Chipotle CEO Is Borrowing From His Own Taco Bell Playbook



Part of what made Brian Niccol so successful as Taco Bell’s CMO—chief marketing and innovation officer, to be exact—was creating anticipation and excitement. He mastered the art of communicating that news (products, marketing, packaging, a social media campaign) was always about to break at the Yum! Brands-owned franchise, and that it would be relevant to Taco Bell’s youthful customers.

Now Niccol is attempting to build that same sense of expectation at Chipotle, where he’s been CEO of the struggling brand since March 5th (with inducement awards to sweeten the deal). The hope is that lightning will strike twice and he’ll be able to create excitement and brand refreshing developments.

Chipotle x DoorDash

Chipotle on Monday announced that it has partnered with DoorDash to make delivery service available at its more than 1,500 restaurants nationwide. The service will expand on Chipotle’s delivery promotion during the Super Bowl weekend in 40 U.S. markets with Postmates, and makes good on CEO Brian Niccol’s pledge to boost the brand’s visibility.

Niccol replaced Chipotle Founder and CEO Steve Ells last month, when the board also named Bloomin’ Brands vet Chris Brandt CMO. While Niccol reported promising quarterly results to Wall Street last week, including a 2.2% gain in same-store sales results, most of Niccol’s excitement was in pitching what’s coming down the pike at Chipotle.

At Taco Bell, of course, Niccol played a big role in producing a constant pace of successful innovations that included Doritos Locos Tacos and the brand’s move into breakfast. Ells and the Chipotle board hired him after three horrible years that were dominated by tainted food outbreaks, a pork shortage, a sales slump, underperforming marketing and innovation in terms of new products, and a lackluster launch of Chipotle’s long-awaited queso.

“I believe [Chipotle] has been invisible and I think as the brand becomes visible and we lead culture, that’s going to be a huge opportunity going forward,” Niccol told analysts last week. “The people that are loyal to this brand, that’s what they want to be a part of.” He added, “The opportunity is really exciting for what this brand has in front of it. The innovation will be across the business.”

Ob-sauced with you.

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As Niccol has been telling analysts and the press, Chipotle now needs to grow on multiple fronts: sales, margins, brand relevance and purpose. Niccol said that would include pushing to new day parts, perhaps breakfast; emphasizing dietary options and the quality of its made-by-hand menu; and coming up with the sort of product innovation that Chipotle has been badly lacking. Fans like the simplicity of Chipotle’s ingredients, the transparency about its food sourcing, and the cleanness of the recipes, but Chipotle has added little variety.

Chipotle delivery options

Niccol wants to boost the convenience factor of Chipotle overall, among other things making customers more aware of its ordering app and making online ordering, pickup and delivery easier, with DoorDash, Postmates and Tapingo (for colleges) ready to deliver orders. It’s also promoting that it has a separate queue in-stores for mobile order pick-up, while drive-through testing is underway. It’s also hoping to woo more educators with a promotion to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Day on May 8.

And whereas in the past Chipotle’s marketing emphasized environmental sustainability and its ethical supply chain, areas it’s still committed to, now it’s appealing to youths with 4/20 jokes and promposals.

High, how are you?

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Ah, yum love.

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