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Taco Bell garnishes mobile loyalty with gamification for millennial appeal

Taco Bell is introducing an in-application loyalty program with a gamification-heavy focus on rewarding customers for repeat ordering and engaging on social media, a move that is likely to appeal to younger consumers.

The Taco Bell Explore, Season 1 program has been available to select app users as a beta test for several weeks, and is now rolling out to the rest of the brand’s loyalty members. As major quick service chains battle to retain the largest amount of rewards members, Taco Bell is injecting gamification into its loyalty app, which will offer access to prizes such as free menu items and gift cards.

“As a brand we wanted to create a unique experience that truly rewarded our fans for living their life and sharing online,” said Jenna Keith-Birney, manager of digital innovation and on demand at Taco Bell. “Rather than requiring consumers to just purchase menu items or interact with the brand to gain rewards, we’re connecting in a more personal way and tapping into an existing social habit to elevate what it means to ‘Live Mas.’”

New options for rewards
While most food and beverage brands choose to reward their customers for the amount of repeat purchases made, Taco Bell is offering two options for gaining prizes. Loyalty members can accumulate rewards for placing orders through the mobile app, or by linking their social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to the program.

Consumers who choose to link their social accounts to the loyalty program will greeted with puzzle pieces that count toward prizes. Users do not have to upload posts via specific hashtags. Instead, Taco Bell’s algorithm will recognize designated words that indicate if a customer is “Living Mas,” in accordance with the marketer’s famous tagline.

For example, if a Twitter user posts about witnessing a stunning sunrise, he or she may earn one puzzle piece. Another post about visiting Taco Bell for breakfast could culminate in another puzzle piece.

However, the brand is ensuring that loyalty members stay surprised by not requiring them to specifically mention Taco Bell in their uploads. The game is meant to encourage users to post about their daily lives while unlocking impromptu puzzle pieces.

The puzzle will also grow in complexity as time progresses. Prizes include tangible items, such as gift cards and complimentary menu items, as well as experiences, including a visit to Taco Bell’s Irvine headquarters or reserving consumers’ favorite restaurant booth.

“Taco Bell understands that it would be counterintuitive to ask its consumers to ‘live large’ or ‘Live Mas,’ and then constrain them by forcing them to aggregate ideas under a hashtag,” said Gary Schwartz, president and CEO of Impact Mobile. “The fact that the company is using a natural language algorithm to recognize relevant words and group and reward brand posts is innovative and shows that Taco Bell is treating social media as a conversation and not a billboard.”

The mobile-specific program was likely developed in response to competitors’ rewards programs, some of which also tap gamification as a key element. Starbucks’ second-year incarnation of the Starbucks for Life holiday campaign invites mobile loyalty members to collect cartoon game pieces on a virtual board for instant win chances.

Taco Bell may have a leg up on Starbucks due to the long-lasting timeframe of its loyalty program, which is not centered on any specific occasion. Gamified rewards also have the potential to reach a massive base of younger consumers who enjoy using their mobile devices to play a variety of challenges.

Living for mobile
Taco Bell has had one of the strongest pushes for mobile strategy of its fellow marketers in the food and beverage industry this year.

With Taco Bell’s mobile ordering app showing check growth of 30 percent, the chain brought digital ordering to a newly overhauled Web site this past September as it continued to ramp up digital innovation (see story).

Taco Bell was also among the 33 merchants that integrated with mobile-optimized checkout service Visa Checkout in August, proving its dedication to grabbing a large share of consumers’ wallets (see story).

The Taco Bell Explore, Season 1 program will likely result in a huge uptick in sales for the brand, in addition to a barrage of mobile engagement among the brand’s prime target audience.

“We’re seeing great feedback from the 4.7 million consumers who have downloaded the Taco Bell Mobile Ordering and Payment app,” Taco Bell’s Ms. Keith-Birney said. “We expect Taco Bell Explore, Season 1 to drive awareness and increase use for the platform that’s already seen a 30 percent increase in average check sales.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely, staff writer on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York