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Taco Bell unveils game-focused loyalty program

Users earn rewards by ordering on app and linking social media accounts

Taco Bell is scheduled on Wednesday to take the wraps off its long-awaited loyalty program, a unique game that rewards customers for using the app or simply for “Living Mas” on social media.

Dubbed Taco Bell Explore, Season 1, the feature has been available on Taco Bell’s mobile app for a few weeks as a live test. Those who register can immediately begin earning puzzle pieces toward a reward — from a free Freeze to $100 gift cards and more.

But unlike most loyalty programs that reward customers for their spending or restaurant visits, Taco Bell didn’t want to “tell people what to do,” said Tressie Lieberman, Taco Bell vice president of digital innovation and on demand.

Taco Bell app
A peek at Taco Bell's in-app game. Photo: Taco Bell

Taco Bell Explore rewards guests in two ways: Either by ordering through the app, or by linking their social media networks to the loyalty program, including Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Those who link their social media platforms will then be surprised with puzzle pieces toward rewards as they go about their lives posting on social media.

“They don’t necessarily have to use any specific hashtag,” Lieberman said. Taco Bell Explore’s algorithm will recognize certain words that indicate the guest is “Living Mas,” referring to Taco Bell’s "Live Mas" tagline for living large.

If someone posts about seeing a beautiful sunrise, for example, they might get rewarded with a puzzle piece, she said.

Of course, if you post about going to Taco Bell for breakfast, you might get another one, she noted. But you don’t have to mention Taco Bell.

“The whole game is about surprise and delight,” she said. “We’re not telling you what to do. You’re just going about your daily life and unlocking puzzle pieces.”

The actual puzzle starts out simple, but gets more complex as users play.

Lieberman said an estimated 4.7 million users have downloaded the Taco Bell app since it was launched in October 2014, a rate that continues to grow.

The company has not released data on the percentage of sales that come from mobile orders, but Lieberman said they have found that app users spend about 30 percent more than non-mobile guests, which is in part why the loyalty program is designed to motivate guests to engage via mobile device.

In addition to free food and gift cards, some users may also win experiences, like getting a dedicated booth at their favorite restaurant or visiting Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, Calif., Lieberman said.

“We knew the app was for people who love the brand most, that active community that is passionate about Taco Bell on social media,” Lieberman said. “This is a game that we believe will drive true loyalty with our community.”

Digital loyalty programs are growing in popularity among restaurant chains, but none have come close to Starbucks Corp., which boasts 20 million My Starbucks Rewards program members globally. Those guests spend an average of about three times more than non-loyalty members.

Gaming is increasingly being used as a feature in mobile apps to boost engagement with young users, in particular.

Starbucks earlier this month launched a game that allows My Starbucks Rewards members the chance to win free Starbucks for life as they collect game pieces.

Taco Bell’s test users have already begun jockeying for position on leader board rankings. “People are creating Reddit threads to talk about the game,” Lieberman said.

The program was developed by mobile provider Digitas, which helped build the Taco Bell app. The quick-service chain also worked with Kiip to provide the reward system, and Cardfree on development of the program, Lieberman said.

Though Season One specifically targets mobile users, future seasons will likely expand on how guests can earn rewards, she hinted.

“Who knows what Season Two will bring,” Lieberman said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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