Selling America’s Favorite Taco

Taco Bell Doritos Locos business strategy with Liz WilliamsTaco Bell has done it again.

From the “Yo quiero” chihuahua to its Fourthmeal campaign (encouraging those late night drive-thru runs), the company’s marketing tactics and menu have a knack for connecting with consumers. But nothing has created buzz like the Doritos Locos Taco (the chain’s normal taco with a hard shell made of Nacho Cheese Doritos). Since the taco premiered in March 2012, more than 250 million have been sold.

“We’ve been planning for years and were really excited when it finally launched,” says Liz Williams, BBA ’98, vice president of business planning and strategy for Taco Bell at Yum! Brands, the chain’s parent company. She joined Taco Bell in 2011 and was part of the team that launched the Doritos Locos Taco, which has become the most successful item in Taco Bell’s 50-year history.

Williams says although they knew that the co-branding partnership with Frito-Lay (which produces Doritos) would be a hit, they were happily surprised by just how successful it was. For 2012, the chain saw a 8 percent same-stores sales growth.

Taco Bell allotted $75 million for advertising for the launch. The marketing plan for the specialty taco included several forms of media, relying heavily on social media campaigns. Prior to the launch, Twitter users were encouraged to compose tweets using the hashtags #DoritosLocosTacos and #Contest. The competitors with the most retweeted tweets were rewarded with a visit from the Taco Bell Truck, stocked full of Doritos Locos Tacos before they were released in stores.

A recent  Taco Bell commercial features user-submitted photos on Facebook, Instagram, and via email. Instagram users who posted pictures of their tacos with the hashtag #livemascontest were eligible to win prizes such as a trip to Pacifica, Calif., and a $5,000 college scholarship.

“We used social media and influencer engagement to enhance the launch and saw great results,” Williams says. “It’s a craveable product to begin with, but when you put the power of traditional media and online media together, the launch was even better,” Williams says.

The taco is leaving its mark on popular culture, even receiving a favorable review from New York Times food criticWilliams Grimes. The band Passion Pit licensed their song, “Take a Walk” for a Doritos Locos commercial and performed it on “Saturday Night Live,” actress Anna Kendrick tweeted about her affinity for the DLT, and mixed martial arts fighter Gian Villante admitted to eating Doritos Locos Tacos after difficult matches.

“Success isn’t just the marketing and media; it’s also operations as far as getting a product that our restaurants can make quickly and easily and make it delicious,” Williams notes. “All the teams have to come together to make it happen—marketing, operations, and finance.”

Prior to joining Yum! Brands, Williams honed her strategy chops at Dell and then Boston Consulting Group, earning her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management along the way. As a working mother, Williams says she was drawn to a position at Yum! because of the work-life balance, and stays motivated by the knowledge that her team’s work directly grows the Taco Bell brand at home and abroad. She says the sense of community and teamwork at Yum! sets it apart from other large, international companies.

“The thing I love about Yum! is the recognition culture,” Williams says. “In my team meeting we spend the first 15 minutes just taking time to recognize what the different team members have done to help each other in the last month. Other companies might take the time every quarter to recognize someone, but at Yum! it’s in the DNA every day.”

So what can fans expect for the Doritos Locos Taco in the future? Will there be more where this blockbuster hit snack came from? Williams says that Taco Bell is continuing to work on expanding the Doritos Locos Taco line, and the product’s growth is far from over.

“We’re continuing to work on other ‘flavors of the shell,’” Williams says, using Taco Bell staffers’ favorite expression signifying their devotion to all things taco. “We launched the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos in March of this year. Our favorite line is, ‘Collect all two!'”

Originally published in Open Magazine, McCombs Today

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