An excerpt from The Tasti D-Lite Way, by James Amos, Chairman & CEO and BJ Emerson, VP Technology of Tasti D-Lite. Find out more about the company, book’s authors and where to purchase, here.
Early in the Tasti D-Lite acquisition process, we started to take a serious look at the content customers were creating on the web around the Tasti D-Lite brand and the product itself. At this point, there was little if any official presence or online engagement from the corporate office. An archaic and relatively static website served as the lone virtual representation of the brand.
We found it fascinating however that loyal customers had been busy on their own creating various blogs, groups, pages, and forums related to their Tasti experience. Aside from the periodic contributions of the usual media outlets, people were actively sharing their love for the product with friends within their social networks. Photos on Flickr, reviews on Yelp, and groups on Facebook with names like “Tasti D Lite Addicts” existed for fans to connect to. In hindsight, it would seem logical that such loyalists would spread the word online as they had done organically on the streets of New York City for many years.
We found this description on the “Tasti D Rules My Life” Facebook group: “For all of you New Yorkers out there, you understand the magic of Tasti-D-Lite. Have you ever intentionally ridden the subway 80 blocks to find a particular Tasti location? Tracked down your proximity to a storefront by observing those bright blue cups in garbage cans? Considered and/or have attempted to live solely on Tasti? I don’t blame you.”
When customers make up their own rules about a how other customers should act around a product, you might be onto something. The 2006 blog post of one enthusiast came up with the “Gospel of Tasti D-Lite” which was a list of admonitions for other customers patiently waiting in line for their Tasti D-Lite. For example, “If the line at Tasti D-Lite exceeds five persons, you are no longer entitled to a sample.”
We discovered one site because of its relatively high search engine ranking which was likely the result of its detailed entries describing and rating each flavor, often including pictures. This was the work of Sam D, a then Yale student and self-described “Tasti D enthusiast/evangelist” who began the blog in August 2007.
As excited as we were to find such great content and valuable insights, the harsh reality was that we were neglecting to engage and take advantage of the opportunity to interact, inform, and provide a great online experience. So it was here that our online adventure began. Our desire to not only recognize these enthusiasts but to build systems and applications to reward them for their digital activity would lead to some exciting days ahead.
Joining the Conversation
While customers don’t really need a corporate presence to interact around a product, the undeniable opportunity to be part of the conversation exists for just about any business type. Neglecting that opportunity can be perilous as competitors move in and look for ways to address the unmet needs of consumers in these growing social spaces.
Advances in technology are causing a fundamental shift in customer expectations, behavior, and ultimately control over their marketplace experience. As a result, businesses everywhere are clamoring to get their arms around the image, culture, and experience they deliver online and offline as the greatest transformation in the history of customer relations is now taking place. This confluence of customer control and corporate transparency is blurring the lines of traditional marketing and revealing the life, culture, and humanity within and around the brands with which we identify.
What will separate the winners from the losers in this new digital age? It will come down to the ability of businesses and organizations to not just allow but embrace transparency and boldly yet humbly meet customers face-to-face in ways previously unseen. Those that are understanding of the opportunity and are changing the way they do business are taking an early lead. As you’ll see, there are no shortcuts as search algorithms and social platforms are now rewarding more relevant and authentic advertisers.
Staying ahead in the race for transparency requires a bold vision, a fresh approach, a few geeks, and a heart to help people.There are others working hard to lead the way, helping to break new ground, and setting the pace and parameters for this race. At the core of this shift is our longing for connectivity, which is being fed by these new social networks but is ultimately driven by the desire for relationships. We want to share and connect. Caught in the middle are the products and services we use and love, while on the sidelines businesses are battling for fans, followers, and, in the end, loyalty throughout this new media frontier.
A Word About Strategy
Consumer adoption of new technologies has outpaced the ability of businesses and organizations to implement them. Keeping your corporate head above this groundswell of innovation requires just as much vision as it does strategy. As you’ll see, strategy starts with listening. Call it analysis, evaluation, or assessment if you like, but it is all about the least- used tool in the corporate toolbox—listening.
Having associates that are just as informed about these technologies as customers are is just part of the equation. Many businesses now have two kinds of doors. There’s a physical door and a cyber door. With many more people now coming through the latter, there needs to be a consistent experience both virtually and physically. Delivering those human experiences is going to require some emotional energy. Out of this humanness comes something that is reflective of the purpose, the culture, the mission, and values that all contribute to the personality of the brand. People want to be around whom they like and trust. Likability is more of a factor than ever before. There are hard costs associated with brick-and-mortar training, operations, and other disciplines but personality is free. Bad personalities and the poor customer experiences they provide can destroy everything else.
This is easier than it sounds. Having your people and platforms ready is a big part of being in the right position at the right time.Being ready when a new technology comes along is a critical element of any social media strategy. How do you plan and budget for what does not yet exist and may come and go before you even have a chance to adopt it? It seems that every week new communities or applications emerge that bring with them opportunities for brands to engage.
As we write this, Instagram (acquired by Facebook in 2012) and Pinterest are two that we could name, but where will they be when this book hits the shelves? If you can’t see them coming, you’ll need to know your customer, the specific needs of the market, and the trends and behaviors that are driving the use of these new technologies.
In hindsight, the presence or lack of strategy and/or preparedness for technology-based innovation is obvious. Milestones that may or may not have been distinct goals in the beginning now become clear. Looking back, we also see those who partnered with us to help us achieve our goals. Investing in the right relationships is a big part of preparedness.
Our acceleration of technological progress has us learning things faster than ever. The momentum of this intellectual runaway carries us to the next idea, iteration, and hopefully success or at least progress, assuming that we come to grips with failing and learning fast. Some are taking risks and riding waves, while many others remain spectators and are just waiting to see if the water is safe.
Our argument here would be that being a spectator is no longer safe. In times of plenty, customer innovation is likely to get put on the back burner. Many of the stories and examples you’ll find here were born not out of a period of surplus, but out of a need to sustain. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. Being relevant is one thing. Staying viable is another. This kind of need brings new discoveries that feed new opportunities, but you have to be in the game to win.