right. It’s all three of those things! Because it turns out, Italians have very high expectations when it comes to their pizza.

The ePizza model broke. And, since all the tomato paste in the world couldn’t fix it, they sought protection from creditors in Italian bankruptcy court in April. Apparently, they just ran out of dough! (I apologize if that was too cheesy). (OK, and for that). But the shortcomings in the planned Italian pizza invasion plans weren’t purely financial, but mostly cultural and culinary.

At this point I think it’s fair to ask, “Cosa si aspettavano?” (What did they expect?) – a question they should have asked Italian pizza consumers first. Because it also has to do with customer loyalty. Actually, mainly with loyalty. And customer expectations, which usually increase faster than brands are able to keep up!  With loyalty, customer expectations are everything, and that’s true no matter which country you live in and no matter what you’re thinking about having for dinner. To create engagement, to build loyalty, to not go bankrupt, you absolutely need to understand what consumers really expect. Then try to meet – or even exceed – those customer expectations. Moreso if you’re entering the second-largest market in the world for, well, anything!

The former Domino’s CEO, Patrick Doyle, the guy largely responsible for Domino’s rise to #1 in our U.S.-based Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, was quoted as saying, “We don’t expect to replace all of the pizza consumption in Italy. . . we only have to get a few occasions from each customer.” Each customer!? Wow! Talk about high expectations! To do that, you really have to deliver more than pineapple. No matter how you slice it, you have to deliver against customer expectations.

Under the circumstances I think another question it’s fair to ask is, “Pizza a Pisa? Ti aspettavi davvero unrisultato diverso?” (Pizza to Pisa? Did you really expect a different outcome?)

Robert PassikoffRobert Passikoff is founder and CEO of Brand Keys. He has received several awards for market research innovation including the prestigious Gold Ogilvy Award and is the author of 3 marketing and branding books including the best-seller, Predicting Market Success.  Robert is also a frequent contributor to TheCustomer.

Photo by Lukas Bee. on Unsplash.

The post Passikoff: On Cheesy Customer Expectations appeared first on TheCustomer.