Social Queues

Taco Bell CEO talks social media success with c-store leaders

Abbey Lewis, Editor in Chief, CSProducts

Greg Creed

SALT LAKE CITY -- When the self-professed "Australian selling Mexican food to Americans" walked on the stage at the Outlook Leadership Conference in Salt Lake City earlier this week, the "people-focused leader" told the crowd of convenience store leaders a secret: People are the secret behind his company's success. Greg Creed, the CEO of Taco Bell isn't a c-store operator, but his message certainly resonated with the hundreds of retailers in attendance.

The first group of people, and the group that "comes first," is the Taco Bell employees. Behind him on the screen flashed an equation: Employees + Customers + Sales = Profits. To Taco Bell, employee enthusiasm is essential for success.

"The customer experience never exceeds the team member experience," Creed said.

In what he considered a small gesture, the company gave each employee a gift. Inside the small orange box, each Taco Bell employee received t-shirts, a book about the company, stickers and more. To the employee, it felt personal, and made them feel special. The small gesture, and other larger team engagement events, equaled big leaps in consumer approval metrics. The investment paid off.

Another investment that is paying off is Taco Bell's recognition that the world is an evolving place. Their policy of adaptation allowed them to recognize that the customer's requirements are changing. Food is no longer being used for fuel; it is being used as experience.

The company changed its tagline from "Think Outside The Bun" to "Live Mas" in order to, as Creed said, "become a lifestyle experience, not a food experience." They unleashed their incredibly popular new product, the Doritos Locos Tacos. They also created a new, more upscale product for their changing demographic. The Cantina Bell menu was created at a higher price point in conjunction with Chef Lorena Garcia.

"You are no longer in control of your messages. Your customers are in control," Creed said in reference to changing customer demographics, as well as the other elephant in the room: social media.

Taco Bell is taking advantage of the power of social media. It hosted a hometown tweet-off where they awarded the writer of the most re-tweeted, Taco Bell-related tweet, a Doritos Locos Taco party in their town. The winner, Zach, became an overnight sensation in his city, and then all over the country when Taco Bell turned him into an unofficial spokesperson through television advertisements and additional social media efforts.

"Our fans inspire our advertising," he said.

Taco Bell took status updates relating to the company and their menu items and made a spot where they featured the quips next to young people enjoying their products. It wasn't hard to find clever sayings, such as Taco Bell is "like kissing a unicorn on a pot of gold," when 47% of millennials use social networks while they're eating.

"You have to create conversations in the language they use," he said.

To fully harness the power of social media as it relates to the Taco Bell brand, the company recently put together a social media command center, staffed with a small group of young twenty-somethings. Their main focus is to troll Facebook, Twitter, Instagram--anywhere people are chatting about Taco Bell on the web--and respond in clever, meaningful ways.

"It's a massive commitment in people and money. And it's the best investment I've made as CEO of Taco Bell," Creed said.

Through this effort, many of their posts have gone viral, and some of their most effective marketing campaigns have sprung from it, including a recent spot they did on a small town in Alaska. In the spot, Taco Bell is responding to an Internet hoax that had the small town believing they were going to get their very own Taco Bell restaurant. Because the town and its residents were crushed to realize it wasn't true, the company airlifted a Taco Bell food truck and hand delivered thousands of tacos to the residents.

And it made for some great T.V. and an excellent marketing opportunity.

"We really think [social media] is transforming who we are as a brand," Creed said.

Abbey Lewis of CSP By Abbey Lewis, Editor in Chief, CSProducts
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