There’s the Pura Vida story that everyone knows:
Paul Goodman and Griffin Thall came back from Costa Rica with 400 bracelets in their suitcase. They started giving them away to their friends. From day one, the bracelets were a hit.
And today, Pura Vida is a thriving, multi-million dollar brand with more than 30,000 online orders each month.
But there’s more to the story: it wasn’t pure accident or blind luck that skyrocketed Pura Vida to success.
As Griffin says, “When you look at the big eCommerce brands today – they all have a similar story. The owners are all under 30 – the owner of MVMT is 24, the owner of Lokai is 25, me and Paul are 28 and 29 – created socially conscious brands, hit the nail on the head with Instagram, Facebook, and email marketing campaigns. It’s really the same exact formula with different products.”
So what do these Millennial marketing masterminds know that so many others don’t?
We went behind the scenes with the Pura Vida co-founders to find out.
Here’s what we learned.
One of the biggest benefits these brands have is understanding the power of word-of-mouth marketing.
Sure, Paul and Griffin came back with some awesome bracelets, but what they did after was key:
They put the products in the right hands of the right people at the right time.
They started passing out the bracelets to their friends, because they figured if they liked the bracelets, their friends’ friends probably would, too.
They identified an audience similar to their peers and targeted them to see if the product caught on.
And it worked.
As Griffin says:
“Our friends would take one and take another for their friends. Then their friends were coming to us to get bracelets for their friends. And then before you knew it, more and more people were coming to us. All of the sudden, we realized we were going to have to start shipping to meet demand.”
They went with the second option.
Their next move was to ignite this word-of-mouth fire beyond their friend circle.
They put the bracelets up in local boutiques, built an online shop, and then took to the streets – or, more specifically, to their college library during finals week.
They walked around to every single desk in the library for a week, telling people their story and giving out free bracelets. They would give out a bracelet and ask the person to like Pura Vida on Facebook.
“Then, we asked them if we could update their status to, ‘I love my new Pura Vida bracelets,’ with the website link. The next day, we had 200 online orders,” Griffin says.
While this was six years ago, when organic reach on Facebook was still strong, their strategy still holds lessons for businesses today.
Word-of-mouth is powerful.
It has the potential to spread like wildfire, especially in a targeted community.
Now that Pura Vida had a strong local presence, the next step was to grow across the country.
Inspired by the success they saw at their own college, they created a nationwide campus rep program.
They put a page on their website to promote the Pura Vida Reps program and spread the word organically through their social channels.
“People who liked our Facebook page had friends from other college campuses, so through word-of-mouth, the program spread and took off.”
As of today, over 12,000 college reps have joined the program.
“I think the reason why Pura Vida is so strong and has grown so fast is because we didn’t really play by the rules. We thought of creative ways, like the Campus Rep program, to spread the word without a ton of investment. And by doing that really quickly at scale, we were able to slingshot the brand to a level that people would knew it, believed in it, and trusted it.”
Paul and Griffin explain that successful brands today advocate authenticity, embrace transparency and stay true to themselves.
As the brand grows, it’s tempting to change to try to reach a bigger audience, but Paul and Griffin warn against it.
“The audience is still out there, like they were on day 1, and you have to target them based on the original story and not switch your identity because you want to get more customers.”
For older business owners trying to reach Millennials, Griffin’s biggest advice is to hire young employees who understand how to market to people their age.
“The younger demographic understands how to hack the social media game better than anyone,” he explains.
It’s natural that people who have grown up immersed in social media their whole lives will intuitively understand how to use it better than someone just getting their feet wet.
Rather than waste time trying to figure it out, Griffin encourages business owners to just hire the people who know it best.
“The first thing I would say to business owners looking to build their social marketing is to hire someone just out of college – even if they haven’t had a formal social media job, if they’re on social media, they will hands down know the most intuitively about how to market. They live on social media – they have the hands-on experience that you can’t learn.”
Plus, they point out, social media is always changing, and only someone immersed in it can keep up.
For example, when Pura Vida started, Facebook’s organic reach was enough – but now, between developing the best Instagram ads and Snapchat and paid ads, there’s a lot more to deal with when developing a social marketing strategy.
One of the most important things they have learned is the proper way to use Instagram benefits to their advantage through collaborations with influencers and creating an Instagram online shop showcasing attractive photos.
They emphasize that there needs to be a deliberate strategy, as opposed to simply approaching people with lots of followers.
In the beginning stages of Instagram, simply getting any influencers to post anything may have been effective – but again, times have changed.
“Today, it really has to be like a collaboration, because the Instagram community is getting a lot smarter. They know the difference between an Instagram ad and someone actually liking a product.”
They explain that you must allow the influencer to choose products they really love – and you also need to be on top of influencers to make sure they’re following through on their end of the deal.
Griffin says another important thing they’ve learned is the importance of creating an email marketing program for pre- and post-purchase retention.
“Many people don’t understand the importance of building a retention program and how much it pays off. Most people think that once they have the customer, they can send out an email blast once in awhile with a sale or new product and bring the customer back. But customer retention tactics don’t work like that.”
Retention needs to start before a visitor even becomes a customer. Pura Vida uses Bounce Exchange to collect contact information from all visitors – not just those who make a purchase. This allows them to target one-time visitors and bring them back to their store to buy.
Additionally, they create segmented campaigns depending on where a customer is in the buying cycle.
Through lots of trial and error, they’ve learned the best way to get results is to create multiple email marketing series – for Pura Vida, that means a welcome series, first purchase series, win back series, and more.
They also send requests to encourage customers to write reviews and upload photos after receiving their orders. They often offer a coupon to customers for writing a review or sharing it on social.
Combining coupons with review requests not only gets customers to write more reviews – but it also helps them turn one-time customers into loyal shoppers by bringing them back to the store to redeem their coupons.
Pura Vida has had awesome success and gives a lot of thanks to Shopify for making it easy for them to get started. Shopify is one of the best resources for new storeowners. They make it super easy for bootstrapped businesses to get up and running.
In the beginning stages, they advise storeowners to bootstrap it and think of creative marketing channels that don’t involve tons of investment.
They emphasize the importance of conserving time: “If you’ve got another co-founder, divide responsibility and do what you’re best at and hire experts to handle other details.”
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