Tucked away in North Miami is the headquarters of one of the fasting growing gourmet meal delivery businesses in America, The Fresh Diet. When former real estate agent, Zalmi Duchman saw the industry slowing down in 2006, he spent $500 to incorporate his business and setup a basic website. Then he ran an ad in the Miami herald and started a Google adwords account. Soon after, he was shopping and cooking for his first few clients. Fresh Diet delivers fresh, nutritionally balanced, gourmet meals daily across the U.S. They have gained high profile clients and social media followers by hiring celebrities to Tweet. When he first started investing in celebrity tweets in late 2010, the company had revenues of $15 million and 150 employees with a marketing budget of $1.5 million. The bulk of the budget went towards direct mail & digital ad buys. Other PR efforts were pitching celebrity clients to magazines like People & US Weekly & TV shows like The View & E! News.
The Fresh Diet team believed in the power of celebrity and they thought they might have success on social media. Mr. Duchman used a service called Twit Change, an auction where one can bid on celebrities to tweet. He went to auction with $30,000 to bid for celebrities to Tweet, "Hey Check out The Fresh Diet, America's number one gourmet diet." He won tweets from Demi Moore, Jessica Simpson, Eva Longoria and Michael Strahan for the total cost of $30,000. Fresh Diet serves a lifestyle customer, working professionals that don't have time to cook. "Dieters come and go and our lifestyle customers stay for a long time" paying on average $1,200 for 31 days of meals according to Mr. Duchman. He launched the business using Google adwords and direct mail as his primary marketing tools.
The Fresh Diet started using celebrity tweets at the end of 2010 with just 10,000 followers on Twitter and after the celebrity Tweet campaign had 40,000 followers. It took about three months to increase the company following. Mr. Duchman made these purchases during a week-long auction. The tweets started going out within two weeks of receiving his bid and they saw buzz on their social media accounts instantly. Mr. Duchman also used AD.ly to buy a tweet picture of Kloe Kardashian holding a The Fresh Diet cooler bag, which had a price tag of $10,000. He worked with a PR company to push out the tweet pic to the media and it ended up in Oprah's O magazine.
The Fresh Diet has also gotten tweets from former Playboy playmates Kendra Wilkinson, Holly Madison and Heidi Montag, but after some of his loyal customers complained openly on the company's Facebook page about the playmates representing the brand he learned that you need to be careful engaging spokespeople with tarnished brands, "You don't want to have the wrong person represent the brand," said Mr. Duchman. The company has had success engaging existing celebrity clients into tweeting on behalf of the brand. Television personality Maria Menounos was on The Fresh Diet so they reached out to her people and paid her $2,000 a month to get her to tweet 3 times a month, post on Instagram and share of Facebook. Mr. Duchman felt like it was worth it, "I believe we grew about 10% in followers thanks to her mentioning us across her social media platforms."
Fresh Diet other celebrity clients including CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King, actress Julianna Margulies, and Brittany Spears' ex Kevin Federline. The business now has kitchens in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas delivering fresh meals daily while the rest of their customers are shipped twice weekly via FedEx.
Buying celebrity tweets was a gamble for Mr. Duchman. He said there wasn't a real strategy behind it, but he knew that being an early adopter with Ad Words, Groupon, and Facebook ads had given Fresh Diet an advantage in the market in the past, and it seems to have paid off. "It's difficult to tie any specific sales to tweets but we did grow 100% in 2010 & 100% in 2011. I believe a big part of the growth was due to our PR & social media efforts."
When I asked him what he's learned in the process Mr. Duchman said, "Celebrities have millions of followers that can grow your base and people will check you out based on their recommendations." He also mentioned that testing is the best way to go. Start with a local celebrity in a local market.
These days The Fresh Diet has grown to a $30 million business with 300 employees. Since the company began brand building using social media, their overall marketing spend has gone down, and they would still consider purchasing celebrity tweets but they are more interested paying for Instagram posts from the "right" celebrity. About 80% of their current marketing budget of $3 million is spent online advertising like Facebook Ads and 20% is spent on direct mail.
Melinda F. Emerson, SmallBizLady is America's #1 small business expert. She is an author, speaker and small business coach whose areas of expertise include small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. She writes a weekly column for the New York Times, publishes a resource blog, www.succeedasyourownboss.com which is syndicated through the Huffington Post. She also hosts a weekly talk show on Twitter called #SmallBizChat for small business owners. As a brand, she reaches 1.5 million entrepreneurs a week on the internet. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. Forbes Magazine named Melinda Emerson one of the #1 Woman for Entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. Melinda has been featured on MSNBC, Fox News, NBC Nightly News, and in Fortune, The Washington Post, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Black Enterprise. She is the bestselling author of "Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works," and the ebook How to Become a Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online.