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Taco Bell CMO Brian Niccol On Letting Customers Drive Ideas

Who would have ever thought that fast-food Mexican chain Taco Bell, faced with sagging sales in 2011, would find life again in a taco with a Doritos-flavored shell? The Doritos Locos Taco was launched in March of 2012, and with more than 200 million units sold, it has become the chain’s best-selling new product ever, even helping to lift profits for Yum! Brands, Taco Bell’s parent company, by 23 percent. The company credits much of the DLT’s success to marketing campaigns using Instagram and Twitter. Below, Taco Bell CMO Brian Niccol on what he’s learned from letting the customers tell the story:

"The way we thought about launching it was, What’s the story? We wouldn’t have sold 100 million Doritos Locos Tacos in ten weeks if all we did was say, It’s a new product and you’re going to love it because it’s now made with Doritos. We really listened in a different way for this program, to what people were tweeting and saying on Facebook. And that’s how we got our launch execution. We found out this kid drove 900 miles to Ohio get a hold of a DLT during the market testing, and it became inspiration for the commercial.

"It’s been a real breakthrough for us, in terms of turning our brand into an experience around stories shared. Most recently, we’ve got an ad on TV that is told through all the Instagram pictures that everybody is taking of the DLT, and we’ve done Twitter campaigns where we post people’s tweets about the DLT on billboards in Times Square and Sunset Blvd.

"With the DLT we’ve proven to ourselves that if you can let go of some of the control, then good things can happen. And that’s changed things here at the office. Since the the DLT success, we’ve knocked down three conference rooms and created a new social-mobile listening room, where we’ve got the largest TV screens I’ve ever seen keeping track of what people are saying about our brand every day and everywhere.

"Once the idea is no longer just a Taco Bell idea and becomes the customer’s thing, it’s almost like they’re going to socialize for us. They own it. They get convicted about it. The next thing you know, they’re telling their friends they gotta go try it. So the second you can get it to move from, we’re telling you should go try this, to consumers actually advocating for it, that’s when the brand moves into an experience that is worth you repeating."

More Lessons for 2013 from some of today's most innovative business thought leaders here.

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  • Latoyagcarr

    I love Taco Bell and I have many ideas for menu selections I just didn't know who I could share them with. This is Latoya Carr again, I think the Three Meat Bowl is a good choice served with ground beef, chicken, steak, fiesta potatoes cheese and sour cream. It's a good choice for the taco lovers it's hardy, delicious good for a quick meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. If this is the wrong place to be sharing my ideas could someone please let me know where the right place is. 

  • Latoyagcarr

    My name is Latoya Carr from Huntsville, TX and I have an idea for a food selection that will  sell and it's the fiesta potatoes(with all the amenities that come with the fiesta potatoes) cheese, sour cream wrapped in a burrito with the choice of steak, ground beef or chicken. Since there is no longer chives the burrito could be with bell pepper or yellow onion sautéed. It could be called the Fiesta Potato Steak Burrito.

  • Ann

    Food is social.  People enjoy talking about food, sharing their experiences on social media and referring their friends.  In fact, a recent survey of 130 restaurants by Punchh and found that 70 percent of a restaurant's  business can be attributed to word of mouth.  Social media is word of mouth gone digital.  Nielsen just reported that the most popular form of search is to find a restaurant.  Restaurant patrons can expect more converstations their mobile devices because restaurant owners know that the majority of their customers enter their establishments with mobile devices in their pockets. The owners want to know what their customers are thinking and the patrons want to share their thoughts.  Ann from Punchh