Editor’s note: This story is covered in a video in Ragan’s new distance-learning portal RaganTraining.com. The site contains more than 200 hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses. For membership information, please click here. A woman in New York City tweets, “Waiting for 4:30. Going uptown to meet husband, get some Tasti D-Lite or Mr. Softee. Mmmm … ice cream.”
B.J. Emerson—an executive with the dual brand Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie—follows her on Twitter and sends her a tweet from @tastidlite. The woman notices, exclaims “OMG,” and then asks about Tasti’s rival: “Where is Mr. Softee?”
Well, Tasti is listening—and offers her coupons for the site where she’s heading. Guess whose ice cream the couple bought.
Social media’s location-based services have changed everything about marketing, Emerson says. Tasti has melded punch cards and coupons with the word-of-mouth that is social media—a double dip of customer loyalty and free advertising, says Emerson, who is vice president of technology for Tasti/Smoothie.
“We used to call it stalking,” Emerson jokes. “Now we call it location-based marketing.”
How to pull off customer interaction that pays dividends? Any strategy, he says, should start with diligent monitoring—the most important tactic on the Internet.
When Twitter users visit Tasti, all their followers can know about it—and customers needn’t type a thing. If they allow Tasti D-Lite to tweet automatically on their behalf, they get points toward a free ice cream, Emerson says.
The ice creamery has made it possible for customers to check in with just a swipe of their card, so customers can share their location with their friends.
“Score!” one fan tweeted. “I just earned 8 TastiRewards points and sent this message automatically via http://myTasti.com.”
Tasti gets a free jolt of social media buzz, and the ice cream scarfer gets another point toward a free cup or cone of a low-calorie dairy dessert.
“What we’ve done is turned an active check-in—you know, you’ve got to go on your phone and do a search and check in—to a passive check-in,” says Emerson.
From social negligence to social friendliness
Not long ago, Tasti D-Lite was a “social negligent” brand, Emerson says, having no social media presence at all. As the company began to branch out from its home in Manhattan with a franchising effort, Emerson and others noticed how much its fans were saying online.
For instance, one blogger started a blog in which he rated each Tasti D-Lite flavor on a scale from four (D-LITEFUL) to one (NASTI). Meanwhile, Facebook groups with hundreds of followers professing their love for the dessert maker were growing.
“Tasti D-Lite is following me,” wrote one. “#ivemadeit seriously I love it.”
One of the earliest rewards Tasti devised was the issuing of online coupons distributed via Twitter. On one occasion, Tasti reached out to anyone in or around the Empire State Building simply by searching for its name and offering a coupon to people talking about the building.
“We saw things like that and we said, hey, we really need to be engaging here,” Emerson says. “Our thought was, if someone’s talking about Tasti D-Lite online, they should really be rewarded.”
Tasti D-Lite offered two types of coupons: one that users could print out, and one that was the tweet itself. Customers could show the cashier the phone message say, “Here’s my coupon,” Emerson says. The company can track Twitter coupon use through buttons at the register.
Tasti D-Lite was one of the first companies to use Foursquare’s “nearby specials” feature, which it demonstrates in this video. When Foursquare mayors (heavy users of a brand) drop in, the company goes out of its way to greet them.
Tasti D gave customers the option to connect their loyalty cards to their Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare accounts. If customers opt in using mytasti.com, a message goes out—originally in Tasti D-Lite’s words, though users now can write their own—through those accounts.
Tasti has generated millions of impressions through the program, Emerson says. Loyalty customers spend about 36 percent more using the point system, compared with punch cards, he says.
“We really try to set the tone and culture around being social friendly,” Emerson says.
Franchises get with it
This means someone who has a physical storefront must operate a virtual storefront as well. Each new Tasti/Softie location, he says, sets up aFacebook page before it opens to show the physical location’s construction, he says.
“This really becomes part of doing business, as far as we’re concerned,” he says.
That has trickled down for all the employees, Emerson says, though some part-time or new cashiers may not know that when they swipe a loyalty card a message is going out to potentially thousands of Twitter followers.
Tasti D-Lite is even training employees on how to deal with lost cards or digital coupons. “It’s taken a lot of time and energy to do that, but we think it’s worth the investment,” Emerson says.