Italian ice chain gives customers a say

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Interactive agency NetPlus Marketing has developed a microsite for a Rita's Water Ice Franchise Company campaign to name a new flavor.

The effort, begun in August, asked in-store customers to taste and name the flavor by voting at http://www.ritastbd.com. The site design incorporated branding elements that also were used in promotion cups and posters in franchised locations throughout the Lehigh Valley area in Pennsylvania.

"The look that we were going for is sort of unfinished," said Denise Zimmerman, president and chief strategy officer of NetPlus Marketing, Conshohocken, PA. "When you visit the site, it feels like the creation of something new."

Within three weeks, Rita's drew 1,000 responses from its Pennsylvania-based customers. Early on, sales of the new product accounted for 10 percent of overall sales at some locations.

With the rise of Web 2.0, many marketers look to engage clients in a way that benefits business decisions, Ms. Zimmerman said, but it is important to define the goal before choosing the Web 2.0 tactic.

"Rita's wanted direct customer feedback that would be valuable to the way they run their business," she said. "That's why it was such a focused campaign to existing customers mostly."

Rita's plans similar campaigns using NetPlus Marketing throughout its 400-plus franchises from the East Coast to Ohio. A winning flavor name will be selected Jan. 15.

"[Brand safety or negative feedback] wasn't really a concern," Ms. Zimmerman said. "It was highly controlled since the people are from in-store. They've already experienced the product."

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