SoLoMoOn the heels of SXSW it’s clear that SoLoMo is a fact, not a fad. I catch up with  BJ Emerson , VP of Technology at Tasti D-Lite, the frozen treat chain with a cult following among health-conscious consumers as well as celebrities. The company doesn’t just get So Lo Mo — it has literally written the book on it, and will be releasing The Tasti D-Lite Way :Social Media Lessons for Building Loyalty and a Brand Customers Crave a bit later this year — so watch this space.

BJ, a champion of SoLoMo and an authority on the ways companies can and should harness mobile and location to super-charge Social CRM, spoke at dozens of industry events in the last year, where he discussed the importance of moving beyond mobile integration of loyalty and rewards programs to really understanding the emotions consumers feel and want to express as they engage with brands on this deeply personal level.

The approach certainly delivers results. This last year went on record as the “greatest growth” year in the history of the 24-year old brand. The brand —whose popularity has grown largely by word of mouth — is a veteran when it comes to customer engagement and social media marketing. Beyond U.S. growth, Tasti D-Lite is also expanding internationally, opening locations in Mexico, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

Customer rewards that matter

tasti d-lite logoHow has Tasti D-Lite encourage engagement? By understanding that consumers want to celebrate and share their experiences. In some ways this insight is more important than the mobile and location technologies that make check-ins and gamification possible.

As BJ puts it: “Our desire all along has been to reward them for their digital activity because if they’re going to share their Tasti D-Lite experiences with their friends. We want to celebrate that with them, and we want to reward them for that.”

It’s a balanced give and take that lays the groundwork for effective mobile (and word of mouth) marketing. “They’re sharing their whereabouts with their friends, so we’re using their network to spread the word about Tasti D-Lite.”

Interestingly, Tasti D-Lite also lets social media pick up some of the heavy-lifting around opening franchises and getting customers in the door. BJ recalls how — in many cases — “the first marketing efforts we have in a new state is a Facebook presence.” In fact, the chain has one location that had over 600 fans on Facebook before it even opened. “We use the social networks of our existing customers and advocates to drive awareness and meet new folks and help new folks understand what Tasti D-Lite is. And then they go and try it and they love it and so that’s how we’re growing with social media.”

Why fight Facebook & Co?

tasti d-lite mobile loyaltySocial media and social networks are more than marketing table stakes. They are also the life-blood of brands seeking to build customer engagement. Little wonder that some brands are quite apprehensive about integrating with existing social networks, essentially building on top of a foundation they don’t own — and where they can’t own the customer.

However, Tasti D-Lite made the conscious decision to integrate its loyalty program with Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook.

What was the motivation for this model? BJ tells me it was about reach. “We didn’t want to build our own closed community; we wanted to be able to integrate with these other communities and use their popularity with the millions of people they have on each of these networks.”

To achieve this Tasti  D-Lite integrated its loyalty program and database with leading social networks. The aim: a loyalty program that allows Tasti D-Lite customers to “earn extra loyalty points when they enable connections between their personal loyalty account and [their] Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook accounts.”

In practice a message goes out to friends and followers when a customer’s loyalty card is swiped at the point-of-sale. Nearly a year and a half after the fully integrated point-of-sale loyalty social solution was up and running, BJ counted over one million social impressions.

Our emotions matter

BJ left a huge impression on the audience when he spoke at the last location services event organized by The Where Business, the event organizer that is also behind the upcoming Location Business Summit Europe (May 22-23, Amsterdam).

In the run up to this must-attend event, I asked BJ to recount the highlights of his last presentation and give us his perspective on how (and why) companies should move up on the SoLoMo learning curve — fast.

For one, companies need to understand the “dynamics of these networks and applications versus the simple mechanics of them.” It’s not about how the technology works; it’s about how they trigger our emotions.

Put another way, it’s not enough to install the infrastructure to swipe cards and send out tweets. Companies have to celebrate with the customers.

Beyond finding ways to share (and so celebrate) the experience of becoming a mayor of a location, for example, BJ thinks there is a significant growth opportunity in “really bridging the gap between what’s happening in the virtual realm” and our real lives. One approach to consider: digital out of home now integrated with location-based marketing.

My take:

BJ Emerson (@bj_emerson)has become my go-to-guy for all things SoLoMo. I look forward to reading The Tasti D-Lite Way :Social Media Lessons for Building Loyalty and a Brand Customers Crave and having him back as a guest on MobileGroove soon. Is the next frontier about bridging the gap between digital — the gamification and the check-ins — with the physical world? The jury is out on that — but you can bet it will be a hot topic at the Location Business Summit Europe (May 22-23, Amsterdam).MobileGroove is proud to be a media sponsor — and I’m excited to attend the event.

Listen to the podcast here. [16:03]


Location Business Summit

Disclaimer: Look for more podcasts in this series, sponsored by The Where Business.