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Marketing

February 13, 2021 8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Easily one of the most popular consumer brands in the , Taco Bell is a name practically every American knows for its distinctive gastronomic offerings. “Taco Bell is unique in the sense that there’s not really a major competitor to it in that space,” Georgia State University Franchise Entrepreneurship Professor Benjamin Lawrence said in our feature article about the topping the 2020 Franchise 500 ranking.

This year, despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Taco Bell retains its top spot on Entrepreneur’s 2021 Franchise 500 ranking. The advantage of being in a “category of one” appears to remain strongly in effect.

It’s also noteworthy that Taco Bell has a clear understanding of its target market — millennials. As it shifted its target customers from family diners to working and job-seeking millennials, it continuously innovated and delivered enhanced customer experiences. Of note, Taco Bell took digitalization so seriously that it became the first quick-service restaurant to offer an order-and-pay-ahead scheme through a mobile app.

“There is no one out there like us,” said then-Vice President of Technology, Rafik Hanna, in a keynote presentation at the ICX Summit in Dallas. “We march to the beat of our own drum. Innovation and creativity are part of our DNA.”

Related: How Taco Bell Is Becoming the World’s Most Innovative Franchise

But enough of Taco Bell’s history. In light of the company’s top franchise citation, it is worth revisiting five of the most creative and attention-grabbing marketing campaigns Taco Bell has done so far. The company, founded by Glen Bell in California, does not excel only because of its relatively unique position in the fast-food market. It also has a knack for hosting some of the craziest and wildest marketing stunts. Let’s count down their top five crazies.

1. Debris pitch game on the Pacific Ocean

Russia’s modular space station Mir was scheduled to deorbit on March 23, 2001. Taco Bell’s marketing team took advantage of this globally-covered event to launch a ridiculously impressive promotion.

The company set up a gigantic floating target board into the Pacific Ocean, where Mir’s debris was expected to fall. According to the announced promo mechanics, everyone in the United States would be entitled to get a free Taco Bell taco if a piece of the space station landed on the floating target board.

This stunt was extremely risky for the company’s finances so Taco Bell purchased a sizable insurance policy to cover the potential costs of giving away more than 280 million free tacos. The insurer estimated the cost to be around $10 million.

All of Mir burned up as it entered Earth’s atmosphere, so no part of the space station reached the floating target. Taco Bell won the risky gamble as it gained global media coverage for the stunt and increased awareness and sales.

2. Steal a base, steal a taco

In 2007, Taco Bell started another free-taco-for-everyone promo linked to the World Series. This time the likelihood of Taco Bell “losing” and customers “winning” was dramatically higher. Taco Bell announced that if any player from either of the competing teams stole a base in the World Series, everyone in the United States would get free tacos.

Boston Red Sox’s Jacoby Ellsbury managed to steal a base in Game 2 of the 2007 World Series. The company delivered on its promise and gave away tacos to American customers on October 30, 2007. 

Taco Bell apparently realized that the promo to give all Americans free tacos does not cost as much as they earlier projected in the Mir space station stunt. Not everyone goes to a Taco Bell store and asks for the prize. Also, the company imposed a one taco per person limit and a 2 pm to 6 pm duration for claiming the free taco.

The company decided to do the same marketing campaign for several other World Series events, the latest of which was in 2020, where Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts stole a base in Game 1. This was the ninth time Taco Bell gave away free tacos.

3. The Hoax Coax

In mid-2012, Taco Bell learned about a hoax spreading in Bethel, Alaska, which claimed that the company was set to open in the town of a little over 6,000 people. The company clarified it was not true and went beyond by doing something the national media and sites were sure to cover.

Taco Bell’s Irvine franchise sent a Taco Bell truck to the remote town using a helicopter. The truck had enough ingredients to prepare up to 10,000 tacos. It carried hundreds of pounds of beef, sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce and cheddar cheese.

Today, there are still no plans to open a Taco Bell franchise in Bethel. However, the well-received act was surely remembered by those in Alaska, some of whom said it was the first time they tasted tacos again after decades. The story also continues to appear online in various publications.

4. Pop-up hotel with unlimited free tacos

Before Covid hit, Taco Bell successfully launched another promotional campaign that attracted widespread interest. In May 2019, the company announced the opening of a pop-up hotel in Palm Spring, Calif. The fully furnished Taco Bell themed hotel was set to be open for only four days and came with the guarantee of free unlimited tacos for guests.

In less than two minutes, the hotel was already fully booked. The rooms started at $169 per night. The hotel had a salon as well as a gift shop that sold Taco Bell themed clothes and other merchandise.

Taco Bell once again gained free media coverage with many online news sites and at least one TV station featuring the story. Notably, the headlines focused on how the short-lived pop-up hotel sold all of its vacancies in a couple of minutes, showing how many customers are interested in the brand.

5. The April Fools’ Taco Liberty Bell

Even back in 1996, when internet penetration was not that high and social media was nonexistent, Taco Bell already showed an affinity to . The company launched an April Fools’ joke that turned out to be a bit controversial but somehow worth doing for the sake of free media coverage.

On April 1, 1996, the company ran an ad in The New York Times that boldly declared, “Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell.” The rest of the ad expressed the company’s pleasure of having purchased one of the symbols of American independence, saying that “it will now be called the ‘Taco Liberty Bell’ and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing.”

The prank ad resulted in thousands of people calling the National Park in Philadelphia to complain about the sale of the national treasure. Taco Bell eventually revealed the joke. The hullabaloo was a win for the company as it saw its revenues increase by $500,000 on the day of the stunt and a higher increase of $600,000 the day after. Entrepreneur considers this one of the most successful marketing stunts ever.

Viral marketing is said to have started in the mid-1990s. Arguably, Taco Bell is one of the earliest users of this promotional strategy as evidenced by the prank ad. The company has since continued taking advantage of this style of indirect and has been successful in doing so.

Related: Taco Bell Is Working With Beyond Meat to Create a New Plant-Based Protein

Initiative to take on big ideas 

What makes Taco Bell different in its approach to viral marketing, though, is the willingness to try explosive ideas others have not tried before or are afraid to attempt doing. Instead of fearing the possible backlash, the company explored fresh concepts many would likely find ridiculous but inevitably pay some attention to.

Taco Bell knows how to make people talk about its brand. For the company, it appears the objective is to launch something that people will notice and discuss instead of putting out creative campaigns that eventually become viral.

This is in line with the company’s focus on targeting millennials. In the age of widespread internet access and social media, Taco Bell acknowledges that the traditional advertising styles of fast-food chains handing out flyers and posting print and billboard ads are no longer as effective as they used to be.

Taco Bell understands its market and knows how to leverage social media. “The way I believe our brand is positioned is it’s a brand that drives culture,” said Taco Bell President Brian Niccol in an interview with Entrepreneur.

Modern culture is largely shaped by social media and the online world. With its strong social media presence, Taco Bell sees to it that it catches the attention of its potential customers while riding on free coverage and the benefits of word of mouth marketing through the internet. Taco Bell is being regarded as a social media superstar with more than 10 million Facebook likes and nearly 10 million followers, more than 1 million Twitter followers, and hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram.

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In the business game, attention – specifically, the right attention – is king. By now, most of us know that social media is a major marketing avenue for businesses – an incredibly valuable way to attract customers and partnerships, and to amplify the brand as a whole. But, oh boy, are there a lot of questions.

What social media platform is best for your business? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, LinkedIn, YouTube? Go all-out on all of them? Or perhaps focus on one or two? Do you go the paid or organic approach?

Let’s talk…

Suzanne Mitchell, Senior Director of Marketing, GoDaddy Australia

As Australian businesses continue to evolve in the ‘new normal’, social media can be a great resource to help them engage customers, generate new leads and build a more personal, approachable digital presence.

There are 18 million social media users in Australia, however, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for selecting the right channels – that depends on your business, industry and customer demographics and preferences.

If you’re selling online and want to communicate directly with consumers, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook can be great options to promote your products and steer customers to your website or online store. Or if you’re in professional services and keen to engage professional contacts and stakeholders, LinkedIn can be an effective networking platform.

To help ensure reach – at scale – consider both an organic and paid approach, and also experiment with different formats beyond just static posts, like Instagram Stories or LinkedIn Texts Ads.

With all marketing channels, ensure your branding, including messaging and tone, is consistent and true to build trust and recognition amongst your audience. 

Alex Roslaniec, Co-Founder, Hey Bud Skincare

In our industry (D2C, skincare), social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram are crucial to our business success.

Instagram serves as a front-facing channel for new customers to understand our brand values, educate, and also showcase the benefits of our products. To existing customers, Instagram allows us to build up a connection and understand our customers more. 

Facebook is the perfect platform to build a strong community. We’ve built a Facebook group called the “Hey Bud VIP’s” where our customers are sharing their enthusiasm and passion for our products and the brand. There’s always someone sharing their latest tips, excitement for upcoming products, or our favourite when people post their positive results from using our products. 

I’d encourage others to do research into similar brands in your industry and see what social media channels they’re using and why, which will allow you to analyse what channels might be best for your business.

Edrianne Javier, Head of Marketing & Public Relations, 12RND Fitness & UBX Training

As a Fitness Franchise, our ultimate goal guiding all of our efforts across social media is to generate high quality leads for both Franchise Sales and Membership Sales. In order to identify which platform can help us to increase our volume of leads, ensures that those leads are high quality (easy to convert), and uses budget the most effectively – we test. We select a number of different platforms we believe our target audience is most likely to be using, and run a mix of paid and organic campaigns, then analyse the results.

According to Hootesuite’s latest Digital Executive Summary Report (2021), 45% of all internet users globally use social media platforms to research their purchases. We encourage our Franchisees to share as much insight into their club environment as possible through their content across all placements within both platforms. Then over time, they can focus their efforts based on where they’re getting the most engagement and membership interest. For some, it’s more Facebook, and the use of Messenger, and others see greater results through stories and Direct Message via Instagram. 

David Fairfull, CEO & Co-Founder, Metigy

The golden rule of business is to never start something before you can answer why you’re starting it. So, when assessing the best social media platform for your business, the key to success is having a clear understanding of what your company’s objectives are. 

Is your social media objective to drive sales or leads, build brand awareness, or act as a customer service platform? 

The answer to these questions will affect which is the “best” platform to select.

Breaking this down:

  • Facebook and Instagram are ideal for businesses looking to drive direct sales through targeted paid ad campaigns, but their cluttered nature does make it tough for brands to grow communities organically
  • Instagram is best suited to brands that can drive engagement and build their brands through visual content
  • LinkedIn can be leveraged by white-collar businesses for thought leadership and innovation
  • TikTok and Snapchat are best suited for businesses looking to target a younger audience with original video content

Rather than having a strong presence on every social platform on the market, identify the channels that best suit your objective and align your social strategy accordingly.

Growing your business’ social media presence isn’t as easy as flicking a switch on. It requires consistent performance analysis and optimisation in order to grow, which is where digital marketing tools become a critical business asset. 

Run Samarakoon & Robert Mikhail, Directors, Cosmetic Avenue

Social media is such an integral part of Cosmetic Avenue’s platform to educate and communicate with our clients. In fact it’s so important that we have a dedicated in-ouse Social Media Manager. 

Being such a visual platform, which our clients are high users of, we utilise the various features across the platforms, particularly Instagram and Facebook to post educational surgical videos, Q&A videos, Before & After transformations, and to answer many of the questions we receive via DMs (Direct Messaging). 

Facebook’s ‘Groups’ feature has allowed us to create a dedicate private Cosmetic Avenue Discussion Group, which now has over 4,000 members! The group encourages discussion, questions, and sharing of before and after images, in a safe and supportive environment created to support its members during a nervous but exciting time. 

With over 25,000 followers already, Social Media will continue to be an integral method of client engagement for our business.

Anna Ji, Head of Product, Clipchamp

For businesses looking to integrate video into their digital marketing strategies, social media is an obvious choice. Not only does it have the ability to target niche audience segments, but it can also lead to more business down the track. In fact, according to research, social videos generate 135 per cent more organic traffic than static imagery.

When deciding on the best platforms for your strategy, it’s important to understand which platforms your audiences are accessing the most and really hone in on them.

For example, a beauty company might want to make use of social media platforms like Instagram, over Twitter or Facebook. While a finance company may opt for LinkedIn. Also, don’t forget that 98 per cent of Australian users access social media via mobile devices, so make sure your content is mobile friendly and following the correct specifications.

Handy tip: Ensure the content is tailor-made for each platform, as it will have a much higher chance of engagement and turning buzz to business than a one-size-fits-all marketing approach.

Alexander Frolov, CEO, HypeAuditor

Brands are increasingly flooding to social media, all fighting for the attention of users. There are a few factors to consider when choosing which social media platform will yield the most ROI and leads for your business.

Brand personality: Brands need to have a clear vision of their brand identity. When posting content, you need to keep in mind what emotions you want to trigger in your audience and it needs to reflect your brand personality. For example, for audacious, young, and bold brands with a young target audience, TikTok might be the most suitable platform.

Audience: Even though it seems very obvious, it’s often overlooked. It’s paramount to understand what audiences use each platform. For example, according to the HypeAuditor recent research, the core TikTok audience in Australia is female between 13 and 24 years old (44.65%).There is also a large number of users between 13 and 17 years old (31.56%). So if you’re a B2B company, TikTok might not be the best option for you.

Campaign goal: Some platforms will be more appropriate than others depending on the objectives of your campaigns. If you’re looking to launch an influencer marketing campaign, and want the highest engagement rate, as it is a popular KPI for brand awareness, Instagram or TikTok are your best options. But if you want to further your reach and achieve long-term impact, you might want to consider YouTube.

Competitors analysis: Study competitors’ websites, social media profiles, and ads to get a sense of the creative assets that they’re using and look at their audience responses too. Since influencer marketing is a relatively new marketing channel, the information gathered about your competitors’ strategies is especially valuable, as it helps to adjust your strategies and choose the mechanics that work best on different platforms.

Dirk Steller, Founder and Managing Partner, Seed Space Venture Capital

The media landscape has shifted dramatically over the last five years, propelling social into focus as a vital engagement tool for business.

My focus goes to LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network with more than 740 million members spanning at least 200 countries. It offers an instant global audience and a large opportunity to create a substantial network with like-minded industry professionals.

For a start-up seeking investment, the platform offers engagement opportunities with the high-level decision makers, while allowing it to showcase its brand and differentiate it from the competition.

Social media and, particularly LinkedIn, now forms upwards of 50 per cent of public outreach in the fintech sector. In fact, according to social media management Hootsuite, a staggering 55 million companies worldwide are now on LinkedIn.

Robin Marchant, Head of Marketing APAC, Shopify

Whether your brand is exploring social media marketing for the first time, or whether you’ve been doing it for years, it’s never been more important to invest in understanding the customer and how the way they search for information and interact with your brand has changed in the last six months.

It’s easy to take a ‘spray and pray’ approach to social media by posting content on every channel and hoping for the best, but this is the fastest way to wasting resources and putting customer relationships at jeopardy. Customers expect brands to use their customer data to everyone’s advantage, which means using the data to only reach out to customers on platforms they want to hear from you on and with information that is genuinely helpful.

It’s important to keep an eye out for new or fast-growing platforms, like TikTok, as well, to ensure you’re not falling behind on customer expectations and behavioural trends.

Start with the data, and let customer insights dictate how social media strategies are implemented.

Ben Crow, Marketing & Partnerships Executive, WLTH

With so many diverse social media platforms existing in the current market, it can often be hard for businesses to pick and choose where to best focus their attention.

My tip would be to refer to your business model and the demographic you want to target to help steer you in the right direction. Every business is different, so it’s important to completely understand your customers and the platforms they are using before rolling out any social strategy. Think about your messaging and know exactly what you want to achieve before you start mindlessly uploading content.

Social media is also a great way to gather feedback from clients and build it into your overall NPS strategy for your business. As with everything, if you aren’t allocating time to your socials, you need to decide if it is worth establishing a social account. If you don’t put the work into it, you won’t get the results you want.


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December 15, 2020 5 min read

This story originally appeared on ValueWalk

Business is ever-changing, and so are the marketing strategies that drive business growth and success. Change is certainly inevitable. The COVID-19 pandemic made this very apparent with many brick and mortar businesses left with no choice but to digitize operations.

And this is where innovation comes into play. The innovation in technology has disrupted marketing in more ways than one. From enterprise companies to local businesses, innovation is no longer a side thought.

Innovate or close up shop is in many ways a mantra these days. Marketing is no stranger to innovation. Automation, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and more continues to reshape marketing.

To get perspective on how innovation is changing marketing, we sat down with John Bertino, CEO of The Agency Guy, a premiere marketing and SEO agency that implements innovative marketing strategies for companies across multiple industries.

Here’s what Mr. Bertino had to say:

How important is innovation in terms of successful marketing?

Marketing is not a one size fits all solution in terms of growing a business into a successful company. This goes for local businesses on main street to global enterprise companies.

For every marketing strategy these days, innovation and digital technology comes into play. Even traditional marketing campaigns, like a store-wide sales event, have some form of innovative technology behind it.

Social media, for example, is used to create a buzz around an in-store event. And the innovative ad platform within a social media platform, like Facebook, can determine the online reach and visibility for a traditional marketing campaign.

Touching on those local businesses on main street, can small local businesses leverage innovation in marketing too?

Absolutely. And if they fall short doing this, small local businesses can lose a ton of business to local competitors that do utilize innovation within marketing strategies. This is also more important now more than ever, since COVID has pushed local small businesses to take a more digital approach.

Let’s take a look at Google My Business for example. When restrictions on COVID guidelines loosened for local businesses, consumers turned to Google to find out what businesses were open, when, and what services were offered.

Local businesses without a Google My Business presence, or businesses that didn’t have their GMB listing optimized, lost out on major profits. Profits that could have been a factor in business survival during the pandemic.

Is mobile still a powerful medium for reaching customers? How does innovation play a role in mobile marketing?

This is a great question. Mobile devices are certainly innovative, to say the least. And when it comes to reaching customers, mobile is exceptional. There is no other device that allows businesses to reach and connect with customers 24/7.

In terms of innovation and mobile marketing strategies, innovation comes via the mobile apps themselves. These apps could be served up from companies, or be advocates for companies through app features, ads, push notifications, and more.

Amazon and Walmart have done this to perfection. Walmart is a good example here, since the once brick and mortar superstore had no choice but to innovate using mobile technology to stay competitive with Amazon.

The Walmart app and mobile experience proves just how critical digital innovation is. And how important it will be in the future.

How important is it for businesses to align their marketing strategies with SEO?

Optimization is at the core of every successful marketing strategy. If a business wants to get a bit of viral attention for a social media marketing campaign, keywords are essential. Well placed keywords in YouTube titles, tags, and video descriptions can make the difference between mediocre to successful social attention.

Optimizing local landing pages utilizing keywords and local business data can make a huge impact on a business’ search engine rankings as well.

Schema markup, for instance, helps Google understand a business via specific data points, thus ranking the business accordingly. Without search engine optimization practices like these, businesses, and even mid-size companies can get lost in SERPs.

How do you make innovation a talking point for businesses when they come digitally knocking at your agency?

I believe it is important to address the goals of the business first. What do they want to achieve? What marketing strategies are currently in place? What tools do they have for tracking current marketing campaigns? And the list goes on.

To match up innovation with a business’ goals is the first step toward success. Many business owners don’t have time to research all the innovative marketing and SEO tools, platforms, and software available. They are busy running business ops. This is where partnering with the pros can come in handy.

Lastly, what advice do you have for business owners looking to grow via innovation?

The digital means by which consumers find businesses, and engage with them online, are endless. The most important aspect of marketing to understand is that there is no magic bullet. Combining multiple marketing strategies with innovative tools supporting campaigns proves the most beneficial.

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