New book shows how famed New York City business made social media part of its growth strategy
Tasti D-Lite’s delicious low-calorie desserts have drawn a cult following in New York City since the company started in 1987. Its raving fans include celebrities and directors who have given it starring roles on episodes of Sex and the City, 30 Rock and, most recently, HBO’s Girls.
Since he took over the company in 2007, Tasti D-Lite CEO Jim Amos has worked with Tasti D-Lite VP of Technology B.J. Emerson to expand the brand’s reach through social media, paving the way for growth into new markets.
Their success and innovation earned them inclusion in Twitter’s Business 101 Case Studies, which led to invitations to be launch partners for new business products for companies including Foursquare and Google.
They are sharing their stories and strategies Sept. 7 with the release of The Tasti D-Lite Way: Social Media Marketing Lessons for Building Loyalty and a Brand Customers Crave (McGraw-Hill).
Tasti D-Lite has raving fans in New York City, which has led to star turns on Sex and the City, 30 Rock and Girls. How have you managed to keep the level of excitement high as the company has grown into new areas?
JA: I think in terms of maintaining the level of brand relevance, you have to remember that Tasti D-Lite has been around almost 25 years now and has grown organically in what is one of the most difficult retail environments in the world — Manhattan — and it did that based on its great taste. It wasn’t driven by any cohesive marketing program. Something really unique happened here, and that is that the consumers positioned this product in their own minds as a healthier product, which it is. In fact, it has the best nutritional profile in the category. The appearances on The Apprentice, Sex and the City and 30 Rock were all driven by actresses, the actors and/or the directors who were Tasti D-Lite customers. That was the fertile ground in which we began to build a social media program. There were great raving fans, and we tapped into that dialogue and conversation and continued to leverage it to where it is today.
BE: In the book, we talk about some conversations we’ve had with celebrities and how we’ve been able to use social media to extend the conversation with them. We see all kinds of opportunities to extend the conversation online with people who have one follower on Twitter to people who have millions of followers. They’re great opportunities, all of them.
What do you hope people will learn from The Tasti D-Lite Way?
BE: We’re trying to inspire the next generation of customer engagement innovators. It’s about innovation in the customer experience. We want to show others what is possible when we engage in this way.
JA: I can tell you from the various boards I sit on that some companies think that by using the term “social media,” they can participate in it, and they don’t have a clue as to what that really means. I think this work can provide assistance, guidance — a pathway for all of those people. And I think that they will find it very interesting.
How have you gotten customers to engage with your brand?
BE: With every new location, we look at the online activity and get a pulse of what’s happening there. We empower our franchisees to get online, and we give them the tools and training to start connecting with the conversation that is already taking place in the community. Then, as people see their friends talking about the brand, the question then becomes, “When will you come to my city?” We have kept those people in a database, and when we do go to a certain city, we can reconnect with them and have an advocate in this new market.
Getting “Liked” is one thing, building loyalty and sales are another. How has your social media strategy translated into bricks-and-mortar stores?
JA: Much of what we talk about is not just engaging in the dialogue, but doing it in such a way that you can create relationships and reward customers for their digital activity. If there is a theme you’ll find throughout the book, it’s attempting to create a bellybutton-to-bellybutton or face-to-face level of trust that keeps people motivated and loyal. Most individuals want to belong to some type of club with like-minded individuals who share the same passion, the same desires, and I think high-satisfaction companies understand that the power of building that kind of community around a brand is just amazing, and that’s what social media allows. Communities lead to loyalty, and loyalty brings more people into your stores, which leads to profitability.
Tasti D-Lite has taken a comprehensive approach to social media, building relationships with customers through Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. If you were a small business owner just starting out, and only had time to manage one, which would it be?
BE: Obviously, the big one is Facebook — that’s where you’re going to have almost a billion people — unless there was something very unique about your market or you saw a bigger opportunity with a new startup that was very popular. And we see that. For instance, Instagram is generating a lot of interaction around one of our Planet Smoothie locations in Cary, N.C. The numbers obviously are on Facebook, but you may find a better signal-to-noise ratio on a smaller network depending on your market and your demographic. Unless you’re listening, you’re not going to know where that is.
What sets this book apart?
JA: What sets this apart from other books about using social media is its brand relevance and its focus on how to grow and leverage a brand through social media.
BJ: One of the big trends in public relations is brand journalism. We’re in the midst of these story wars. If you can tell a good story, if you have a good story and you live it out, people can identify with that. We’re telling our story and telling everyone else to tell their story.