Do you follow a strict ecommerce playbook?

Maybe you always run the same few ads, send the same series of emails, and follow the same exact steps to market new products. While it can be useful to create a reliable marketing process, it can also get stale if you never change it up.

That’s exactly why Jurgen Nebelung experiments with new marketing tactics so often. As the VP of Ecommerce and Digital at Tea Forte, he’s always thinking of new ways to turn occasional tea drinkers into loyal customers.

Jurgen has a strong background in B2C digital marketing with more than 13 years of experience including at brands like L.L. Bean and Lindt Chocolate. But TeaForte isn’t like every other brand. They’ve built a unique business in part off of the strength of gift giving during the holidays and Jurgen has the challenge of finding and engaging those buyers.

In this exclusive interview, Jurgen shares:

  • How to convert a one-time buyer into a loyal customer
  • The importance of A/B testing everything on your site
  • How to experiment with next tactics for success
  • …and much more.

Listen to Episode 4: The Empowered Marketer

Read the Interview

1. Who is your target market today? What do your buyers want, and are they easy or difficult to reach?

We primarily do a gifting business and we’re best known for our samplers and our gift boxes. Those perform really well during the holiday times. A lot of the products people buy are often sampler packs of 20 or 40 of our pyramid tea infusers. People will bring that to a party and open it up at a dinner. There’s kind of a wow factor when you open the box and so we’ve found this niche with gift buyers, and then we work on acquiring the recipients as customers themselves.

We think of the sampler as our lead generation for finding people who are very interested in gift giving or if they find a particular flavor within that sampler. We look at those samplers and if there are 12 infusers in there, there’s an opportunity to acquire 12 customers.

2. How do you turn those one-time gift recipients into loyal customers? How do you make that jump?

We do a bit of both offline and online campaigns. We do bounceback campaigns, whether it’s as simple as an insert in-product or in-order, or an email bounceback. That’s a really important tactic for us to both get a new referred customer or a repeat purchase. We have a refer-a-friend program, so we see some really good traction there with our most loyal audience and using that platform to extend the message to their friends. There’s a double-sided incentive.

3. What are you working on right now? Is there a new campaign that you’re especially excited about bringing to your buyers?

We actually joined up with Zaius about six months ago. We’ve been building out some of the basic campaigns and we’re now starting to get into some of the more exciting, personalized, segmented campaigns. Since we have a consumable product, it’s perfect for replenishment campaigns, and that’s what we’re working on right now.

One of the cool things about the Zaius platform is the analytics component of it. This morning with our customer success manager, we were looking at what are the most frequently purchased items, or repeat purchased items? We can see how those over index versus just all transactions, or all purchased items. Then we know these are the kind of products where we want some form replenishment campaigns.

We found that our loose tea is best for replenishment since that’s more for an everyday consumer, larger quantities, bulk and event-type packaging. That’s the kind of stuff where you have buyers coming back time, after time. And whether it’s an email that we trigger out of Zaius, or we use a custom audience sync to then push it into Facebook, it just gives us an opportunity to reach them. When we see this behavior in the analytics it gives us a chance to nudge that behavior and get people to come back.

4. How do you use analytics on your team at Tea Forte today?

Analytics is at the core of most business — particularly ecommerce — since so much is measurable. We like to focus more on outcomes that can translate to the financial success of Tea Forte. We look at dollars per email sent, dollars per visit, response rate. We break these down into smaller metrics to figure out how all the pieces add up to dollars per visit. Dollars per visit is made up of the total volume of traffic, the conversion rate, and the average order value. But those are second-layer metrics that we can look at. We’re really looking for outcomes. Ultimately, we tie everything to revenue.

That said, at the same time you have to carve out time and resources to be able to test things that you don’t know the ROI of yet. You maybe have done something, and you’re not sure if it scales, but a certain portion of time from your team should explore those things. If you do too much of the metrics-driven stuff you get onto the playbook path. The playbook path basically has thousands of ecommerce businesses all just getting by. But it’s those things that you can’t quantify, that you don’t know what they’re going to produce, that can be a breakthrough opportunity.

5. When it comes to optimization for your campaigns, how do you think about it? What types of A/B tests does your team typically run? Have you ever had some really interesting findings that you could share with us?

We always want to do more testing. We’ve done a few interesting tests in the past year around our navigation, whether it’s helpful to provide deeper-level navigation or single-level navigation. We’ve done tests around our email acquisition with a modal email pop-up to acquire email. It’s really easy just to turn these kinda things on and just let them run. You will collect way more email addresses than not having it, but you have to test it.

We did some tests last year around the messaging and testing offers. We looked at a couple of things. We did A-B-C, no offer, just kind of a brand sentiment, loyalty type message, a small discount like 10% and 15%. We also tested color too, like a very light, white scheme or a high-contrast, dark, sort of more mysterious, luxurious kind of feel. What we saw was that there was an interesting dynamic.

We looked at both the percentage of emails collected and, as you might imagine, the better percentage offer collected more. It wasn’t a huge lift over the 10%, but what really was interesting was then we echoed it in our welcome messaging. That’s where you see the big gaps open up as far as your new customer acquisition. You had very small differences between email acquired, but then from visit to customer acquired or first purchase, that’s where things really opened up. We found that that small discount, 15% for new customers, was much more productive for the ultimate outcome we were looking for, which is acquiring new customers.

6.  What was one time you failed and something went really badly on your marketing team? What happened and how did you handle it? What did you learn from it?

There’s a theme in terms of failures. With digital marketing, you can be attracted to the new thing or the shiny object. You can do things because it seems cool or relevant. There’s one particular project that comes to mind where we created a lot of content and there just wasn’t a strong call to action. We created something and just put it out there and expected people to take the next step. We didn’t really market it and push it out. We just kind of expected it to be successful on its own. Of course, you need to create great content. But there needs to be a strong call to action.

It’s really easy to say, “Oh, we did that and it didn’t work.” Whatever that might be. That might be social media or an influencer post or a couple of blog articles. Don’t get discouraged by that. Definitely don’t stop a tactic the first time you see that it didn’t work. It’s not a failure; you just haven’t found the right way yet. It just comes down to analyzing it, figuring out what happened, and learning from it, and doing better next time.

7. What do you see coming in the future for the world of ecommerce generally, and Tea Forte specifically?

Everyone thinks: how do I compete with Amazon? For us at Tea Forte, we sell on Amazon with a third-party seller account. Amazon has been a really great partner for us and brought us tons of new customers and some great brand exposure. We also sell on our website. What a lot of brands are asking is, how can I create a business that’s just not going to be cannibalized by Amazon?

The real question is: how do I create something that is truly unique? When you look at a commodity product or a commodity business, that becomes a race to the bottom. There are a lot of other brands bigger than you, with other objectives, that will race to the bottom to acquire a customer because there’s a bigger game that they’re playing. For smaller brands that are either bootstrapped or funded, there’s not that bigger play. You can’t acquire customers at a deep loss because there’s a bigger prize. You have to run a business that’s sustainable.

You have to think about finding a unique business model. What are the unique products that can’t be knocked off? They can’t be recreated. It has to be something you’re known for and that people are going to come to you and come to your site for that purchase.

Want to learn more about Jurgen Nebelung and Tea Forte? Visit

Cara Hogan

Cara Hogan is the Content Strategist at Zaius, where she focuses on how technology can drive business growth. She is a grammar perfectionist, a data enthusiast, and a rock climber.