Healthful frozen dessert chain Tasti D-lite has built a respectable cult following for itself in the New York market and built up that following using social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Unpaid product placements on Big Apple-centric shows such as “Sex And the City”, “The Apprentice” and “30 Rock’ haven’t hurt, of course.
But about six months ago the chain took a big new step into Web 3.0 by giving its most devoted customers—those who belong to its TastiRewards loyalty program– incentives to link their card to their Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare accounts.
Customers pick up a TreatCard in-store will first go to Mytasti.com to register that card. Once at the site, they can also enable their Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare accounts to send automated tweets or do automatic check-ins or status updates when they swipe the card at one of Tasti D-lite’s 50 outlets in seven states.
For each social update they send out, TastiRewards users get one extra point per purchase. Like other TastiRewards users, they’ll also earn a point for every dollar spent on menu items. Once they accumulate 50 points, users can redeem them for a free medium cup or cone from the chain.
The company offers about a dozen different automated messages that users can select, all incorporating both the location of the store where they just earned their points and a link to the MyTasti Web site to encourage others to sign up. Sample message: “Had to get my fix over here at Tasti D-lite Columbus Circle NYC. I’m 5 points closer to a freebie.”
If they don’t choose one of the custom messages, users who’ve permitted access to their social profiles automatically send a more generic update out to their friends and followers. Users can also go into Mytasti.com to change their messaging.
Tasti D-lite, launched in 1987, was bought from its founders by a private equity group in 2007. At that time, the new owners noticed that the brand had a substantial grass-roots following online. “Fans had already been creating great content without any official representation,” says BJ Emerson, social technology officer for the chain. “Then in time we noticed people checking in to Tasti D-lite on networks such as Foursquare and Yelp! And we thought, why not reward these people for their social discussions?
“Simultaneously we were building a loyalty platform where they could use one card to earn points at all our locations and then go online to check their points balance. So the idea came up to integrate the two,” Emerson says. The company bolted on the social networks using their application interfaces with very little extra effort.
While the bottom-line impact of such social marketing may be hard to quantify, there’s no disputing the fact that the geo-based loyalty effort has helped Tasti D-lite identify many of the influentials within its social community. “We found one member who has 9,000 followers on Twitter,” says CMO Bill Zinke.
The company’s outlets are almost entirely franchise-owned. In fact, the purpose of introducing a permanent loyalty card was to replace an old punch-card system that could not be honored across the company simply because franchisees could not be sure the punches were authentic. Once they were persuaded to install the card readers needed for the new system, Emerson says, getting them to go one step further and add the social-media link was easy.
“There are a couple of franchisees that we’re still working with, so the changeover is not literally systemwide,” he says. “But the vast majority has embraced it, now that we can capture usage data and show them where points are being earned and redeemed.” Being able to point to the number of brand fans in their markets with 1,000 or 2,000 followers was also pretty persuasive.
The social loyalty initiative puts Tasti D-lite into what is essentially still a small group of merchants who have linked their loyalty programs to geo-location platforms such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Brightkite. Last month InterContinental Hotel Group announced it was linking its Priority Rewards program to the Topguest platform, enabling loyalty members to earn points for checking in via a range of geo-based networks to one of IHG’s brands, including Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Indigo hotels.
The Pepsi Loot proprietary smartphone app encourages users to sign up and then check in at retail locations serving Pepsi to earn points for music downloads and other entertainment. The company is reported to be working to hook into Foursquare’s platform, possibly later this year.
“Integrating social media into loyalty made sense for us, because we saw what customers were already doing online with our brand,” says Emerson. “As marketers think about the viability of these [geo-based networks] , they should ask, Are our customers using it or aren’t they? Are we building systems and applications that are social-friendly? Because this is the future.”