Taco Bell’s new AI, digital transformation: Friday’s daily brief

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Good morning, Marketers, let’s taco-bout martech.

As marketing continues to get more integrated with digital technology (see Merkle’s tech team expansion below), there are many questions about how humans fit into the equation. My ready response is that when it comes to technology, people direct it and keep it focused on company goals. Artificial intelligence doesn’t care about company success until it’s tailored by marketers to recognize demands for individual companies and customers.

Every brand is different in a competitive industry like fast food. They each have their own history and presence in the minds of consumers, but a self-evolving AI can make connections we don’t have time to. For those marketers who work with AI solutions on campaigns — and I’ve spoken to many of them — the biggest value seems to be how the AI optimizes marketing campaigns and performance with their specific company in mind. The progress the AI makes in the performance for one company won’t yield the same messaging or channels at another company. The AI becomes the brand’s secret sauce, so to speak.

Perhaps this theme will help us to focus on the big brands that are transforming digitally at an appropriate scale for their size. A local pizza shop might up its “near me” presence through search. On the other hand, a global network of food chains, like Yum Brands below, can throw their weight around and simply buy up an AI company. But with each of these actions, marketers at both orgs have taken another step on their digital journeys.

Chris Wood,


Taco Bell owner buys Kvantum  

Yum Brands, owner of quick-service chains like Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, announced plans to buy Kvantum, which uses AI technology to garner consumer insights and optimize marketing campaigns. U.S.-based Kvantum was founded in 2012, and has worked with several Yum brands in international markets. 

In 2015, Yum purchased Collider Lab, a firm that develops culture-based consumer insights with the help of sociologists and anthropologists. The plan is for Yum Brands to combine these insights with the new AI to help reach consumers more efficiently.

Yum Brands has been dabbling in AI solutions to boost customer engagement for several years now. In 2016, Taco Bell debuted an AI-powered “TacoBot” that received meal orders through voice conversation.

Why we care. Dining and retail have been changed permanently by an increase in digital engagement. When stores open more fully, there will be fewer walk-ins who haven’t pre-ordered through a brand’s digital footprint. With more ad spend devoted to digital, and with offline channels like out-of-home being bought programmatically, it makes sense for an advertiser at this scale to implement a digital campaign optimization solution. Entities like the McD Tech Labs at McDonald’s also advance this industry trend.

Communication strategies for company-wide change  

There’s a lot of talk about digital transformation, but it’s important to understand that it doesn’t come down to enhanced technology. True digital transformation is tied to more fundamental corporate change. 

Communication is key to successful corporate change. And language matters. That may be one reason “digital transformation” plays better in companies than just “building digital capabilities.” Transformation sounds aspirational, part of a company-wide strategy. Managing data to enhance customer and employee experience sounds like work, and is probably too technical.

Change is unlikely to succeed if it’s forced on people; it has to be created with them. And while change needs to be supported from the top, it works best if it comes from the middle. That is, involving the folks who make things happen day-to-day within an organization and are closest to the customers.

There are obviously more detailed steps to successful transformation, but if you distill most approaches to their essence, they boil down to those two things: communication and involvement. That’s the message from Mark Berns, independent consultant on technology and organization design.

Read More

Merkle boosts martech team

Powerhouse marketing agency Merkle, announced the expansion of its technology team, resulting in three new leadership roles. Matthew Mobley will serve as EVP, chief technology officer, Americas. He will join Pete Rogers, technology consulting leader, and Mark Engelke, the new growth officer.

Quote of the day

“From the data we have on demographics [in the pharmaceutical industry], reaching the right audience is three times more important than the actual message.” Chris Paquette, CEO and co-founder DeepIntent.

About The Author

Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country’s first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on “innovation theater” at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.

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