Taco Bell had a landmark moment late last year when they offered a sneak peek into the future of their brand experience by unveiling their first flagship restaurant and cantina in Las Vegas.

The launch day of their seven-thousandth restaurant, centrally located on the Las Vegas Strip, where you can order boozy slushies and get married from the menu, was also complemented with a redesign of their logo, their first in over 20 years.

The moves write a new chapter for the quick service industry brand’s evolution, who has plans of becoming a $15 billion company by 2022.

It’s no secret that Taco Bell does this differently. Whether it be their famous ad mascot and chihuahua declaring “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” in year’s past to partnering with brands like PlayStation for pop-up VR arcades, Airbnb for SteakCationsstarting secret speakeasies and launching a Live Mas Scholarship program in just the last few months, the restaurant chain has built a rabid and loyal customer base with a series of socially relevant and forward-thinking activations.

Virtual Reality Pop Up NYC

The combination of moves position Taco Bell to reignite an appetite for their menu of offerings, especially during a time when people think thrice before hitting the drive-thru.

According to a report by Brand Finance, a desire for healthy food choices is negatively affecting brand value across the quick service restaurant table, and Taco Bell’s brand value is down by 10 percent.

Taco Bell is shifting some marketing dollars around to alleviate this and help rebuild the trust process by spending more on digital than on TV—a space where they have experienced a series of successes. Some of their recent marketing hits on digital include placing orders through Slack using a TacoBot, creating GIFs and emojis as a source for continued social currency, a Snapchat lens on Cinco De Mayo that broke then-records and a YouTube series dubbed “Taco Tales.” Earlier this month, they also partnered with Foursquare, who launched a dynamic data dashboard—think Google Analytics, but for the real world—to help understand foot traffic.

Jennifer Arnoldt, Taco Bell’s marketing director of brand experience, joined [a]listdaily to talk more about the brand’s foray into the future.

Jennifer Arnoldt, Taco Bell’s marketing director of brand experience
Jennifer Arnoldt, Taco Bell’s marketing director of brand experience

How are consumer touchpoints evolving? What is Taco Bell doing to stay at the cutting edge of the restaurant experience?

A perfect example is our flagship location in Las Vegas that was launched in November. We were looking at this notion of ‘it used to be food and fuel’ but now we’re transitioning into ‘food and experience.’ So, what are the things that we can do that can make the Taco Bell brand more than just corporate? The idea of a ‘one size fits all’ restaurant and restaurant experience does not work. Those days are over for us. Right now, we just tested restaurant concepts that are unique to Taco Bell, but they all go back to the Taco Bell brand. We are focusing on an idea of localization. You’ll see this with murals and art, and in using local artists in restaurants. We’re going to open 2,000 more restaurants in the next five years. We need to make sure we’re in the middle of local cultures and becoming a part of local neighborhoods and their experiences.

Redesigning an iconic logo is not an easy decision to make. Why was it critical to do this?

We last updated our logo in 1995. The logo needed to catch up to where the brand was going. When we first started, it kind of evolved and became something more than just a logo. We wanted to do something more modern and distinctive to recreate a relevant identity in the marketplace—but not a complete overhaul. We wanted to focus on retaining the bell. We are calling it an ‘evolution’ and not a ‘revolution.’ And then the last thing that we really spent a lot of time looking at was the role color played with identity. Once we started working on that part, it kind unlocked an idea of ‘going from a brand as logo’ to ‘brand as icon.’ As we thought about it with Taco Bell Design, our internal advertising agency that does our merchandising, packaging and marketing, it’s really an evolution of the brand. The one thing I’ll say is that it’s hard to launch a logo, so we were strategic with a quiet and soft launch. Social media and the internet can be a cruel place. We didn’t want to scream from the mountaintop that ‘we have a new logo!’ That was by design, and intended.

Taco Bell Vegas2

What are some of your key marketing findings from the Las Vegas location?

When we worked on the logo, one of the things that were really important to us was ‘how we unveiled the logo to the world’ because there are some brands who have struggled a little bit with the adaption of their logo. Las Vegas is really the future of Taco Bell. It’s been doing fantastic, and the Vegas location is everything that we had hoped it would be. People are actually staying and hanging out inside the restaurant. It’s where we focused on innovative design, technologies and retail experiences inside an entire restaurant like DJs and VIP lounges in the cantina. Heck, we’re even doing weddings there! It’s all about fueling experiences for the cult of the brand. When you have a localized experience that makes sense for that market, and you do it right, you can have a lot of success.

Is there an appetite for such activations?

We want to be where the consumers are. A perfect example is that our fans are leveraging the power of the brand to all things, like social media, so we’re really just helping build that fire and magnifying the cult of the brand.

How are you experimenting with new platforms to communicate and reach digital-first consumers? Has your social strategy also changed in the space?

We’ve been a leader in the digital space for quite some time. We were one of the first brands to be on Snapchat. Our Taco Bell head lens broke Snapchat records. It all comes down to being a facilitator of that brand love. If you just search ‘Taco Bell’ on Twitter, or Instagram, you can see an amazing capture of love for the brand. It’s important for brands to leverage that—not take advantage of it, but lean into it by giving fans some tools they would need to enhance and share their experiences. The team has done a great job of pushing the boundaries that many brands haven’t.

Taco Bell Vegas3

What kind of experiential marketing and messaging do you have planned this year? Is there a specific space or platform you plan on testing?

We talk a lot about transcending the quick service industry. We’re looking at making our restaurant experience completely different. An example would be creating custom curated music playlists and pumping them into our restaurants. In January, we did a secret Taco Bell speakeasy offering free naked chicken chalupas. In Las Vegas, we’re looking at retail by selling Taco Bell apparel. It’s super cool, and it’s selling more than we ever expected. We’re looking at a lot of different experiences beyond just the restaurant—all while supporting our marketing calendar.

How will you be measuring the success of Taco Bell’s new brand identity?

‘What does success look like?’ I think we’ve been there by delivering on the creativity that the brand is all about. One of the challenges that we have is that we have 7,000 restaurants. So it’s going to take a while to transition into the new Taco Bell—all while new stuff keeps coming in. When you look at how Taco Bell approaches business—innovation is at the core of every level. You see it in food, retail, experience—everything that we’ve been talking about.

What are the insights and data that influence your marketing strategy? Is there a new product or service that you think will influence decisions?

We draw inspiration from everywhere and everything, like fashion, music and art. We constantly have a pulse and know what is going on in the world and focusing on where our fans are. We try to go beyond the quick service industry and look outside of traditional categories. That’s our major focus.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan