A list of marketing best practices we intentionally ignore

Or, things we’re “supposed to do” as an ecommerce brand, but don’t.

Taylor Coil
Jan 24 · 8 min read

It’s hardly a secret: Team Tortuga is full of contrarians. I’m no exception.

I dislike growth hacking. I don’t think brand journalism is all that praise-worthy. I raise my left eyebrow high in the sky when people on the internet won’t stop praising an extraordinarily unprofitable high-growth business that just raised another round of funding.

Tortuga’s philosophy is rooted in going against the grain, challenging existing notions of how the world should work and turning those ideas on their head, so it makes sense that our team would be prone to independent thinking. Or contrarianism, in less positive framing.

Earlier today, Fred (Tortuga’s CEO) and I were joking about how we look at a stack of marketing best practices and immediately scoff, deciding that only a handful are right for Tortuga because we know our business better than an article does. “I think I probably skew too far in that direction sometimes,” he said, showing the calm humility that balances his confidence — a trait I always admire in Fred.

I relate. It’s a tough line to walk, sometimes, being an independent thinker at an against-the-grain brand AND keeping an open mind to learnings from a more conventional approach to growth.

I’m owning that as a preface to the below list because I want to welcome discussion. This is a list of things that yes, arguably work in marketing, but that we intentionally don’t do at Tortuga. Maybe we haven’t tried the right tactics for the below channels. Again — discussion is welcome. I’d love to learn.

As it stands: if we did all of the below, I think our revenue would increase by ~ 5% in the short term. More, if we ran sales.

But it’d also make us feel like our hair was on fire. We aren’t a frenetic team. Especially when freneticism results in a single-digit lift in revenue.

We have a deep belief in focus. As a small — but mighty — team, we intentionally say no to marginal gains even if they feel like easy wins. Because adding twelve “easy wins” to my list is suddenly a recipe for feeling overwhelmed without deeply impacting the business. And possibly a recipe for constantly tracking and rarely doing. Analysis paralysis.

When I take a deep breath and remove those marginal gains from my headspace, I suddenly have room to ideate. To ruminate. To dream big dreams for Tortuga and make those dreams happen.

So yes — the below might result in a revenue lift. If I had VCs breathing down my neck, I’d have to prioritize that lift over my sanity. But I don’t… so I don’t.

CALM COMPANIES FOREVER.

Marketing “Wins” We Don’t Do at Tortuga

This is what you came here for, right? Let’s dig in.

A customer referral program

We’ve been running a customer referral program for a while. According to my account manager at ReferralCandy, we ran one of their more successful programs.

Last week, I decided to kill it. That’s the impetus for this post. Needless to say, my account manager was… confused.

Here’s my reasoning.

One: the gains are marginal. For Tortuga, customer referrals live in this uncomfortable zone of MEH. Last quarter, the referral program accounted for less than 2% of total revenue. That isn’t nothing… but it’s not exactly exciting revenue either.

We might have a “successful” referral program by the platform’s standards, but by mine? It was distracting and (probably) annoying for our customers.

As I re-evaluate the “asks” we make of customers and the demands we place on our user’s attention, I am less and less excited about customer referrals. It’s not that they don’t work — it’s that they kind of work and aren’t remotely scalable. That’s perhaps fine if a tactic doesn’t require my time or focus, but it does. And there’s so much else we can do with my focus, and with our customers’ attention.

Two: I think revenue attributed to customer referrals would’ve happened anyway. Luggage is a highly considered purchase. There are two ways to look at a considered purchase as it relates to customer referrals:

  1. Social proof is crucial with a highly considered purchase, so referrals are important, or
  2. Referrals aren’t impactful because there’s too much else that goes into the purchasing decision. Social proof is crucial, but for this type of purchase, referrals aren’t the right genre of social proof.

Hypothesis #1 is what made us test customer referrals in the first place. I don’t think that’s correct for our business, after months of testing and ruminating. I think #2 is far more likely: customer referrals aren’t salacious enough to drive a purchase of a $200 travel backpack. We have far more meaningful social proof (looking at you Wirecutter) in our arsenal.

Three: it doesn’t feel Tortuga. I’ve never felt great about how hard sales-y customer referrals feel. It doesn’t feel genuine, despite best efforts. It feels like buynowbuynowbuynow and that isn’t us.

Loyalty programs

In 2017, I listened to Katia Beauchamp (Birchbox’s CEO) speak on loyalty at Glossy Forum. At the time, I was considering integrating a formal loyalty program into Tortuga’s marketing stack, so I was particularly interested in her talk. Improving LTV is constantly on my mind and a loyalty program seemed like a natural way to fuel that metric.

Katia threw out a quote that I could tell she says a lot: “loyalty is delight + efficacy.”

Damn. Mind blown. It’s so simple. It’s not about enticing the customer through some gimmick, or an “exclusive” offer that holds little value. It’s about improving customer centricity from a holistic perspective. Improving delight. Maintaining efficacy.

We don’t need a program to do that. So… we don’t have one. Maybe we will in the future. But we’re approaching it from a different perspective today and that’s a-ok with me.

Today, our “loyalty program” is rooted in common decency. No gimmicks, just making great products and treating customers well.

Cart abandonment discounts

When I was a marketing consultant, I was a big fan of the 10% off code in cart abandonment emails. This was 2011–2014, by the way, to set the scene. Cart abandonment discounting is a less common tactic now, but back then it was one of the first things I’d “test” for an ecommerce brand. I put test in quotes because it was never really a test — it would always result in a revenue lift.

But it also trained customers to abandon their carts in the hopes of getting a code. Sure, it’s a short term win. But at what cost?

Even if the above hypothesis of customer behavior proved untrue, I still wouldn’t run these for Tortuga. Luggage is a highly considered purchase. You only really need one carry on backpack (unless you’re me, in which you case you have five in your 600-square foot apartment). When you’re looking for a new piece of luggage, you’re going to really research that purchase. It’s not going to be a fun purchase you randomly make, bored one Friday afternoon at work.

A 10% off code after an abandoned cart won’t make a difference. Plus, I’d have to constantly monitor for leaked codes and I don’t want to do that.

The more tedious, low-impact things I can take off my to do list, the better.

Discounts in general

We speak ad nauseam about our aversion to discounting in this post. To quote the aforementioned Fred:

Traditional wisdom says that brands need high-end products with planned obsolescence and many low-end products in order to increase customer lifetime value (the amount you’ve spent with us).

At Tortuga we know that bags which become obsolete quickly are shitty bags. We get as attached to our luggage as you do to yours. I don’t want to upgrade my backpack every year.

If you don’t upgrade, we will make less money in the short-term. But we’re in this business for the long-term, so that’s fine. If you’re happy with your bag, we will benefit eventually. Either you will upgrade when you actually need a new bag, or you will tell your friends to buy a Tortuga travel backpack.

You should only buy a new bag if you need it for a trip and have the money for it. Not only because it’s new or is on sale.

We’re philosophically opposed to the idea of purchasing because something feels like a deal, not because it’s the right product for the way you travel. Buy thoughtfully. Buy the right thing. We hope that’s Tortuga!

[We do have discounts for educators, humanitarian workers, students, active military, and veterans. But that’s different.]

PPC at scale

I’ll be completely honest: this one started off rather selfishly. When I joined Tortuga in 2015, I was fresh off a job that was deeply engrained in PPC. It used to be my specialty.

And in 2015, I was so. Sick. Of. PPC.

One of my first projects at Tortuga was optimizing our PPC campaigns, which makes sense — I had the expertise. But once those campaigns got the initial Taylor touch, I gleefully moved onto content marketing and product marketing and….

*deep breath*

… have barely touched those campaigns since.

OKAY LOOK. I know there’s opportunity here. This is more a matter of focus than anything. The little PPC we do run absolutely kills it — last month our ROI (not ROAS, almost true ROI — i.e. accounting for COGS etc etc) was 795% for our worst campaign. I’m currently testing scale, because yes — ROI in the thousands tells me that we’re not spending enough. I play with bids sometimes? Does that count?

No. It doesn’t.

I can do better here.

Today, we don’t spend much on advertising. We’re way more of an evergreen content marketing brand than an ad-spending brand. That’s more of a long-term, Tortuga-y play anyway. And selfishly… so much more interesting.

Twitter

Twitter barely drives revenue for Tortuga. That shouldn’t be surprising. And yet, it’s one of those places we’re “supposed” to be — it’s expected that we have a presence therein.

We have a Twitter account. We… don’t do much with it, to put it lightly. It’s intentionally not a focus, not a priority.


I’m sure there’s more. I might update this post if I think of more.

Where am I being naive? Do you see holes here?

And, what I’m most curious about: what are some things your marketing team is “supposed to do,” according to the internet, and… doesn’t?

Taylor Coil

Written by

Marketing Director with a focus on direct-to-consumer content & product marketing. Traveler, writer, speaker, fierce advocate for remote work.

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