Taco Bell, the quick-service restaurant chain, is seeking to find the right balance of mass-market potential and cult appeal in building its brand, crafting new products, and driving sales.

“We are pushing and pulling constantly to get to that perfect balance,” said Serena Sheldon, Taco Bell’s director/consumer insights. (For more, read WARC’s in-depth report: Taco Bell embraces fast-food geekdom to succeed.)

“It’s going to be big enough that we can do it on the mass scale, but also delight our cult-like super fans [who] will call us out if something doesn’t feel authentic to the brand.”

Sheldon told delegates at The Market Research Event (TMRE) that this approach has meant a focus on innovation that challenges the status quo and stays true to an underdog spirit.

And the limited-time introduction of Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa, in which the “shell” actually is a piece of breaded fried chicken, demonstrated how it walks the fine line between niche and mainstream.

“This starts out way on the cult side,” Sheldon recounted. “We had this product internally and we would feed it to our fans and they were in – they were all in.

“But we had people in the building that were like, ‘Oh, no, no, no. Not on my watch. I’m not launching that. That is fair food. That is not something that people are going to want to eat.’”

Supported by an irreverent marketing campaign, however, this offering ultimately sold more than 25 million units in two months, and has since reappeared for a new limited-edition run.

Taco Bell’s innovation philosophy is to “iterate, iterate, iterate” until it finds a product that hits the sweet spot, Sheldon said. And another successful example comes with the limited-time release of Nacho Fries in 2018.

Concept and product testing scores for this menu item were so impressive, “we were like, ‘Check the data again’,” she reported – and the results equally showed that a product that can attract brand superfans could also tempt a wider audience.

“It’s the number one-launch that we have had. It surpasses the Doritos Taco ... In fact, one out of every three orders had an order of fries on it when we launched,” Sheldon said.

Sourced from WARC