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Wednesday, Apr. 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Marketing in the age of the “strategic minimum wage worker”

By Jeff Sexton
April 15th, 2009

If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll want to check out this YouTube video of two (former) Domino’s employees:

YouTube Preview Image

So, do you think that might have some rather profound effects on Domino’s marketing efforts?  Think you’ll be eating at Domino’s anytime soon?

What’s interesting is that the basic principle behind this was predicted not by some far-seeing futurist working in the technology field, but by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak.

Gen. Krulak coined the term “strategic corporal” to refer to the possible strategic foreign policy impact of actions taken by individual Marines in an age of universal media coverage and counter-insurgency warfare:

“In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests – the Strategic Corporal.”

Since the publication of Gen Krulak’s article in 1999, the rise of cell phone video cameras, YouTube, and twitter have further amplified the potential impact of local, tactical actions of seemingly “lower-level” or front-line individuals.

Granted, minimum wage workers operate in a far less dramatic and less-threatening arena than Marines, but the above video offers a stark example of the far reaching strategic impact of their actions.

The Marine Corps response to this has always been to recruit the very best individuals possible and to push decision-making and responsibility as far down the chain of command as possible. Many successful businesses take a similar approach with their front-line workers.  And the results pay-off when the great actions of individual employees hit the social media echo chamber.

What is (or what will be) your organization’s response?

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Comments (27)

  1. [...] If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll want to check out this YouTube video of 2 Domino’s employees: Click here to view the embedded video. [...]

  2. Well, you really don´t know what you are eating when you go to a restaurant.However, from the marketing point of view this company got some bad publicity but on the other hand now almost everyone know what Domino´s is.Is there really bad publicity after all?

  3. Yes, Tom, there is such a thing as bad publicity. Just ask yourself: are you now more or less likely to order from Domino’s after watching this?

    But I think you’re missing the larger point of the post: it’s not about the video itself, but rather about the harm (or good) that a minimum wage employee can now do to a national or global brand and whether or not most marketers and companies are willing and able to come to grips with that.

    - Jeff

  4. This reinforces the need for online reputation management -
    and no, I won’t be ordering from Domino’s anytime soon.

  5. Charlene,

    I think the point of the post is that a company’s reputation can now be created (or severely damaged) by the actions of its employees – right down to the lowest, front-line level.

    You can’t divorce the function of “reputation management” from hiring practices and overall corporate culture. The very nature of a media-saturated world and hyper-connected social media means that your lowest-paid employee can potentially have more impact than (and potentially un-do the the efforts of) your senior PR Executive.

    That’s what’s scary about the idea of the strategic corporal/strategic minimum wage worker – except for those organizations willing to put the effort into building superior cultures and pushing responsibility (along with dignity and recognition) all the way down to the lowest levels of their organizations.

    Much of the love that people have for Zappos is built upon decisions and actions made by service-center employees. Marriott hotel staff similarly uphold the reputation of their organization. Neither one could generate these results apart from their cultures and their people. You can’t fake that by hiring some expert in online reputation management.

    - Jeff

  6. The two employees have been fired and arrested. Good article in today’s NY Times. Here’s a key quote: “We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” said a Domino’s spokesman, Tim McIntyre, who added that the company was preparing a civil lawsuit. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

  7. Video is no longer available… I’m guessing I know the general substance, but does anyone who’s seen it want to provide a summary?

  8. Brian,

    This NYT article covers the basics:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/business/media/16dominos.html

    - Jeff

  9. Ah, thanks!

  10. I’ve never ordered from my local Domino’s – long before this came out – because I saw their grubby employees taking smoke breaks out in front of the store. Ew-yewa.

  11. Looks like Domino’s will now have to spend a great deal of time to turn this around.

  12. “organizations willing to put the effort into building superior cultures and pushing responsibility (along with dignity and recognition) all the way down to the lowest levels of their organizations.”

    I love this, Jeff! Well said. I think that’s your best defense against the very real risk. Word spreads really fast online.

  13. I hope it is not the same in Denmark!

  14. Another reason to never order Domino’s especially in the NYC area. The same is true for Pizza Hut and Poppa John’s.

  15. The level of danger for minimum wage workers is still pretty prevalent when you consider the amount of killings associated with robbery occur, or the random accidents in the workplace..

    but..I’ll have to see that video elsewhere cause of copyright..

  16. Hopping on Domino Pizza isn’t the point. It’s the fact that no matter how ‘empowered’ an employee, the real damage comes from irresponsibility in those employees.

    To the culprits it’s funny, to the company it damages a good reputation that has been years in the making.

    Simply because you can doesn’t mean you should appears to be one of the rules of mature adults missed by many.

  17. Georjina,

    You are right; “hopping on Domino’s Pizza” wasn’t the point. The point was that the ability of low-level and front-line employees to damage a good reputation (or build a an even better one in the example of Marriott, Zappos and others) through their actions means that companies LIKE Domino’s need to rethink how they hire, treat, and compensate/reward those employees. Ultimately those people can have – and indeed, in Domino’s case have had – a bigger impact on an organization’s marketing than executives undergoing a much more stringent recruiting/hiring process than is normally spent on what many executives think of as “low wage drones” or “working stiffs.”

    Could this have happened to other fast food joints? Yes. Is it unfair that Domino’s has been singled out? Maybe, but I’d have a hard time imagining this happening to Cick-fil-A due to how that organization hires and treats its people.

    - Jeff

  18. We’re just a small wine shop, but we’re doing a lot on Facebook & Twitter – we just launched a promotion for someone to win a B&B Dream Vacation along the Blue Ridge Parkway yesterday to see how very small “mom & pops” can use social media to get the sort of results that the big guys like Queensland and Goode are doing. We’ll see if people are as competitive to get a vacation as they are to get a job. More info here: http://whyineedabreak.ning.com

  19. Small online shop, it is very hard to get more effective IPs, how to do the SEO for small site?

  20. This is great. Thanks for posting.

  21. Minimum wage jobs are so awful :(

  22. As a former Marine, I always like a quote from Gen. Krulak

  23. I can definitely relate Jeff. My favorite corporate gig to this point was one where I had a ton of freedom and responsibility. Top heavy companies live and die with the CEO, a great example being the Clippers from the NBA. They used to have one guy head up GM, front office, etc, but they found he was impossible to replace! You want it to be idea driven, not people driven.

  24. Home made pizza is the way to go…now.

  25. I wish I had an iPhone with a video camera in it all those years ago when I had a crappy minimum wage job!

  26. [...] Kenraali Charles C. Krulak julkaisi tammikuussa 1999 artikkelin, jossa hän lanseerasi termin ”Strategic Corporal”, strateginen korpraali (tai alikersantti). Kenraali Krulak näki kirkkaasti mitä puolustusvoimien olisi tehtävä välttyäkseen huonolta maineelta. Krulakin laista kertoo Jeff Sexton. [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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