Pura Vida: Marketing Lessons From A Spiritual Retreat

Simpler is often better. Sometimes we have to stop seeking out analyst accolades and data scientist dicta, and allow pura vida—pure life—to guide our customer interactions.

Pura Vida: Marketing Lessons From A Spiritual Retreat

My husband and I recently returned from Blue Spirit Retreat Center in Costa Rica. The center embodies “pura vida.” The mantra–meaning “pure life”—has a deep meaning to the Costa Ricans. Your only method to reach the center is a rocky, three-hour shuttle crawl from Liberia Airport. When you finally reach the center, you are greeted by the haunting, guttural sounds of howler monkeys. You soon realize you have entered an alternate universe filled with mystery, beauty, and solitude.

Owner and chief visionary Stephan Rechtschaffen co-founded the Omega Institute in the 1970s. He did his homework before opening this retreat in 2009 and has been rewarded for it through his loyal return guests and workshop leaders. Blue Spirit is unique in many ways. It is not modeled after any other retreat. It has no true competition. It’s difficult to reach. And it prides itself on its sustainability practices.

Sometimes, you need to consider choosing a path that others have not yet taken to deliver an unforgettable customer experience. After spending a week at Blue Spirit, I began to question the common beliefs and industry analysts who tout data-driven growth strategies. Are today’s modern approaches universal truths or results of group think around “best practices?”

I learned that these four beliefs simply do not apply to all vibrant organizations:

1. Make your offer unique: Blue Spirit takes a contrarian approach at mealtimes. They offer organic, mostly vegetarian menus modeled after Dan Buettner’s seminal Blue Zones’ body of work. The menu offerings are exotic, complex, and unique. It’s a combination of dining attributes—the quality menu, the al fresco dining experience, and the kitchen staff’s esprit de corps —that make our experience unforgettable.

2. Design a marketing organization that leverages technology to drive leads: Unlike most retreat venues, Blue Spirit relies on the conference leaders to market their seminars, not some fancy course catalog or personalized website. When my husband and I set out to find a couples getaway, Blue Spirit never appeared in any online search. The actual retreat invitation originated from our workshop leaders’ e-newsletter. Many nonprofit centers, such as Esalen Institute and Omega Institute, keep most of the revenues. Blue Spirit channels 100% of the workshop fee to the facilitators.

Sometimes offline outreach methods—now the path less traveled for many—can help you stand shoulders above your competitors. Eric Lecky, CMO of Sagewater, looked for quick marketing wins when he joined the company in late 2014. “We immediately joined forces with sales to uncover their challenges and build trust. They told us that their print materials were out of date. The materials also failed to resonate with the challenges that the maintenance staff and property managers were facing in multifamily properties.” By re-crafting the language and visuals within their outbound direct mail pieces, they have generated eight-figure increases in sales pipeline in the last two years.

3. Demonstrate your value using a powerful content strategy: Rechtschaffen disagrees with this adage. He shies away from the thought leadership marketing strategy to drive Blue Spirit’s growth. He finds that “it’s not totally transparent. With most marketing, you wear makeup to not show the real person. We create an environment that shows people who we really are—and helps them be who they really are. When we do that, people tell others about it.”

4. Measure, document, and report on your performance: Blue Spirit has created 70 jobs in this remote part of Nosara. It pays well above the average Costa Rican wage. Rechtschaffen meets weekly with his managers, but does not use a performance dashboard to discuss progress. He calls his private investors “friends” who share common passion for Blue Spirit. They have all seen healthy returns on their investment since 2009.

Instead of publishing mission statements and emblazoning walls with their core values, Rechtschaffen regularly reinforces “our focus on well-being, protecting and honoring the environment, and fostering compassionate human interaction to bring out the best in people.”

Market valuation should not solely depend on the size of your customer base and your ability to scale. It should also depend on your ability to stay true to your purpose. Blue Spirit’s heart-centered mission certainly isn’t revolutionary. The Benefit Corporation business entity concept, for example, certifies purpose-driven organizations and attracts popular brands such as Etsy, Kleen Kanteen, Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s, and Change.org. Their success secrets have little to do with promising astronomical financial returns and quick exits.

As we left Blue Spirit’s idyllic jungle oasis and returned home, we bowed to the howler monkeys, the bats, and the exotic birds. This sense of wonder and oneness reminded me that simpler is often better. Sometimes we have to stop seeking out analyst accolades and data scientist dicta, and allow pura vida to guide our customer interactions.