How Pura Vida became a darling among millennials via micro-influencers

Surf trip turned brand! Pura Vida grew with micro-influencers.

October 13, 2022

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It all started with a surf trip. In 2010, college friends Griffin Thall and Paul Goodman bought 400 colorful bracelets from a local artist they met on a beach in Costa Rica while surfing there. These were a hit among people in California. And that gave birth to Pura Vida (“pure life” in Spanish).

Pura Vida turned their customers into a voice for the brand. How did they do it, and what can you learn from them for your DTC brand's growth? We'll explore that in this post.

No ads for two years, and results from the first Influencer marketing campaign

Pura Vida didn't run any paid ads for the first two years since it started. The company decided early on that attractive, aesthetic visual content featuring its bracelets from brand advocates would be the centerpiece of its marketing strategy.

In 2012, they met someone at a trade show who introduced them to Lauren Conrad, an American television personality, fashion designer, and author. At that time, she ran a fashion blog and was an influential person amongst Gen Z. Pura Vida partnered with her for $8500, and the next day, they got $30,000 in sales from her post. That's an ROI of 3.5X. Unheard of in the paid advertising world, especially after the iOS privacy updates.

Later, the company used the audience they got from the collaboration with Lauren to build a lookalike audience on Facebook, which helped them target the right kind of audience for their brand. And then, they doubled down on influencer marketing by launching the Pura Vida Ambassador Program.

Today, they have a network of 126,000 micro-influencers (as of 2021). In 2019, Vera Bradley purchased a 75% stake in Pura Vida at a $130 million valuation. It's a major lifestyle brand that’s now sold in 5,000 stores.

Why did Pura Vida choose Ambassador Programs as a strategy?

The founders of Pura Vida were clear from the start that they would not raise any funding or take a loan. The aim was to run a profitable, bootstrapped, but high-growth business. They pooled $100 each to start the business. This meant that traditional growth methods like Ads, billboards, events, or pop-up stores were not an option.

In the initial days, Paul and Griffin connected with the sororities and the fraternities in San Diego. They would tell their story in front of their chapter and giveaway bracelets for allowing them to speak. The 'aha' moment happened when they found that handing out free samples at colleges and universities led to more purchases by those students and their friends, so they did more campus visits.

But there was a problem…

How do you scale such a thing? How do we replicate this model across every college campus in the US without having to fly to every single one of them?

The answer was through their most loyal customers and by doing things digitally (setting up forms, websites, online tools to execute, etc.)

Launching the ambassador program early on and building strong relationships with the ambassadors led to the growth of their Instagram account to 2.1M pretty quickly, helped them get high-quality user-generated content regularly, and of course, built a strong brand.

Apart from the tactic they used, there was an underlying philosophy that helped them execute their ambassador program successfully.

The underlying philosophy of Pura Vida influencer marketing

"I can personally say that I’ve met 90% of our influencers in person and have either gotten food with them, been traveling with them, or done something where it’s not just about a photo or a handshake." ~ Griffin Thall, CEO of Pure Vida Bracelets

The reason Pura Vida's influencer network has proven to be so successful is because of these relationships. Building a brand is much more than quantifiable, transactional, and deliverable. It's how you make others feel when they connect to your brand.

The founders at Pura Vida knew this and invested in building relationships early on. They spend time interacting with their posts, complimenting them, and asking how their day has been. In an interview with Yotpo, Griffin says that the text messages on his phone are 50% influencers and 50% regular friends.

So apart from the execution and sales, Pura Vida invests time and energy in turning their ambassadors into their friends.

7 Things that make Pura Vida Ambassador Program successful

Dedicated landing page to generate inbound interest

Like Lululemon or Athletic Greens, Pura Vida has a dedicated landing page where creators can learn about the ambassador program and sign up for it.

What we liked about this page:

  • They've clearly defined the vibe they are going for with pictures of other ambassadors & three characteristics that are important to become a successful Pura Vida Ambassador.
  • There's a section that talks about incentives for promoting the brand.

If you don't want to offer commissions on every sale or you sell a Saas product where creators don't bring sales directly but get people to signup for free trials, you should check out other incentive models here.  

  • The repeating CTAs after every section improves conversions i.e. more visitors sign up to be ambassadors

Dedicated coupon code for each ambassador

Everyone who signs up for the program gets a unique coupon code that their audience can use to get discounts on their purchase. The great thing is that these coupon codes are not cryptic and use the name of the creators. So they are easy to remember and share around.

Pura Vida brand ambassador code

Tiered structure based on the number of sales

Pura Vida has levels in its ambassador program. Everyone starts with 'Sand' status, which they can get to when they make their first purchase. And as the number of sales increases, they reach other statuses.

There's no difference in the percentage of commission ambassadors receive. However, as they progress through these stages, they receive gifts ranging from bracelets (for 'Sand' status to a clutch bag for 'Seashell' status).

Pura Vida Incentive structure for ambassadors

A different (usually bigger and better) reward & the exclusivity of it associated with a status motivates the ambassadors to keep promoting the brand & progressing to the next status.

Video-worthy unboxing experience

As we learned in the previous section, Pura Vida sends free gifts to its ambassadors when they progress to a new status. The gift box has — a card that tells their status, ambassador stickers, and a card to promote their code.

The whole experience of making the creator feel special, showering them with gifts and appreciation makes the experience so wow that people end up creating videos around it.

It's a great strategy because:

  • It helps the brand get a place in YouTube searches where people might be searching for the brand to know more about it.
  • It helps creators get props for their content which fuels the sales coming from them.

Invite only Facebook group & dedicated IG account

Pura Vida has a dedicate Instagram account where they repost their ambassador's content, share tips with them on how to create the best content, and talk about any updates to the program.

See the account here

And an invite-only Facebook Group

PV's Brand Ambassador Program Facebook Group

These groups and accounts make ambassadors feel like they are not lost in the brand account. It gives them their own space, separate from the brand. This prevents brand content from overshadowing the creator's content. It also makes them feel like they are part of the community rather than in a transactional relationship with a brand.

Shoutouts to ambassadors on social channels

Ambassadors tend to collaborate with brands that have similar values & audiences as the ambassadors. So any shoutout from the brand will help them amplify their authority and reach a wider audience.

Pura Vida recognizes its ambassadors through its dedicated Instagram account. Every week, they pick an ambassador to feature on their account.

Keep tagging @pvbrandambassadors for your chance to be featured next week.

Product Collaborations

Pura Vida collaborates with its ambassadors to create new products and even fund experiences to create content for the launch.

In 2018, they collaborated with creator @DreamingOutLoud to launch a new bracelet pack.

They sent her on a trip to photograph the pack. In turn, she showed off the experience, posted Instagram stories, and even did an in-person event to create a buzz.

Creator content used in Pura Vida’s retail outlet

3 Key Takeaways for your brand

Quality over Quantity

Don't just go for red-carpet fashion models or celebrity status creators. Start with micro-influencers who fit your brand. When you partner with someone who has a smaller following but has brand-relevant aesthetics and personality, their followers are likely to be more active, engaged, and interested in your products.

Make friends with your ambassadors

Building a friendship with your ambassadors will help your brand in more than one way. First of all, your creators will develop loyalty towards your brand and advocate for it even if they are not being paid directly. Secondly, a good reputation in the creator community will help you partner with relevant creators easily. You can say goodbye to chasing creators.

Create great experiences for your ambassadors

To make sure your friendships with creators are also contributing to your business, give your creators experience so great that they'll naturally want to talk about them, create videos about or share on their social media without any obligation from your side.

Final Thoughts

The rising costs of Facebook Ads and the iOS 15 privacy update that made tracking really difficult are big obstacles in your journey to grow. How can you still be a leader in your brand category? —Choose a low-cost acquisition strategy like ambassador programs. Other companies like Lululemon, Athletic Greens, and Notion have also seen great success from them.

Pura Vida's story shows that leveraging the power of influencer marketing and building relationships with your brand ambassadors can help propel your business forward, even if you don’t have a large marketing budget.

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Surf trip turned brand! Pura Vida grew with micro-influencers.

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