The Taco Bell Guide To Total Social Media Dominance

8 social media mar­ket­ing lessons from Taco Bell on build­ing real rela­tion­ships with cus­tomers.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 2 comments

Taco Bell is clear­ly a brand that knows its audi­ence and is able to con­sis­tent­ly deliv­er con­tent its tar­get wants and eager­ly con­sumes. So what’s Taco Bell’s secret? And what can mar­keters learn from Taco Bel­l’s social media strat­e­gy?

Tressie Lieber­man, senior direc­tor of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing plat­forms and social engage­ment at Taco Bell, and Win­ston Binch, part­ner and chief dig­i­tal offi­cer at the brand’s agency Deutsch North Amer­i­ca, spoke recent­ly at Ad Age’s dig­i­tal con­fer­ence and shared some insight.

Even though there’s a lot to keep up with and she jokes there will “prob­a­bly be a few new social plat­forms that launch while we’re here,” Lieber­man said, “I don’t think there could be a bet­ter time to be a mar­keter.”

That’s because mar­keters can now have direct con­ver­sa­tions with con­sumers.

Instead of sit­ting behind glass and lis­ten­ing to a focus group, we now have access to 20 mil­lion con­sumers and can be inspired by them and con­nect with them and have real rela­tion­ships with them,” she said.

But the bar is also a lot high­er.

No one cares what you have to say,” Binch said. “Atten­tion is scarce and [com­pe­ti­tion] is sky-high and out­side of live tele­vised events, ads are eas­i­er to skip. Lives are increas­ing­ly on demand and we have to deal with it.”

That means brands have to invent orig­i­nal and share­able ideas.

We’re com­pet­ing with cul­ture itself: Cats, Left Sharks and Buz­zFeeds, etc.,” Binch said. “Any­one who has idea can put it out there. That’s what we’re work­ing against and with.”

So what can brands do to win?

Social Media Dominance the Taco Bell Way

1. Act Like A Fan, Not A Corporation

Stop being a mar­keter,” Lieber­man said. “We threw out the 5 Ps and start­ed going back to the basics. Just be your­self. That’s some­thing you hear through­out your life. It shouldn’t be dif­fer­ent for a brand.”

Like a per­son on a jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery, per­haps, Lieber­man sad that has meant the Taco Bell brand itself has had to do a lot of work to under­stand who it actu­al­ly is as well. In oth­er words, she said the brand wants to be gen­uine on social media as opposed to attempt­ing to cre­ate a social per­sona.

Case in point: Lieber­man says the brand used to take pro­fes­sion­al shots of food that had been painstak­ing­ly arranged just so, but the brand has since piv­ot­ed to look­ing at its food instead from the consumer’s point of view.

Things have def­i­nite­ly changed,” Lieber­man says. “We want food to look as if [con­sumers] were tak­ing pho­tos them­selves.”

And, Binch notes, Taco Bell saw con­ver­sion num­bers jump when it start­ed using real pic­tures.

Being a lifestyle brand, it’s not just about food and pho­tos. It’s ‘do unto oth­ers as you would do unto you.’” Lieber­man said. “We’re cre­at­ing con­tent now that’s endem­ic to the plat­form and think­ing about things they want to talk about.”

2. Hire Internet Kids, Turn Them Loose

Anoth­er pop­u­lar theme at the Ad Age event was mak­ing sure brands with young employ­ees that are dig­i­tal natives are actu­al­ly tap­ping into that tal­ent and giv­ing them the tools nec­es­sary to suc­ceed. And Taco Bell is no dif­fer­ent.

When I vis­it­ed Taco Bell, there’s a bunch of kids in a fish­bowl ana­lyz­ing data,” Binch said. “Let them loose and let them make mis­takes, but be in the wings to push inno­va­tion.”

Part of Taco Bell’s tremen­dous dig­i­tal suc­cess to date has been because it has tapped into its young inter­nal cre­ators who know the brand and can help oth­ers with­in the orga­ni­za­tion remain con­nect­ed to their peers via inter­nal efforts like the Mil­len­ni­al Word of the Week.

In addi­tion, Lieber­man said Taco Bell was the first brand on Snapchat with a Valentine’s Day effort that result­ed in pho­tos from more than 100,000 fans, cit­ing “major pas­sion that came from peo­ple who know the plat­form and are able to inno­vate.”

3. Adopt An Explorer Mentality

Per Lieber­man, brands have to learn by doing and “being pro­lif­ic and not pre­cious.”

This doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly require a lot of cap­i­tal expen­di­ture either – it’s more about try­ing out plat­forms the way fans would, such as Taco Bell’s first Snapchat film, which she said helped the brand dou­ble its Snapchat fol­low­ers to about 120,000.

This effort, she said, goes back to act­ing human on a social plat­form and pro­vid­ing con­tent “in the same way you look for con­tent from friends.”

YouTu­ber Tyler Oak­ley, for exam­ple, is what Lieber­man calls “a friend of the brand” and a fan who “just loves Taco Bell,” so the brand “con­tin­ues to stay in a rela­tion­ship with him,” which some­times means just tweet­ing back and forth.

We made him some art for his birth­day,” Lieber­man said. “We want­ed to make it per­son­al. It’s not about one-size-fits-all. It’s a per­son­al rela­tion­ship.”

4. Make The Product The Message

Brands have to instill a social mind­set into the orga­ni­za­tion, Lieber­man said.

The job of the social team is much eas­i­er when they have some­thing to talk about. You can real­ly break through with a lit­tle bud­get,” she added.

She points to an image of a Taco Bell cere­al hybrid, Cap’n Crunch Delights, which was tak­en by in-house cre­ator and post­ed on Insta­gram, but trend­ed on Twit­ter “with­in a minute…because the prod­uct has social cur­ren­cy built in.”

5. If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead

In oth­er words, Lieber­man said, “The more com­pli­cat­ed it gets, the hard­er it is to talk about, so keep it sim­ple.”

Look at the exam­ple of the Taco Bell mobile order­ing app, which solved a con­sumer need by pro­vid­ing a per­son­al­ized expe­ri­ence and allow­ing cus­tomers to feel like VIPs when­ev­er they go to Taco Bell because they can skip the line and are called by name.

When we designed it, we want­ed it to be social first,” Lieber­man said. “It’s about show­ing food as you enjoy it in a restau­rant and that made all the dif­fer­ence.”

In addi­tion, at launch, Lieber­man said the brand tapped the pow­er of pas­sion­ate con­sumers and did a black­out across its social chan­nels, which got fans talk­ing and moved the app from a rank­ing of 1,300 to 22 in the App Store in 11 hours.

It’s about doing it in the right way to pro­vide val­ue,” she said.

6. It’s About Brand Lovers, Not Influencers

Accord­ing to Binch, “Too often…influencers are peo­ple who are inter­est­ed and have fan bases, but aren’t con­nect­ed in any mean­ing­ful way, which is bad adver­tis­ing.”

He points to the brand’s recent Break­fast Defec­tors cam­paign that sent out kits to fans, who, in turn “shared them like crazy.”

The work we do works because it con­nects with the fan. It’s built to the audi­ence,” Lieber­man said. “The biggest piece of advice I would give is it comes back to being human and being true to your­self. Start with the brand and lean in and be authen­tic to who you are.”

7. Avoid Real-Time Desperation

Sound­ing some­thing like a guid­ance coun­selor, Binch cau­tions brands not to try too hard to fit in.

Be cool, be calm, be your­self. Be who you as a brand are in the world. Taco Bell has a unique posi­tion in the world. It effects every­thing, every chan­nel, every piece of work,” he said. “Don’t chase The Dress. You don’t need to.”

Instead, Binch said, find sub­ject mat­ter that mat­ters to brand, and start and spread those con­ver­sa­tions.

Real-time mar­ket­ing dri­ves me bananas,” Lieber­man said. “Why do you have some­thing to say on that sub­ject?”

Although, she con­cedes, real-time forces brands to be nim­ble, lean and ready to respond and brands do need to be lis­ten­ing and to jump on things when they hap­pen some­times. She uses the exam­ple of a hoax in the town of Bethel, Alas­ka and a rumor that Taco Bell was com­ing.

They were so excit­ed and freaked out and it end­ed up being a rumor and this end­ed up being nation­al news cov­er­age,” she said.

So, she said, Taco Bell decid­ed to make it right by show­ing up “in a unique­ly Taco Bell way” by hir­ing a heli­copter to pull a taco truck into town and then the brand turned that footage and live con­tent into anoth­er cam­paign.

Accord­ing to Binch, this also gets back to the point about turn­ing smart young peo­ple loose and also high­lights the need for speed on social as just 18 days passed between the Twit­ter rumors and the truck’s arrival.

What I love about this is this turned into some­thing much big­ger for the Taco Bell brand,” Lieber­man said. “We built a rela­tion­ship with the town of Bethel.”

She also uses the exam­ple of the taco emo­ji and the brand’s peti­tion that has more than 30,000 sig­na­tures. Despite anoth­er recent update to emo­jis, there is still no taco, so Lieber­man said the brand will con­tin­ue to cham­pi­on the cause in part because it has helped earn more than 350 mil­lion media impres­sions.

It’s about mutu­al respect, hon­esty and talk­ing things out and ask­ing, ‘Is it right for the con­sumer? Why would they share it? What does Taco Bell have to do with it? How do you make it feel almost like anti-adver­tis­ing?’” Lieber­man said.

8. Focus On Relentless Customer-Centricity

At the end of the day, Lieber­man said, “Being focused on the con­sumer is what it’s all about,” and the brand has “a lot of deep love for the cus­tomer.”

Fur­ther, an obses­sion with cus­tomers means brands don’t even need fan­cy ana­lyt­ics tools, but can instead sim­ply search for hash­tags on social plat­forms to “real­ly get to know cus­tomers,” she added. “We’re focused on them. It all goes back to why we’re here.”

Does your social media strat­e­gy include fea­tur­ing orig­i­nal and share­able ideas?

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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