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How Taco Bell is winning the online marketing game

Written by Martin Jones

tacosFrom blogging and social media to banner ads and paid search, businesses have a plethora of tools to market themselves online. Some companies have been very successful at capitalizing on all these channels while others have strategically adopted new elements as they have developed sustainable plans.

If you’re wondering who’s been the among the best online marketers, look no further than Taco Bell. The fast food chain has created a unique personality of itself through various Web platforms. You can learn a great deal about marketing your business from Taco Bell. Below is a look at what the brand is doing that’s been so successful.

A social media superstar

The real story about Taco Bell is centered around its social media strategy. Nick Tran, the restaurant’s head of social media, told CMO that he uses a three-pronged approach to networking.

“You can break down the type of content we share into three categories: The first is anything Taco Bell creates internally. The other type of content we share is whatever we co-create. This is when we collaborate with influencers and give them the tools to create their own content. The last is content curation, which is basically us amplifying interesting content from our social community,” Tran said.

The key is that Taco Bell acts like a person online. Unlike other brands that plan all of their posts, the chain responds to a great deal of updates and holds actual conversations. CMO’s article includes a picture of a perfect example of this. When Old Spice called Taco Bell out because its fire sauce didn’t include any actual fire, the fast food giant responded by noting that the deodorant doesn’t use any old spices in its products.

The exchange was cheeky and fun. Consumers loved it because it showed that Taco Bell was willing to go off the beaten path online. Additionally, the joke helped create a connection with another major brand in Old Spice.

As far as collaborating with influencers, Taco Bell’s gone above and beyond to forge partnerships with others. In order to promote its new breakfast menu, the brand gave “breakfast phones” to a number of followers on Twitter. The company would send texts and call these people with special tasks so they could win promotional prizes. Most of the time, Taco Bell asked everyone to post pictures of themselves or tweet about the restaurant.

This quickly became a viral marketing campaign. As the lucky phone owners updated their followers about Taco Bell’s contests, more and more consumers became aware of the breakfast menu.

All of this goes to show that social media marketing can be fun. In fact, diverting from traditional tactics and creating humorous campaigns can go a long way toward boosting consumer engagement. Any business could emulate Taco Bell to some degree by creating online personalities and humanizing their brand. This helps to increase consumer engagement because the content is not only entertaining, but relatable.

millsGoing after millennials

Taco Bell understands its audience and does everything it can to appeal to them. Because the chain is highly frequented by millennials, it has focused on this group with laser-like precision and the strategy has proven to be highly effective thus far.

“The way I believe our brand is positioned is it’s a brand that drives culture. And there’s a couple things that drive culture: food, fashion, music, art,” Taco Bell President Brian Niccol told Entrepreneur Magazine. “[Millennials] want to be a part of the brand. They want it to be carried as a badge. If they think you’re doing the right thing, they think you’re part of culture, they think you’re current: huge loyalty, huge fans.”

One way Taco Bell has done this is through its Feed the Beat initiative. The program helps emerging artists to gain national exposure through Taco Bell’s advertising. The list of alumni reads like a who’s who of indie darlings, including FIDLAR, Bad Rabbits, Sleeper Agent, Portugal. the Man, Wavves and The Weeks.

The cultural cache that these bands provide helps Taco Bell compete with other trendy restaurants. This approach is like walking a fine line, however, as the chain has to avoid turning off other consumers in its effort to target millennials. Part of this is avoiding the authenticity battle and not claiming that its Mexican food is as authentic as the food you might be served south of the border.

This type of targeting and understanding can benefit other businesses. Being successful in targeting a specific demographic in such focused fashion, especially a coveted one like millennials, would be a boon for any business.

That said, the brilliance of Taco Bell’s marketing strategy is its ability to temper its ads so they’re inclusive. While the chain is largely targeting millennials, it’s doing enough to keep older and younger consumers interested in the brand.

You can replicate this strategy by measuring engagement and public interest in your company. First, track sales and customer demographics. If you find that you’re doing particularly well with one group and struggling with others, it may be a sign that you need to revamp your marketing to appeal to other buyers. Second, conduct focus groups to learn which tactics work on which groups. Though these tactics might seem a bit old school, they’re still extremely helpful for optimizing your advertising strategies.

Taco Bell has truly gone above and beyond when it comes to online marketing. Few other businesses can claim to be even as half as effective as the fast food chain when it comes to channels like social media. What’s most impressive is that the company isn’t constantly changing gears to keep up with trends – it’s simply laid out a route to success and is following it to the very end.

What elements of Taco Bell’s marketing plan do you think are most effective? Could any of the fast food chain’s tactics help your business?

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About the author

Martin Jones

Martin Jones is a Sr.Marketing Manager with the corporate Cox Communications social media team where he leads the social and content marketing strategy for Cox Business. He is also the editor of and is a featured contributor for several business and marketing websites including Social Media Today,, Yahoo Small Business Advisor and more. He is a frequent and sought after guest speaker on the topic of social media, growth hacking and content marketing.

Recent Awards and Recognition Include:

Top 50 content Marketers - EContent Magazine

Top 100 Social Media Influencers - Peer Index

Top 100 Small Business Influencers - Small Business Influencer Awards

Top 50 Content Marketers - Onalytica Top 200

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