Why Native Advertising Will Win

Three animating ads, one of which appears when you happen to place your mouse over a random word in the article for only the briefest second.

Is this the type of user experience consumers will be comfortable with in 5 years? 10 years?

I don’t think so.

Twitter’s Chris Fry on Unlocking the Power of Stable Teams

If you haven’t checked out First Round Review from First Round Capital yet, it’s definitely worth a look. They’re cranking out a ton of great content featuring notable startups and founders covering a variety of topics including design, engineering and management.

I especially enjoyed this recent article discussing the power of stable teams with Twitter¬†Engineering SVP¬†Chris Fry. In it he makes some great points on team building…

  • keep teams together for at least 6 months, if not a year
  • don’t run people at 100% utilization all the time
  • designate a communication point person
  • keep the team’s mission crystal clear
  • get folks sitting together

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been running teams much the same way at various ad agencies for many years now with a great deal of success. The team structure within an integrated agency is a little different from a startup (art directory, copywriter, technologist, design/UX, producer), but the tactics and results are the same.

One point that isn’t explicitly called out is the importance of rotating people through great teams. This is especially true in ad agencies where many job functions do not directly participate with the team on a day-to-day basis (i.e. account manager, media buyer, strategist, etc.) and individuals often come from very traditional shops where this type of team structure doesn’t exist. By spending a few weeks with a great team, I’ve found that you can dramatically increase the effectiveness of the agency as a whole.

Technology as Advertising

Back in 2007 I packed up my bags and headed out to beautiful Boulder Colorado to work at ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky. They had just won the Domino’s Pizza account and were charged with getting the company out of its then current tailspin – multiple consecutive quarters of same store sales declines, a poor tasting menu, a collapsing stock price, and relentless competition that basically left them in a continuous price war.

Like any good agency we knew that in order to reverse the slide, we needed the company to give us something great to talk about. First priority – better tasting food.

Unfortunately we learned that this little request was a multi-year process and there was no way the company could sit back and wait for it to happen before they made a comeback. Price was also a non-starter. The category would simply copy any moves we made instantaneously. What we needed was a way to differentiate the Domino’s offering without actually changing anything.

So we proposed something that was, at the time, completely ridiculous – Domino’s is not a pizza company, it’s a technology company.

Now you have to remember, this was 2007. The iPhone had just been released, there was no App Store, no Android either, Tumblr was only a few months old, Facebook had about 20 million members, and most everyone still browsed the internet solely on a desktop computer (and half of them still used dial-up!). Why on earth would Domino’s want anything to do with tech?

The Domino’s site circa 2007 looked just like every other pizza site out there – to place an order you’d fill out a huge form with a bunch of check boxes and radio buttons. There was no personalization. Very little photography. We literally took screenshots of Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Domino’s and presented them to the client side by side without the logos.

Does this look quick and easy to you?

Why would a customer choose one of these over the other?

Online ordering will soon be the first touch point of your brand with most consumers, shouldn’t it delight and surprise them?

That last point was also a bit radical at the time. But we saw the numbers. Order frequency was higher. Average order size was bigger. Online was where the business was headed. It wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of when. And the first company to embrace it, the first one to become the technology leader in the category, was going to kick everyone’s ass.

Our first effort was the BFD (covered here, here, and here). It was a standalone pizza builder that was developed in about a month (a ridiculous amount of time considering the necessary food shoots and back-end integration work). The features were limited – it could only handle a single size pizza, didn’t offer all of the toppings, and had a single price point. The goal was to simply get something out there as quickly as possible (the MVP in today’s parlance) and learn from actual usage.

More importantly, however, was now we had something to talk about. Something no one else in the category had. We had a piece of technology that we could build a campaign around. And that’s exactly what we did. There was a sweepstakes, PR, media – everything that an agency puts behind advertising a company’s products. But we weren’t advertising pizza any more. We were advertising technology.

After the success of the BFD it quickly became the number one priority to bring a visual builder to the standard online ordering system. This was how all pizzas would be ordered in the future. But here’s where things got interesting…

Domino’s became famous in part for their 30 minutes or less slogan. Place an order and it will be at your door in under 30 minutes. To achieve this they built a system that tracked the throughput of their stores and allowed them to compete with one another on how fast orders were being made. The system was remarkably simple – each time an employee finished their part in the order process (take order, prep, bake, box, deliver) they’d hit a button that indicated that their phase was complete. And here’s the kicker – all of this information flowed into a huge database at Domino’s headquarters in Michigan.

The instant we heard this it was obvious. This was the differentiator we’d been looking for. All that was needed was an API into the database and we could tell millions of customers exactly where their order was at any given time.

The Pizza Tracker launched in January of 2008 and was covered by just about every media outlet out there – from a live delivery on the Today Show to articles in every major publication. We didn’t even have to advertise it. The technology was advertising itself.

From there Domino’s went all in on tech. Personalization, mobile site, native applications, all of it. Campaigns were based around order accuracy and transparency (yes, Jesus is making your pizza today). And while the recession took a hit on their stock price for a bit, it has come roaring back to new highs. They’ve just opened their 10,000th store and are now pressuring Pizza Hut for the No. 1 spot.

A couple years after I left CP+B I was watching CNBC and Domino’s CEO was on doing a segment about their amazing turnaround, massively rebounding stock price and better tasting food (yes, they got around to that too). The anchor asked what makes Domino’s so special now. His response was very familiar…

Domino’s is no longer just a pizza company. We’re a technology company.