"I'm just the guy who gets it," offers the humble yet vivacious Ramon DeLeon when explaining his unlikely rise from delivering pizzas around Chicago's lakeshore to delivering keynote addresses on social media around the world. What seems to be intuition for DeLeon is in fact an uncanny ability to be way ahead of the curve, to observe what's going on with his target and adapt accordingly. DeLeon gets it in a way that is both inspiring and enlightening, offering eight essential insights for social media success.
1. It's Not About the Pizza
Marketers long-trained to push out messaging, often look at social media as a new channel to tell their story. A few minutes with DeLeon and they will realize the folly of this approach. In fact, I spent 40 minutes on the phone with DeLeon talking through his social media success stories before the quality of his pizza even came up. The truth is that when it comes to social media, it is simply not about the pizza. "My focus has always been on the consumer," noted DeLeon. "Out of ten tweets, maybe only one will mention our product."
2. It's About Connecting With the Customer
Most companies pay lip service to customer service, hiding behind phone trees and avoiding intimate interactions. DeLeon, on the other hand, has been on a first name basis with his customers ever since his days delivering pizza. Explained DeLeon, "My whole thing is the connection with the customer—how can I help you?" Starting first with Instant Messaging then Facebook in the mid-90's, DeLeon established tight bonds with the local college kids so much so that when they graduated, those students brought Domino's with them into their new companies.
3. Make Deposits in the "Good Will Bank"
Many CEO's ask their marketing head's to focus on "things that deliver immediate ROI," often at the expense of relationship building. DeLeon likens marketing to dating, noting that he "always includes customers in marketing pieces to give some love back after spending [their] hard earned dollars and to create very strong bonds." These bonds were money in the bank when Domino's faced it's YouTube video crisis in 2009. Noted DeLeon, "because of the relationships we had with customers they had our back, so they still would order and support in confidence."
4. Fight Social Media Fire with Social Media Water
When two young Domino's employees in North Carolina posted a video of them cooking a pizza with cheese they'd put up their nose, Domino's Corporate and the local franchise were both caught completely off guard. Not so DeLeon. He immediately created his own video, noting how horrific the other one was, and then follow up with anyone in Chicago who commented online about the offending video. Local bloggers and tweeters responded favorably to his outreach, acknowledging that DeLeon had been "part of the social media scene forever" and would "never let such a thing happen in his stores." Remarkably, DeLeon's store sales actually rose during this period while nationally Domino's took a hit and the local NC franchise ultimately went out of business.
5. Learn to Apologize (Really Well)
Admitting a mistake often comes hard to corporate America. DeLeon, on the other hand, has turned apologizing into a PR-generating, customer-satisfying art form. When a well-known local blogger had a problem with a delivery and wrote about, DeLeon responded with an amazingly heartfelt video apology they he posted on his YouTube and Facebook pages. In the video he and his shamefaced manager invited the blogger into the store to "make things right." DeLeon's apology video (http://www.viddler.com/explore/dpzramon/videos/19/) has been watched over 125,000 times and is regularly showcased in speeches by marketing gurus Seth Godin and Jeanne Bliss.
6. Don't Get Bogged Down by Trying to Measure Everything
Much to the chagrin of marketers, not every effort, online or otherwise, can be tied to sales. DeLeon believes that "sometimes there are too many metrics," adding, "how much do you love your wife?" As an example, DeLeon points to a poster program in his stores that invites customers to take pictures of themselves in front of a Domino's poster and share them with friends. "I'm not telling them to tag these or anything—just share them with your world," noted DeLeon, who praises the program as generating good will and giving his customers something to do while they wait for their pizzas.
7. Make Each Program Your Own
Geo-based social networks like Foursquare are just emerging as powerful tools for local retailers. Not surprisingly, DeLeon was one of the first retailers to try Foursquare in Chicago, but did not settle for the norm of giving something free to the people who checked-in most at each of his stores. Instead, DeLeon challenged his "mayors" to take responsibility like a real mayor; "to do whatever [they] think [they] gotta do to keep me in business!" By putting the onus on his best customers to "represent" his stores and rewarding them by allowing them to give free pizzas to whomever they chose, DeLeon tightened his relationships and made the program his own.
8. Have Fun and Keep it Real
Fun is not a word that is heard a lot of outside of start-ups. Ramon DeLeon evaluates his own success with two questions, "am I having fun?" and "are our sales and profitability up?" The fun part for DeLeon is a constant, since he clearly loves connecting with people, whether he is on stage, behind a counter, on Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare or in his homemade video shout-outs. Regardless of the channel, DeLeon tries to be the same person and advises all others to take this approach. Concluded DeLeon, "there are real people behind these tweets and I just want to have fun with them."
Final Note: While DeLeon could not offer actual sales figures, he noted with pride that sales growth in his stores over the last 18-months has significantly out-performed both the Chicago market and national average for Domino's stores.