From 'dated' to 'hip': How Pizza Hut looks to get in with the cool crowd

As the industry gets increasingly competitive and companies look to outperform one another and remain profitable, marketers should still not forget the importance of long term brand building and emotional engagement with consumers. Pizza Hut’s CMO Jean Ler (pictured) told A+M in an interview that for a company to stay on course, it is extremely important for marketers to constantly invest in building brand equity.

According to her, most companies are focused on short term sales such as promotions rather than having a concrete plan on building brand equity. By doing so, however, the chances of eroding the brand equity is high, Ler said. Having worked in brands such as PETRONAS, Mondelez, Kellogg’s and Friesland Campina, Ler said the pace within the F&B industry compared to FMCG is faster. As such, companies within this space might not have the luxury of time when it comes to long term brand building.

“Food and price are the most important elements in the F&B industry, so you have to be on the ground at the point of purchase and make sure that people notice your offerings,” she said.

While Pizza Hut is a well known brand, over the years, in markets such as Malaysia, it gradually became viewed as a “quiet, conservative and dated” brand targeting individuals between the ages of 30 to 40 years old while its competitors, Ler said, were viewed as “youthful”. As such, Ler jumped at the chance to rejuvenate the brand, moving from the FMCG space to F&B near the end of 2016.

Known for its global brand positioning “For The Love of Pizza”, Ler and her team localised it into “Authentic Pizza Experience Made Passionately” at the end of 2017. According to Ler, the younger group of consumers today are on the hunt for authentic experiences and genuinely tasty food. “Gone are the days when people are looking for gimmicky stuff such as latte art. While those are ‘Instagrammable’, I think it’s passé. Consumers are looking for things that are more real,” she said.

Since then, Pizza Hut has launched campaigns rooted in the idea of “passion”, such as its recent singing pizza campaign which combines two of Malaysians’ favourite passions – food and music, as well as its “Passion” campaign in 2018 which helped generate a 10% increase in sales. The new brand positioning also resulted in an overhaul of Pizza Hut’s communications efforts, in-store assets, menu changes and new product offerings. This was in line with Pizza Hut's innovation plan which comprises digital and product innovation.

Mixing traditional and mobile

Ler brought OOH back into Pizza Hut’s marketing mix to recapture consumers’ attention while they are on the road, an area that the brand had not looked into for approximately five years before she joined. Also, she increased digital spending from 20% to 35% to better target the younger generation. Its mobile app, which was launched in 2017, and revamped website also allowed Pizza Hut to nearly double its online transactions.Interestingly, Pizza Hut found that online and app traffic come from consumers who are younger than 35 years old. In particular, app usage is more rampant among consumers between 20 to 25 years.

Meanwhile, Pizza Hut spiced up its offerings by bringing back the Chicken Cheesy Bites pizza and putting a twist to a traditional recipe with its Krabby Cheese pizza. To portray itself as a youthful and “hip” brand, Pizza Hut also ensured that the talents it engages for its videos are young and energetic. When asked how Pizza Hut is able to launch campaigns that are close to its brand values without coming off as trying too hard or the message being lost on consumers, Ler said Pizza Hut is also advocating passion as an attitude towards life, instead of just using it to push its products.

“Pizza Hut is synonymous with pizza and we really love the products that we offer. However, we are also advocating that everybody should live their lives with passion and not let it go to waste,” Ler said.

(Read also: Pizza Hut CMO Jean Ler on why the basics of a brand or consumer never change)

Pushing employees to be data-driven

The path towards digital innovation, however, comes with its own set of challenges. For Ler, the main challenge for her team is to make use of data analytics and gather insights to offer a better experience for its consumers.

“While the importance of data and analytics has been growing fast, I realised that the ability to gather insights and knowledge in this area is still not in-depth enough because it is new. Individuals are still learning, be it clients, agencies or the eCommerce partners we spoke to,” she said.

Pizza Hut’s digital team grew from a headcount of one in 2017 to a team of four individuals, all of who have a background in eCommerce. Ler told A+M that plenty of training is needed to get her 22-strong marketing team to understand and distill data into insights. She acknowledged that not everyone has the innate ability to immediately identify patterns from data. As such, Ler will constantly question her team and ask them to draw conclusions from the data they gathered.