Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How Del Taco Became Consumer Centric

Researcher Serves Up Insights at Top Fast Food Brand

By Marc Dresner, IIR

As anyone who has ever had the opportunity can attest, starting a research function in a company that has thrived without one can be a daunting task, even with strong support from the top.

But for the researcher who truly believes in the power of insights and is unafraid to challenge convention in an entrenched culture, it can be a tasty proposition!

For instance, when Tom Johnson became the first director of consumer insights at Del Taco, not everyone at the nation’s #2 Mexican QSR chain was enthusiastic about embedding the voice of the customer into the decision making process.
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson, Del Taco

“Initially, I had departments that wouldn’t talk to me,” Johnson recalls. “They felt like the only thing I could do was slow them down.”

Not every researcher has the disposition to face that degree of apprehension and skepticism. And it’s been my experience as someone who talks to researchers for a living that not every such endeavor ends well.

Happily, Johnson’s story is different, and it’s a tale others can learn from.

“Over time we’ve been able to prove that being consumer centric will always better the brand in the long run,” Johnson told The Research Insighter.

“Even with the front line employees at our restaurants,” he added, “we have seen a dramatic turnaround in their perspective of being guest-centric. It’s really a great thing to be a part of and to have been a catalyst for within a brand like Del Taco.”

In this interview with The Research Insighter, Johnson shares his winning recipe for establishing a research department and a healthy appetite for insights, including:

• Establishing a foothold through R&D

• Wrapping insights in a holistic, business context

• Putting process to work, and more!

Editor’s note: Tom Johnson will be speaking at The Market ResearchEvent 2013 taking place October 21-23 in Nashville, TN.

For information or to register, please visit

Marc Dresner is IIR USA’s sr. editor and special communication project lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at Follow him @mdrezz.
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