Bold Blackout: Taco Bell’s Crusade for 1:1 Engagement

Posted by
Erin Kang
LivePerson Contributor
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - 09:55

Three days before Halloween, visitors to Taco Bell’s website and social media pages, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, were greeted with a shocking message:


In lieu of promoting its new mobile ordering and payment app, the Mexican fast-food restaurant wiped out its entire social media presence except for a single post with the hashtag #OnlyintheApp for three days. The app allows customers to conveniently pay for their orders with a credit card before they arrive to the restaurant. The social blackout is clearly a provocative call-to-action directing consumers to download Taco Bell’s app. But why did they do it and did it work?

According to TechCrunch, there were 1.3 million apps to choose from in the Apple App store in June 2014 compared with only 500 apps in July 2008. In an oversaturated app marketplace–the digital agency behind Taco Bell’s #OnlyintheApp campaign–had to carefully calculate an innovative strategy to drive their consumers to the new app.

"Today as food culture changes and generations grow up with smartphones, our customers seek restaurant experiences that fit their lifestyle," said Taco Bell President Brian Niccol. "We believe mobile ordering and payment is the biggest innovation since the drive-thru. Our new mobile ordering app is just the beginning of how we're using technology to break down the walls of our restaurants and become more transparent with our customers about our food."

The accelerating mobile movement

Taco Bell’s social media think tank, the Center for Social Excellence is no stranger to connecting with their “digital-first” fans. The company first dived into the social media landscape in 2007 when it realized Facebook’s game-changing potential in the marketing industry. Taco Bell first used Facebook to promote product updates to a broad audience. Now social media is interwoven as an anchor in Taco Bell’s overall marketing strategy where employees across several departments–PR, operations, product, and marketing–are all involved in the brand’s social media efforts.

However, Taco Bell, like many other major brands are conceding that the world is shifting to mobile. The #OnlyintheApp campaign is not just another social media gimmick. It’s a part of a larger strategy to accelerate loyal consumers to a mobile-centric experience that will drive more loyalty and lifetime customer value.

The rising domination of mobile apps is undeniable. According to Nielsen’s U.S. Digital Consumer Report, Americans spent 34 hours per month in mobile apps and browsers in 2013 compared with 27 hours per month in desktop computers. Mobile app usage continues to grow at rapid rates. A 2014 U.S. Mobile App comScore report indicates that app usage accounts for the majority of media consumption activity on mobile devices, accounting for approximately 7 out of every 8 minutes.

#OnlyintheApp yields impressive adoption rates

Was the blackout successful? Despite some negative commentary on Twitter, we can guess that Taco Bell was pleased with the results. In less than 24 hours, Taco Bell disrupted the Top 25 apps of Apple iOS users in the U.S., surpassing Google Maps, Spotify, Twitter and Gmail, according to the App Annie intelligence site. Although the digitally savvy brand refused to disclose the number of mobile app downloads, it took less than 24 hours to lead the food and beverage section of Apple’s App Store. Furthermore, 90 percent of the chain’s 6,000 U.S. stores reported acceptance of mobile orders and payment through the iPhone and Android app. Moreover, they’ve sent the world a message, loud and clear.

From one-to-many to 1:1 engagement

Taco Bell’s #OnlyintheApp campaign indicates a movement towards “connection-first” consumer engagement–a  trend that we’ve been observing at LivePerson. A majority of eCommerce brands continue to deliver a content-first strategy–optimized websites filled with content and FAQs for a self-service and low-touch consumer experience. But we’re seeing more and more brands like Amazon winning the battle for customers by deploying a “connection-first” customer strategy.

Preferences in the individual app experience versus a mobile website indicates that customers crave highly personalized engagement, and validate the need for brand’s to adopt a connection-first strategy. According to Flurry Analytics, messaging apps in 2013 saw the most dramatic growth, up 203% year-over-year” while overall app usage saw 115% year-over-year-growth. Given the proliferation of mobile messaging apps, Taco Bell launched their SnapChat channel in 2013 to creatively share brand updates.

Taco Bell’s unique 1:1 messaging across several platforms reveals the brand’s awareness and deep understanding of its “selfie” audience where digital-first consumers prefer personalized, dynamic platforms versus a mass, one-size-fits all approach with no customization across its different channels.

While brands are shifting towards individualized consumer connections, they must remember that the consumer is the driver, and ensure that they are available on the users' preferred channels–whether it’s an app, website, or social media page. At LivePerson, we uphold this message and work to enable brands to do the same–harnessing the power of personalized, immediate, and everywhere engagement.

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