Catching up with Domino’s new CMO

Ken Harrison joined the pizza joint after two rollercoaster years helping Little Caesars launch its online business. Now he's got a whole new set of challenges ahead.

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By Will Novosedlik

After a little over seven years in various director roles at some of Canada’s leading QSR banners, Ken Harrison was recently tapped by Domino’s Pizza to take the helm as CMO.

Previously, Harrison spent two years as director of marketing at Little Caesars and five years at Recipe Unlimited’s Harvey’s and Milestones. Before that, he cut his marketing teeth at Nestlé, managing both B2B and B2C files. In one of his first roles as assistant marketing manager at Nestlé, he helped launch Frozen Pizza into foodservice. Now he’s taking them hot out of the oven.

Harrison joined Little Caesars just after it launched online ordering – and right before COVID hit – so he had a hand in helping the Canadian arm of the Detroit-based pizza chain hone its digital chops. He couldn’t have chosen a better time to learn and experiment with an online platform as the pandemic kept people indoors, forcing QSRs to focus on digital and delivery.

Strategy caught up with Harrison after his first two months at Domino’s about the challenges and opportunities that exist in digital and mobile ordering.

Aside from the fact that this appointment allowed you to move into your first CMO role, why did you make the switch from Little Caesars to Domino’s? 

KenHarrison-headshotI was excited by the opportunity that existed at Domino’s. When I joined little Caesars, online ordering was still fairly new to them. So it was a really exciting time during which we got to test and learn and try different things. At Domino’s the online ordering experience is at a different part of the digital life cycle. It’s been in place longer so the opportunity here is more about looking for ways to continue to innovate.

Online ordering has become such a huge part of the business. So we want to stay very focused on leveraging all the information and data that we have on the online ordering side of things to make sure that we’re connecting to our customers where they are doing the bulk of their purchasing.

Is there anything about your online platform that stands out as a differentiator?

Customization has been something that Domino’s has been developing over a long period of time. Canadians want to build their pizza exactly how they want it.

And then there’s the Pizza Tracker. Even before I came to Domino’s, I loved that ability to place an order and not just be able to see when it’s going to arrive, but also to watch it through every step of the experience. I can see who’s putting it into the oven. I can see who’s taking it out and making sure that it’s perfect, and I can see who’s delivering it.

It’s a great innovation that really invites the customer to be a part of the whole experience.

What are the biggest challenges that the pandemic has put in front of you?

For one, with this latest variant you’ve got so many people calling in sick, the challenge is how to operate to the standards that you’re used to with such reduced staffing.

The other big one is how so many customers are turning towards third-party delivery providers. There’s more competition for share of wallet than ever before.

In the past you could get pizza delivered and that was about it. Nowadays you can get practically anything delivered, from fast food to gourmet dinners to fresh ingredients and meal kits. In other words, you’re competing with many more kinds of products than you would have before the third-party folks came into the market.

I think that for a lot of restaurants, having to tackle the costs of the third-party delivery commissions, plus the additional packaging and the fact that they’re already paying additionally for PPE and other things to try and make their employees and customers even safer, has had a big impact on their bottom line.

At Domino’s we’ve made the decision to focus on our own delivery service. We believe that we are the best ones to deliver our products. We wouldn’t want to trust that to anybody else. I think our customers appreciate that too. They know that they’re going to get a consistent, reliable experience from Domino’s when they order delivery from us and not from a third party.