Quick and adventurous: How we’re creating a pizza brand for China

Quick and adventurous: How we’re creating a pizza brand for China

17 March 2020

Anna Kalmykova

Marketing in China

Anna Kalmykova

Dodo Pizza in Hangzhou has been closed for almost one month due to the quarantine measures in China. On February 23rd we reopened for delivery and so-called non-contact takeaway. The team has been using this time to focus on strategic rather than operational tasks.

We’ve been conceptualizing our menu, digging deep into analytics and financials, thinking through our promotional campaign for launching our second store and so on.

Growing Dodo Pizza in China is not only about establishing an efficient business model and finding the right product/market fit, it’s also about building a brand and forging a strong connection with the customer.

Brands are not built overnight, it’s a process that takes time, and being consistent across all touchpoints is crucial. We started with several strategic decisions.

The first one involved defining our source of business, both in terms of competitors and customers. Every person has a list of brands in mind when it comes to particular needs. Which need should Dodo Pizza address, and what other brands would be in that list?

Dodo Pizza’s core competence is efficient production of a large number of products with high speed of service in limited kitchen space. Such a business model is built on high turnover, so we are definitely in the QSR (quick service restaurants) industry.

We conducted a survey to find out where people go to have a quick meal in Hangzhou. It turned out that 48% eat at international fast food chains—McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King. It means that our source of business, main focus and challenge is to take market share from these brands. When people think of having a quick meal, Dodo Pizza should come to mind, just like KFC or McDonald’s.

As for target audience, we know that kids love pizza. We have lots of parents pleasing their little emperors at the weekend, however, that doesn’t help us generate a high turnover throughout the week. That’s why we are working on broadening our audience and creating giving people other reasons to visit. This approach is also consistent with having KFC and McDonald’s as main competitors.

The second strategic decision involved identifying our key brand attributes. While conducting the research mentioned above we discovered the following fact: when it comes to a quick meal, only 4% of respondents think of pizza. The explanation is simple: in China pizza is mainly associated with Pizza Hut, which is a full service restaurant with waiters, a big menu and a long dine-in experience, lasting at least an hour.

Quick and adventurous: How we’re creating a pizza brand for China
Our second company-owned pizzeria in China: now with the “express” sign

Our goal is to position Dodo Pizza as a quick meal brand. This goal is based on two brand attributes: Pizza and Quick Meal. We want Dodo Pizza to be associated with pizza (no surprises here) and quick meal (and here comes the challenge). What does it mean? Pizza as a key brand attribute means that pizza (and only pizza) is the core product on our menu. It’s like burgers for McDonald’s. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have any complementary snacks, desserts or drinks. Of course we will: they’re already on the menu. But we should definitely put aside the temptation to launch a rice dish as it would create direct competition with pizza.

Pizza is what makes us different from other QSR concepts. We are pizza experts and we will take on the challenge of making it more popular in China. What makes our pizza outstanding and how will we communicate its taste? We focus on our unique dough that is light, soft, and very different from other pizza concepts. Our research showed that pizza as a category has a certain barrier — people consider the dough to be oily and the product heavy. We are showing China that pizza can be completely different, and according to the reviews that we get on different platforms, our customers really like it. In terms of product development we also focus on well-known flavours by using typical Chinese ingredients and creating unique recipes along with international classics such as Pepperoni.

How do we make pizza a quick meal? More importantly — how do we make people understand that Dodo Pizza provides a quick meal? We’re focusing on the following attributes:

  • A quick meal approach to the menu: pizza is the core product and we have a number of complementary snacks & desserts.
  • We choose our locations and build our spaces and interiors following QSR rules — high foot traffic, an efficient and comfortable but not-too-cosy dine-in area, orders through the WeChat mini-app, no focus on a special dining experience.
  • We are committed to fast service and aim to prepare any order in just 5 minutes. This is not something that you expect when ordering a pizza but our business model is basically built to deliver on that promise. We decided to use the word ‘express’ on our shop facades and packaging to convey the idea of fast service.
  • We follow all food safety regulations strictly, and have very high cleanliness standards. It makes a difference for customers when it comes to a quick meal as hygiene standards in local parlors are often questionable.
  • We are promoting our international status. Dodo Pizza is currently present in 13 countries. International fast food chains are our key competitors.It is important to make customers aware that Dodo Pizza is an international brand as it puts us on the map of main QSR concepts and attracts attention.

It is important to understand that all these quick meal attributes are actually points of parity when it comes to competing in the QSR industry. They don’t make us different from other concepts, but they do make us belong to this particular market. Our core product is pizza, so that’s the first and one of the main points of difference. But is it enough?

Actually no, it’s not. Both attributes (pizza and quick meal) are mainly functional, while true brands have a strong emotional bond with customers. The third strategic decision we had to make was about Dodo Pizza’s emotional benefit.

Personally I believe that there is no way to simply pick an emotion and make your customers believe that it’s the one. You have to launch your product, see people’s reaction and wait for the right time and place to communicate what your brand stands for. You can never achieve this through pre-launch research and any market studies. Actually it’s mostly about your vision and how much you believe in it. And it’s always a gamble.

I’d say that Dodo Pizza is a more product-oriented than brand-oriented company. When it comes to emotional benefits we try to keep it simple and stay close to our core product. Pizza is not something very typical to everyday life in China. There is a place for surprises and discovery.

We went even further — our pizza doesn’t look like a typical pizza, it has a rectangular shape, unique dough and non-standard sizes.

Trying our pizza is not only about getting a quick meal but also going on a quick adventure.

We picked the idea of adventure as the way to enhance customers’ emotional bond to the Dodo Pizza brand. We are not simply making delicious pizza, we are sending our customers on a journey to an imaginary world that holds the secret to great pizza. What does this mean in real life? Where do we use this connection to adventure? The pizza box is the key touchpoint.

As part of Dodo Pizza China’s visual identity project, LINII Group created a series of illustrations based on our key product features: unique dough, stretchy cheese and big flavors. These illustrations represent imaginary worlds that enhance the feeling of going on a culinary adventure. We will also use the concept of adventure when making seasonal products, selecting merchandise, and for other touchpoints that need brand messaging.

Quick and adventurous: How we’re creating a pizza brand for China

Why do we need an emotional brand attribute at all? We believe that at some point it will become a point of difference from our competitors and help us create loyalty.

Next step — execution. We’ll be changing the interior design in our current pizzeria to better fit the quick meal format, we’ve already changed our menu approach and at the moment we’re working on several new product lines including french fries and ice cream. We’ll be changing our visual style and approach to design in general. This will be the next big step on our way to an efficient business model and strong brand in China.

Study financial data of both units in China:

Learn more about our China project:

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