From the moment my sons were able to mouth the word pizza it has become a staple in our home. We hold the cheesy pie in such esteem that we have given it its own weekly holiday . . . Pizza Friday and our delivery driver feels like an extended member of our family. Despite the countless number pizza boxes I have tossed over the years, I remember the one box that left me with a small business revelation. You can sign-up for a seminar or read a best-selling book on the subject but everything I need to know about marketing I learned from a Papa John’s Pizza box.

From Humble Beginnings

John Schnatter (aka Papa John) began his pizza career after graduating high school. He worked for his father, who co-owned of a local tavern in Jeffersonville, IN. In 1984, he sold his beloved 1971 Chevrolet Camaro in order to buy out the other owner of the bar and began serving pizza out of a broom closet. Since its humble beginnings, Papa John’s has gone on to open more than 4,000 stores on its way to becoming the third largest pizza chain. John even located and repurchased his beloved Camaro that he sold in 1984 and had it restored. Everyone loves a good story and Papa John’s has made it a point to tell their ‘Fresh Dough Story’ right on the side of their pizza box. When people can identify with your company’s story, then they can identify with your brand. If they can identify with your brand then they can become potential customers.

Marketing 101

Some of the most successful companies in the world have managed to get the most basic elements of marketing correct. I personally like companies that have found a way to brand through the use of colors. Coca-Cola’s brand has become synonymous with the colors red and white. Seeing the colors yellow and blue in tandem will usually conjure up images of my most recent trip to IKEA. Papa John’s has found a way to invoke a little Italian authenticity with its red, white and green color scheme. Years ago I met a business owner who managed to incorporate the color red into all aspects of her company. All of her marketing collateral included a brilliant shade of red, she always dressed well and in red of course and she drove a very recognizable red car . . . brilliant! Not every company can pull this off but if you can it could go a long way in building your brand.

Tagline Tango

Papa John’s logo doesn’t necessarily knock your socks off but it is fairly recognizable. What the company’s logo lacks its tagline “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza” makes up for. Papa John’s tagline makes a strong claim, is short enough to be remembered, and is catchy enough to be repeated. Do you have a tagline? If so how does your tagline hold up in your industry and against your competitors? To prove a point and demonstrate the power and effectiveness of a well written tagline, I have chosen several that were around from my childhood. If you can recall any of these time-tested tags then the marketers have definitely done their jobs. See how many of these old taglines you can recall.

  • “When it rains, it pours”
  • “Time to make the doughnuts”
  • “Betcha can’t eat just one”
  • “How do you spell relief?”
  • “The uncola”
  • “Takes a licking, and keeps on ticking”
  • “The quality goes in before the name goes on”

Papa, Papa He’s Our Man

Lee Iacocca, who is best known for engineering one of the most successful cars in history, the Ford Mustang, would later go on to be CEO of Chrysler. Fearing that Chrysler was close to going out of business during the early 80’s, Iacocca took to the airwaves proclaiming to the American public “If you can find a better car . . . buy it.” Lee Iacocca was so passionate and so convinced that his cars could compete with any manufacturer in the world that he almost got me to purchase a Chrysler LeBaron and I was only 8 years old. Other memorable spokespersons include Debbie Fields (Mrs. Field’s Cookies), Dave Thomas (Wendy’s), Orville Redenbacher (Popcorn), and Frank Purdue (Perdue Chicken). These iconic marketers have passed on a valuable lesson for all of us to follow. That lesson is simply if you don’t believe in your own product or service . . . then no one else will. It seems to be a message that John Schnatter has taken to heart as every commercial features his smiling face touting the tasty merits of his pizza.

Take Care of the Little Things

Over the years, Papa John’s has managed to do several marketing things well and I’ll leave you with a few.

  • In 2002, the company became the first chain to make online ordering available. Their website allows viewers to make virtual pizzas and the site’s information is prominently displayed on each pizza box.
  • In 2010, the company signed a multi-year deal with the National Football League. This perfect marketing marriage of pizza and football provides a ton of publicity for the company.
  • The company has a loyalty program called Papa Rewards where patrons can get closer to earning a free pizza with every purchase.
  • Papa John’s shows that it is a socially responsible company encouraging customers to recycle their pizza boxes.
  • Lastly, Papa John’s never forgets their call to action, leaving a coupon on each box to encourage your next order.

So the next time you find yourself looking for ways to improve your marketing ROI, the answers to your most pressing business questions just might be sitting on your kitchen table.

Cavanaugh L. Gray (cgray@ecafellc.com) is the Director of Business Development for The Entrepreneur Café, L.L.C (877) 511-4820. To read a chapter from his new book The Entrepreneurial Spirit Lives: 25 Tales to Help Entrepreneurs Start, Grow, and Succeed in Small Business log on to www.ecafellc.com. For more information on how to start, grow and succeed in small business, ‘Like’ on Facebook, ‘Follow’ on Twitter or ‘Connect’ on LinkedIn.


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