How Domino’s Turns Your Cupboard Into a Billboard

Top-of-mind-awareness keeps us coming back

You look up from your laptop. 7:13 PM. Damn! Work ran late again. It’s gonna be pizza tonight. Where should you order from? Hmm…Domino’s!

You put in your order, and, 27 minutes later, you take that comfortably warm box we all love more than Christmas presents from the delivery man’s hands.

You sit down at your kitchen table, crack it open, and have yourself a delicious slice. As you chew on some crispy pepperoni, you start to ponder: “Why did I go for Domino’s? And how did I come up with it so fast?”

The answer hits you like lightning. The cheese almost falls out of your mouth. “No! Those clever bastards!”

Staring at you, right from the spice basket in the middle of the table, is a little white packet. On one side, it says “Oregano Seasoning.” Across the other, in bold blue letters, your fate was spelled all along: Domino’s Pizza.

In marketing, top-of-mind-awareness (TOMA) refers to the first brand that comes to your mind in any given category.

When I say “sports,” you likely think “Nike.” When I say “smartphone,” it’s probably “Apple.” And when I say “pizza,” well…

These brands have top-of-mind-awareness. While there is no clear path to achieving it, it’s sort of the holy grail of marketing. It culminates in your brand name becoming synonymous with the task or object in question.

We don’t search, we “google.” In Germany, we don’t ask for tissues, we ask for “Tempo.” And in my family, we don’t buy new phones. We buy new “iPhones.” (Yes, we’re Apple nerds, deal with it).

When you have top-of-mind-awareness, you’re winning. You’re everyone’s go-to. People turn to you without thinking. The road to TOMA is long, and without a great product or service that goes above and beyond in delivering on its promise, you’ll never get there.

One of James Altucher’s friends once bought a chain of Domino’s stores that were nearing bankruptcy. James asked him how he turned them around. The friend said: “The pizzas weren’t round, and they didn’t deliver on time. Deliver round pizzas in 30 minutes, and people will keep ordering.”

That’s the basic promise Domino’s makes to all its customers: Round, tasty pizzas, delivered in 30 minutes. That’s it. By getting the stores back to doing just that, James’ friend made a fortune when he sold them years later. This is — and always must be — the first step.

If you’re breaking your word with your customers, top-of-mind-awareness is the least of your problems. In fact, you don’t want it. TOMA can also work against you.

Startup scandal? Theranos. Moral hazard? Lehman Brothers. Greenwashing? Monsanto. Those aren’t the kind of terms you want to be associated with. Never break your brand promise.

Once you do a good job at, well, doing your job, however, there are some additional things you can do to stay in your customer’s mind. A few sprinkles on top of the donut, if you will. Those sprinkles are the reason why you ordered Domino’s in the above example.

Here’s what they do: With every order, they give you a few extra packets of seasoning. Not a suspicious amount but definitely more than you need.

The packets look like this:

Once you’re done with your pizza, what do you do with your leftover seasoning? You keep it.

You may put the packets in the little “leftover” basket on your table. You may add them to your spice rack. You may even put them into your fridge (according to Domino’s, you should, it keeps the spices fresh for longer).

Whatever you do, you’re not throwing them away. And so wherever they go, you’ll continue to see them. Domino’s. Domino’s. Domino’s. Again, and again, and again, you’ll encounter their brand name.

These encounters don’t have to be obvious. Most of the time, you won’t even realize you’re being influenced. But the next time you’re ordering pizza, somehow, the first name that floats to the top of your brain? Domino’s.

Boom. TOMA-hawked.

How you achieve top-of-mind-awareness is different for every business. The first step is delivering a great customer experience. Make a promise, solve people’s problem, and do it reliably.

Once you do that consistently, add sprinkles. Throw in a complementary product or service they can use independently of your main offering. Create additional touch points.

The more often your customers come in contact with you, the sooner they’ll come back for more.


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