The CMO Interview

Tasti D-Lite's Loyalty Innovation, Now an 'Organic' Campaign

CMO Bill Zinke Lets Social Media -- and Consumer Experience -- Drive Latest Push to Solidify Brand

By Published on .

In a world crowded with frozen treats, Tasti D-Lite is a beacon of light -- lightweight, that is -- as well as healthful living. That's the message of its latest campaign.

Bill Zinke
Bill Zinke

Earlier this month it launched its Tasti Healthy Habit Search, with help from Minneapolis-based agency Flying Colors -- a yearlong contest to find people who have changed their lifestyle habits for the better, including incorporating Tasti D-Lite into their diets in lieu of more fattening fare.

It's the latest marketing move from a growing company, founded in 1987, with big dreams -- and a big following, spurred significantly in the past few years by an aggressive foray into social media. Front and center is its TastiRewards loyalty program, which last year expanded to enable consumers to connect to it via their social networks, like Foursquare and Twitter.

Heading up marketing efforts is CMO Bill Zinke, 48, a Unilever, Baskin-Robbins and Dippin' Dots veteran who brought his extensive brand-management and food-marketing experience to the company when he joined two-and-a-half years ago, a couple of years after the company was purchased from its founder by a private-equity firm and later converted from a licensed to a franchise business. "[CEO and former Mailboxes, Etc. CEO Jim Amos] really understands the impact and rapid opportunities that franchises enable," he said. "And that was the goal -- to take this New York gem and really grow the brand around the world."

After it was purchased in 2007, the company changed its logo, updated its store design, built an entirely new team and moved headquarters from New York to Nashville.

Along the way, Mr. Zinke has come to embrace the power of social media in brand building. "I'm a classically trained marketer who is more entrepreneurially minded," he said, one who has become "more socially aware and more aware of how marketers need to be thinking going into the next 10 or 15 years -- which was not operating in the classical-only mind-set but literally every day there are new opportunities and new ways to integrate social media into what you're doing, which touches more people than in the old days of just blasting out messages on TV or radio or outdoor."

He explained the new campaign and how important social media has become to Tasti D-Lite as a way to build customer relationships and brand loyalty.

Ad Age: Tell me about the campaign.

Mr. Zinke: We started with a New Year's campaign that had the theme of, "start a Tasti habit," with the whole philosophy being that Tasti D-Lite is a healthier treat. We're trying to be as a brand an advocate of healthy eating, healthy habits, and so "start a Tasti habit" was building off this idea that people have told us over 24 years that it's one key part of their overall eating regimen. It evolved into how to take that into the new year. We have had these [weight-loss success] stories over time, and we had this very recent data in Houston that have shown that if people make smart choices and Tasti D-Lite can be a part of that [change in lifestyle, they can lose weight]. We took the theme and created the Healthy Habit Search. We've already gotten an influx of submissions that tell just a wonderful story of people who have made changes and are striving for something different and better. We're in the process of selecting our April winner and then packaging up that marketing campaign and then rolling it out. It has been the perfect balance of developing organically, by us listening to our customers, and strategic, in terms of what we want to tell the world about our brand.

Ad Age: What's its media mix?

Mr. Zinke:We are going to start by launching it [in stores]; it'll be on our website, featuring winners on our campaign-focused website as well. It's going to start and focus there for a bit, and then we'll probably look for opportunistic ways to supplement that in local markets. It's a national program, but the dollars we spend will be predominantly focused on the markets we currently serve. There is not only a consumer incentive -- $1,000 cash prize plus a monthly supply of Tasti D-Lite -- there's also recognition for the franchisees whose stores are recognized as the places that nurtured customer relationships, i.e. with the ones selected.

Ad Age: What research informed this campaign?

Mr. Zinke:Because each of the stories are coming from the consumer, we can let that essentially be the voice of the brand. They can say what we'd say, but it's more powerful -- it ends up becoming a number of voices of the brand from people who are real ambassadors of the brand and connected with the brand emotionally.

Ad Age: How is this further defining the brand?

Mr. Zinke:By making it clear that Tasti D-Lite is not ice cream, it's not frozen yogurt, it's a category by itself, it's completely different. It also furthers the education -- we don't just talk about being a healthier brand, we're being incorporated into peoples lives to help them live healthier.

Ad Age: What's informing your efforts in this role?

1. Stay close to the customer. This is easier than ever with social media.
2. Listen. There's still a lot more to learn than we already know.
3. Stay focused. Make sure the marketing team's activities connect to strategic priorities.
4. Follow and defend your brand guidelines but be willing to modify them when there's more upside than downside.
5. One game-changing big idea is worth a thousand little ones -- and it can take less time and energy to implement.

Mr. Zinke:I got a fantastic foundational business education from Northwestern University's J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, where my concentration was in marketing. At Unilever, I learned what it truly takes to manage all aspects of a brand, from brand positioning to the various elements of the marketing mix right through to the P&L. While I was VP-marketing at Ready Pac, a leader in the bagged salad and fresh-cut-produce industry, I gained phenomenal experience in a smaller company marketing healthy foods in a fast-changing and rapidly growing category. And my previous stints with two other franchised frozen-treat concepts helped me understand not only the category and consumer dynamics within frozen desserts but also the unique needs and critical success factors of working in a franchised business.

Ad Age: What's the biggest threat to CMOs' staying power these days,and what must they work to overcome?

Mr. Zinke:The biggest threat or challenge to CMOs today is staying up with how the internet and social media have forever changed the marketing of consumer brands. I can say that I'm still coming to grips with this myself. But I've come to appreciate how vital this is short term and long term in staying relevant with consumers, building strong customer relationships and enhancing brand loyalty. We have begun to integrate this into our thinking and our marketing plans to the extent that we have won social-media/technology-innovation awards for our TastiRewards loyalty program and have even become recognized as a pioneer within the quick-service restaurant industry in this area.

Ad Age: What's the biggest mistake you've made in your career, and how have you learned from it?

Mr. Zinke:One of the biggest was developing a brand-new ad campaign at one of my previous companies that I felt was going to connect perfectly with our customers but simply missed the mark. While our agency and our internal marketing folks were in love with the concept, we were too close to the brand and it simply was too far a stretch for the consumer to make. The great lesson was one that I think marketers continuously relearn ... that you need to regularly step back from the brand and look at the world through the consumers' eyes.

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