Oct. 12, 2022 | Podcast

Episode 1: The internet’s role in the rebirth of Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza

Mark King, CEO of Taco Bell, brings us into the restaurant’s digital revolution

About the episode

Taco Bell was a traditional QSR brand until CEO Mark King led it down the path of digital transformation. Find out why Taco Bell wants to become a 100% digitally led consumer brand – and what digital has done for its bottom line.


Mark King

As Taco Bell CEO, Mark leads change and operations for the beloved chain restaurant. His favorite menu item is a bean burrito with green sauce.


Do you feel like you lead customers or customers lead you?

Customers don't know what they don't know. The Grilled Cheese Burrito is a really good example of this and a really great success story for us. We took a basic burrito and put cheese on the outside with jalapeno peppers baked into the cheese. Customers didn't know that was coming. Now, we're doing the flip side of that–we're going to bring back some iconic products that used to be around. But we're going to put those onto social media platforms and have customers vote on them. I think it's a combination of satisfying what people want and surprising them with the delight that's unexpected.

Since joining Taco Bell in 2019, you've been focused on the digital evolution of the business. How did you get started with digital, or how did you think about digital in a Taco Bell context?

When I joined Taco Bell, we had no app. We didn't do any e-commerce. We were such a successful traditional QSR brand with 75% of our business coming through drive-through. When I got here, we hired a new chief brand officer and she said, “what are the three things you want me to focus on?” And I said, “three things: digital, digital, digital.” 

And it was, honestly, really easy for me as an outsider because it wasn't that the people here hadn't had the discussion, but it was like, we have this model that's working so well.  When you go to digital, what does that mean? Do we do a little bit? Do we go all in? Do we worry about disrupting our model that works so well? But if you just read the tea leaves, the world is going toward handheld devices, laptops, and connectivity to make it an easier experience. We're not there yet, but we're certainly on that journey.

What are some technologies that you've implemented to deliver? I mean, it sounds like the app has been enormously successful. Are there some other technologies that have been critical to your success?

The loyalty app was launched in the fall of 2020. Today we have about 17 or 18 million people on the app. We're building out a bigger e-commerce platform with Yum! that would go across all of our brands. I don't know that we have any specific cool technologies that we've used, because for us it was being more basic to get started. 

Right now, it's all about collecting data because the more data we have on our customers, the more we understand their behaviors, price points, products, engaging them in the experience, the better success we're having.


I’m curious how you think about data fluency. There is a people need around embracing data, working with data, decisions based on the data. How do you think about that as far as a skill set, whether that's data fluency or even digital acumen?

We have all kinds of data, we just don't know how to use it. I'm overstating that because we use data for a lot of things, but I think we could be much more data driven and we're now really focused on gathering more data. The real issue is though, how do you use it to make better decisions? You have to believe that the data will lead you to a better decision than a 20-year veteran saying, my instinct says we should do this. Well, we have all the data in the world that says that we shouldn't do that. So it's this balance between instinct and data, but the data doesn't lie. 

I think that's another mindset shift that organizations have to go through, especially ones that have been hugely successful. Like Taco Bell. What we're trying to do is modernize the way we think, the way we behave, the way we use technologies, and really the way we provide products and experiences for our customers.

Mark, at West Monroe, we recently released a new digital research study where we found that more than half of organizations say they're very effectively aligned on digital vision. How hard is that to do from your perspective?

I would say it's very difficult. I just think people are so used to the way they've always thought and the way they've always behaved. And if they've delivered good results, they're really reluctant to change. It may not even be because they don't believe it's better, but it's going to be painful to do this. And then, as the employee, do they not need me anymore? I mean, am I going to be replaced by a bunch of data sets and data points?  I think a lot of that exists. But it's coming and I think organizations are getting there. It's just slower than it should be. But I think if you're going to survive, you're going to have to get there.

Show Notes
Should you always give the customer what they want? Host Rissa Reddan interviews Taco Bell CEO Mark King about the fine line between creating digital buzz and disappointment – and what digital has done for its bottom line. 

1:09 – News segment: How Truist is using a banking assistant in a different way
3:22 – Guest segment: Mark King, CEO of Taco Bell
3:53 – Mark’s road to becoming Taco Bell CEO
4:45 – How did he prepare for the role of CEO?
5:28 – How does Mark empower a culture of bold at Taco Bell
6:20 – How does Taco Bell vet ideas and decide to move forward with a new idea
6:46 – How is the Cantina experience different from launching a product?
9:06 – The Mexican Pizza blows up the Internet
11:30 – Does the brand lead customers or do customers lead the brand?
13:00 – Is there a downside to having a cult following?
13:54 – How Mark thinks about digital in the context of Taco Bell
15:35 – Mark’s vision for what the future of digital could look like
16:51 – To what extent does a company go digital? 
19:23 – How do you think about being digital?
18:54 – Mark’s perspective on data fluency
20:54 – Which technologies is Taco Bell using?
21:45 – The data doesn’t lie
23:18 – How hard is it to align on digital mindset
24:15 – Top priorities for digital investment
25:19 – Taco Bell’s next chapter on digital transformation
26:43 – What is Mark’s go-to Taco Bell menu item

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This is Digital

West Monroe's team of experts and guests pull back the curtain on how to build digital throughout an organization. Through real-world examples, you will learn how to spot digital transformation in real life, and how to make small decisions every day that make a big impact on growth.

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