The Way I See It

Posts in Open Magazine
Selling America's Favorite Taco

Taco Bell Doritos Locos business strategy with Liz WilliamsTaco Bell has done it again. From the “Yo quiero” chihuahua to its Fourthmeal campaign (encouraging those late night drive-thru runs), the company’s marketing tactics and menu have a knack for connecting with consumers. But nothing has created buzz like the Doritos Locos Taco (the chain’s normal taco with a hard shell made of Nacho Cheese Doritos). Since the taco premiered in March 2012, more than 250 million have been sold.

“We've been planning for years and were really excited when it finally launched,” says Liz Williams, BBA '98, vice president of business planning and strategy for Taco Bell at Yum! Brands, the chain’s parent company. She joined Taco Bell in 2011 and was part of the team that launched the Doritos Locos Taco, which has become the most successful item in Taco Bell’s 50-year history.

Williams says although they knew that the co-branding partnership with Frito-Lay (which produces Doritos) would be a hit, they were happily surprised by just how successful it was. For 2012, the chain saw a 8 percent same-stores sales growth.

Taco Bell allotted $75 million for advertising for the launch. The marketing plan for the specialty taco included several forms of media, relying heavily on social media campaigns. Prior to the launch, Twitter users were encouraged to compose tweets using the hashtags #DoritosLocosTacos and #Contest. The competitors with the most retweeted tweets were rewarded with a visit from the Taco Bell Truck, stocked full of Doritos Locos Tacos before they were released in stores.

A recent  Taco Bell commercial features user-submitted photos on Facebook, Instagram, and via email. Instagram users who posted pictures of their tacos with the hashtag #livemascontest were eligible to win prizes such as a trip to Pacifica, Calif., and a $5,000 college scholarship.

“We used social media and influencer engagement to enhance the launch and saw great results," Williams says. "It's a craveable product to begin with, but when you put the power of traditional media and online media together, the launch was even better,” Williams says.

The taco is leaving its mark on popular culture, even receiving a favorable review from New York Times food criticWilliams Grimes. The band Passion Pit licensed their song, "Take a Walk" for a Doritos Locos commercial and performed it on "Saturday Night Live," actress Anna Kendrick tweeted about her affinity for the DLT, and mixed martial arts fighter Gian Villante admitted to eating Doritos Locos Tacos after difficult matches.

“Success isn't just the marketing and media; it's also operations as far as getting a product that our restaurants can make quickly and easily and make it delicious,” Williams notes. “All the teams have to come together to make it happen—marketing, operations, and finance.”

Prior to joining Yum! Brands, Williams honed her strategy chops at Dell and then Boston Consulting Group, earning her MBA from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management along the way. As a working mother, Williams says she was drawn to a position at Yum! because of the work-life balance, and stays motivated by the knowledge that her team’s work directly grows the Taco Bell brand at home and abroad. She says the sense of community and teamwork at Yum! sets it apart from other large, international companies.

“The thing I love about Yum! is the recognition culture,” Williams says. “In my team meeting we spend the first 15 minutes just taking time to recognize what the different team members have done to help each other in the last month. Other companies might take the time every quarter to recognize someone, but at Yum! it’s in the DNA every day.”

So what can fans expect for the Doritos Locos Taco in the future? Will there be more where this blockbuster hit snack came from? Williams says that Taco Bell is continuing to work on expanding the Doritos Locos Taco line, and the product’s growth is far from over.

“We’re continuing to work on other ‘flavors of the shell,’” Williams says, using Taco Bell staffers’ favorite expression signifying their devotion to all things taco. "We launched the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos in March of this year. Our favorite line is, 'Collect all two!'"

Originally published in Open Magazine, McCombs Today

What's Missing in Modern Medicine?

A new breed of MDs thinks an MBA is the cure for an ailing healthcare system.

David Riley

Neonatologist David Riley was adept at placing central arterial lines for sick newborns. But navigating the inefficiencies within the healthcare system was a different story. Now, as a second-year student in the Texas MBA at Dallas/Fort Worth program, he is learning the management skills to help keep his industry from flatlining.

Riley graduated from the Stanford University School of Medicine in 1997. After his pediatric residency and neonatology fellowship, he became a fully certified neonatologist in 2004. He joined the Pediatrix Medical Group of Texas in 2007 and began caring for newborn babies needing intensive care in hospitals around Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He says he became interested in pediatric medicine because it is equal parts challenging and hopeful.

“Babies are incredibly resilient,” Riley says. “They just have a miraculous ability to heal themselves and get better.” Seeing his young patients improve is particularly significant for him. “It’s gratifying to know that when you have a positive impact, they have their whole life in front of them and you sent them out into the world to realize whatever potential they have.”

For Riley, that potential pushes him through even the most difficult days.

“No matter how hard you’re working and how tired you are, it’s easy to motivate yourself when you’re dealing with those kinds of outcomes.”

As a doctor, Riley says he can see what is working well in healthcare and what isn’t. While health professionals are providing quality care and making innovative discoveries every day, the industry itself could benefit from a more businesslike organization and streamlined processes, he says.

For example, while hospitals are moving from traditional medical recordkeeping to electronic record management, administrative and insurance organizations have been slow to make that change, leading to duplicate records. Riley says that his experience in the healthcare industry encouraged him to enroll in business school, and he hopes he can use his MBA to further reforms.

“If you look at physicians and people in the medical field, they don’t really know too much about business. And when you look at people in industry and certainly when you look at politicians, they don’t understand medical care very well,” Riley says. “I felt like a lot of the decisions regarding policy and the structure for reform and funding were being made in a way that was blind to what matters as far as providing quality care and access to care.”

Riley chose to be proactive and educate himself on the business side of healthcare. He believes that reforms would be more comprehensive if more doctors were informed about business.

“I think some aspects of MBA training should be incorporated into medical school, such as basic management, operations, and finance,” Riley says. “I think physicians should be more involved in management and administrative issues to allow those processes to be better aligned with what goes on at the bedside.”

Riley is not alone in this sentiment. According to the Association of MD/MBA Programs, there are more than 65 dual-degree programs across the United States. Students in these programs earn their MD and MBA simultaneously, learning both the medical and the business sides of healthcare.

According to Riley, his McCombs education has helped him understand how business processes work, and it has given him a new perspective on how healthcare management can be improved.

“Spending a good part of your life in medicine, it’s very easy to essentially have your head in the sand about everything else that is going on around you,” Riley says. “I never really thought a lot in detail about what’s required to run an organization well and efficiently. The biggest thing I’ve gotten from my McCombs experience is that it’s opened my eyes to all these different elements that surround the function of a business, from marketing to accounting to HR.”

Riley believes his business degree will afford him more opportunities both inside and outside of the medical industry. “It’s invaluable,” Riley says. “It’s been incredibly eye-opening to learn how the world works outside of my field.”

Originally Published in Open Magazine, McCombs Today