6 Marketing Lessons From Taco Bell On Maintaining Perpetual Cool

Taco Bell calls its new app the biggest dis­rup­tion to the indus­try since the dri­ve-thru. The brand shares lessons from devel­op­ing and launch­ing the app.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Taco Bell’s much-talked-about new app and pro­mo­tion strat­e­gy has gar­nered quite a bit of atten­tion for a brand that seems to have an uncan­ny knack for con­nect­ing with mil­len­ni­als. And it cer­tain­ly isn’t con­tent to rest on its lau­rels. Call­ing its new app, “the biggest dis­rup­tion to the entire indus­try since the dri­ve-thru,” the brand shares some lessons derived from its expe­ri­ence in devel­op­ing and launch­ing the app.


Taco Bell says it is the first quick ser­vice chain to launch a mobile order­ing and pay­ment app for dri­ve-thru and din­ing room orders and, in typ­i­cal Taco Bell fash­ion, it has man­aged to do so in the coolest way pos­si­ble, caus­ing a sen­sa­tion through­out media and social.

Taco Bell says the new app, which is avail­able in the App Store and on Google Play, has fea­tures that go beyond mobile order­ing to “bring a new Taco Bell expe­ri­ence to fans.”

That’s in part because for the first time, con­sumers can view and select from every avail­able ingre­di­ent to cus­tomize an order like nev­er before, which yields “mil­lions of menu options,” Taco Bell says.

Cus­tomers can also pay secure­ly and pick up orders through dri­ve-thrus or sep­a­rate lines with­in the stores.

Con­sumers demand a deep­er rela­tion­ship and a more con­nect­ed rela­tion­ship and they are always on,” said Jeff Jenk­ins, direc­tor of dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence and new con­cepts at Taco Bell. “They want the abil­i­ty to access brands when­ev­er they want. With mobile, we saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­nect, espe­cial­ly to our pas­sion­ate fan base that wants to take it to the next lev­el, which we are able to pro­vide through mobile.”

So, after work­ing on this app for two years, what lessons can mar­keters glean from Taco Bell?

Lesson 1: Offer Cool Features

Taco Bell says it is the first busi­ness to offer a patent-pend­ing fea­ture called “Rotate to Reorder,” which “makes reorder­ing cus­tomized favorites as easy as a flick of the wrist.”

Per Jenk­ins, anoth­er inter­est­ing fea­ture is the abil­i­ty to send e-gifts via the app.

I think in a lot of ways, we’re cre­at­ing our own cur­ren­cy for Taco Bell con­sumers to exchange,” he said.

The result is a “sim­ple, ele­gant solu­tion” that allows cus­tomers to eas­i­ly send mon­ey to friends via email or text.

We put a lot of time and effort to make sure it was not a clunky expe­ri­ence,” Jenk­ins said. “It opens a link and you click and add mon­ey. It’s a very grace­ful expe­ri­ence.”

These fea­tures are also high­light­ed in a mobile demo video.

Lesson 2: Be Unique

Jenk­ins said the brand “didn’t want to use the tool every­one else is using and have it look like an off-the-shelf solu­tion that we slapped our logo on.”

Instead, the brand strives for a mobile expe­ri­ence that is “unique­ly Taco Bell and a ful­ly cus­tomized solu­tion.”

And Jenk­ins said the result is an app that looks and feels like Taco Bell and has been well-received by fans. After launch­ing on Octo­ber 28, it has thou­sands of reviews with an aver­age of 4+ out of 5 stars and was in the Top 20 apps in the App Store in the first 24 hours, Jenk­ins said.

Fans have also cap­tured them­selves using the app in real life and Jenk­ins said “it’s fun to watch how they’ve been blown away with a new way to inter­act with the brand.”

Lesson 3: Make It Beautiful

Jenk­ins said it all starts with design, par­tic­u­lar­ly the user inter­face, which includes large, attrac­tive images.

Food nat­u­ral­ly is eat­ing with the eyes,” Jenk­ins said. “We’ve seen that with cam­era phones – you whip out your cam­era at a nice place and share an image [of what you’re eat­ing]. We want­ed to con­nect the dots between that behav­ior and our order­ing app. You see images on the menu as if they were tak­en by con­sumers sit­ting next to you.”

In fact, Jenk­ins said, “tons of peo­ple” are post­ing images of the app itself on Insta­gram.

Lesson 4: Listen

Accord­ing to Jenk­ins, the key to con­nect­ing to well with con­sumers is lis­ten­ing.

He said the brand’s social, dig­i­tal and PR teams hud­dle togeth­er each day to make sure they under­stand not only what’s going on in Taco Bell’s uni­verse, but also the larg­er pop cul­ture land­scape, includ­ing trends, as they attempt to get a grasp on what res­onates with Taco Bell con­sumers.

Just because it’s trend­ing, doesn’t mean it’s rel­e­vant to our con­sumers,” Jenk­ins said. “How do we reflect cul­ture, shape cul­ture, stems from lis­ten­ing.”

In addi­tion, Jenk­ins said the brand has younger team mem­bers who help keep old­er exec­u­tives rel­e­vant by send­ing out Mil­len­ni­al words of the week so all employ­ees can keep up with slang and how to use it.

Lesson 5: Consumers Don’t Always Know Exactly What They Want

We’re lis­ten­ing to where the prob­lems are and cre­at­ing solu­tions that [con­sumers] couldn’t have even imag­ined,” Jenk­ins said. “Things like menu board anx­i­ety and feel­ing rushed in the line or not know­ing all of the options because there’s finite space on menu boards and we can’t list every ingre­di­ent.”

The result: the brand cre­at­ed a mobile expe­ri­ence that deals with these issues and includes cus­tomiz­able menu items and the abil­i­ty to browse the menu at a more leisure­ly pace and pick up orders when­ev­er the cus­tomer is ready.

Lesson 6: Never Stop Surprising Customers

Even Taco Bell’s social pro­mo­tion of the app, which is real­ly more like no pro­mo­tion, has equal­ly caused a sen­sa­tion.

Taco Bell’s social media black­out, in which its Twit­ter, Face­book, Tum­blr and Insta­gram pages went “dark,” was done to show­case “the new way to Taco Bell is #onlyintheapp,” the brand says.

While silent, each social media plat­form, as well as tacobell.com, will pro­vide only a dis­rup­tive mes­sage and link to down­load the new app — with all pre­vi­ous con­tent removed,” the brand said in a release.

Jenk­ins said the brand has pre­vi­ous­ly done some “amaz­ing social cam­paigns” and has had “amaz­ing con­ver­sa­tions,” but, this time, thought, “What if in cre­at­ing a new con­ver­sa­tion, there was no con­ver­sa­tion? What if we focused all of our atten­tion on the app?”

This is in part because “we believe inter­nal­ly [that this app] is the biggest dis­rup­tion to the entire indus­try since the dri­ve-thru,” Jenk­ins said. As a result, for the launch, every oth­er chan­nel directs back to the app. When asked if the brand has plans to bring back its tweets, Face­book con­tent and the like or if it is gone for­ev­er, Jenk­ins said, “We can’t stay away from it long. Stay tuned…We try to nev­er stop sur­pris­ing cus­tomers. In mobile and social, it’s always sur­prise and delight to keep them inter­est­ed and make sure we’re con­nect­ing.”

Taco Bell says its new app rein­forces its “com­mit­ment to be even bet­ter and more rel­e­vant for cus­tomers, oper­a­tors and Team Mem­bers” and “sup­ports the brand’s com­mit­ment to reach its goal to dou­ble rev­enue to $14 bil­lion and add 2,000 loca­tions over the next eight years by pro­vid­ing cus­tomers anoth­er way to access Taco Bell.”

Taco Bell is a sub­sidiary of Yum! Brands Inc.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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