Pizza Hut CMO Shares Slices of Wisdom about Brand Strategies

Marketing Darwinism is alive and well, said Brian Niccol, ’03, chief marketing officer at Pizza Hut, Inc.

“The brand that has the creative nugget or the human insight is the one that’s winning, not the brand that has the most muscle or the most power,” he said.

Niccol shared this and other lessons he’s learned during his keynote speech to the Marketing Conference, sponsored by the Marketing Group October 14 at Gleacher Center. “Sometimes we can get lost looking at our belly buttons,” Niccol said, rather than communicating simple ideas built on a human insight. “The key piece of the puzzle is, how do you find that human insight where consumers quickly connect?”

Everybody has access to the same set of data, Niccol said. “The thing I find just magical about marketing is that everybody can see the exact same numbers, but everybody can come up with 20 different ideas about how to bring that to life.”

He said, “Marketing is really about creative synthesis, not just disciplined analysis.” Niccol called creativity “a legal way to gain an unfair advantage.”

“Figure out where your creativity lies and where your passion lies, because that’s where you’ll usually discover your breakthrough,” he suggested.

Old-fashioned brands have found new life this way. Reinvention has allowed such brands as Olay, Old Spice, and Corona to become relevant to a younger demographic.

Pizza Hut has gone through transformations itself. It went from a restaurant setting to a focus on delivery and carry-out. Now the company is “reinvigorating and reinventing” the restaurant aspect, Niccol said. “We’re trying to transform the brand from being just a one-dimensional pizza delivery company to a company that frankly, can deliver pizza, pasta, and wings — really, to own every home meal occasion.”

Pizza Hut has embraced new media by producing a series of viral videos. The company also created a pizza ordering iPhone application with the goal of being the best in the app business. One month after putting out the app, Apple called about using it in its commercial. The Pizza Hut app now ranks number one in the free lifestyle app category, Niccol said. Pizza Hut’s on-line pizza ordering business is on track to be a $500 million business in three short years. The strategy also contemporizes the brand.

However, in the push to use alternative media, don’t forget about television. “You need both,” Niccol said.

He challenged everyone to “use marketing as a business solution. Don’t use marketing as a promotional tool.” When you do the former, “you can lead an organization.”

Niccol suggested a key question to ask is: “What habit, perception, or belief are you trying to build, change, or reinforce?” This method can apply to dealing with Main Street, Wall Street, or the boardroom, he said.

Marketing can shape the future. Another question to ask yourself is: “How do I make what we talk about as the future happen right now?” Niccol said.

Celeste Liou, second-year marketing student in the Full-Time MBA program, said she found it interesting to learn about “the power of marketers to reinvent brands.” Pizza Hut has gone from a somewhat “staid” brand to one that uses all kinds of social media channels, she said.

                                                                                                                            — Mary Sue Penn