We recently had the pleasure of experiencing the radiating friendliness of Shelley Tolbert – the Director of Marketing at Twiddy & Company. She is a long-standing member of the digital marketing community – and the vacation rental management industry! We were lucky to sit down with her for a thoughtful discussion and to walk away with an incredible amount of wisdom.
Shelley heads-up the marketing operation at Twiddy on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Their team helps to deliver memorable experiences for vacationers and also generate a strong, consistent return-on-investment for property owners in that area.
Shelley’s warm and friendly personality doesn’t end with her, their whole company is all about delivering southern hospitality at scale. (See their mission statement!)
In fact, one theme ended up emerging as a central thesis to the discussion: a relentless passion and drive towards providing an outstanding and ever-improving experience for both their guests and homeowners.
In this post, we’ll share what we learned from Shelley and the Twiddy team – we hope it resonates with you as much as it did for us.
Customer Experience is #1
Put simply, customer experience is the Twiddy team’s highest priority. That central theme was clear, and we love it.
Not only did Shelley explicitly state this – and strongly recommend it as an effective approach to running a business – but this sentiment was apparent in the projects, ideas, and attitudes of her team.
So what is the fruit of this labor? Twiddy enjoys an enormous base of happy customers that love the brand and keep coming back for more.
In fact, a Harvard Business Review article recently referenced the output of this guest-focused team – saying their business thrived on “strong customer relationships, repeat business, and word-of-mouth referrals”.
Repeat business and referrals are gold for any company, and those are clear and direct outcomes of focusing on a great product, service, and experience. The effort is worth it.
A Focus on Improvement
That same HBR article above highlighted another attribute of Shelley and the whole Twiddy team that we also observed: a willingness to test, iterate, and optimize.
The example applauded their team for agility during the pandemic and a willingness to adopt new tools and techniques to flex to the realities of our world at the time. Their tendency to continuously test and optimize had been fairly obvious to us, so we specifically asked their team what makes the company so focused on continuous iteration.
The mindset of constant improvement, optimization, and growth is powerful – and emanates from the top rung of the company ladder.
Top Down Culture
Shelley is passionate about her people. She speaks about the team culture within the marketing org as a differentiator in their ability to “make things happen”. She – along with the rest of the leadership team at Twiddy – provides non-stop inspiration to challenge current processes, test new tools and methods, and embrace change. All this in support of their drive towards improving the guest and owner experience.
We’ve heard “culture starts from the top” before, but we really do love to see a strong example close to home.
A separate conversation we had with Twiddy & Company’s Chief Financial Officer, Mike Wilson, emphasized the impact. He says that when the leadership team encourages testing and optimization – “that culture unlocks opportunity throughout the entire company.”
In this case, we see inquisitive marketing & analytics teams that are excited to put customers first, question the status quo, constantly innovate, truly use data to drive decisions – and do it all while having fun.
Side Bar: Reflections of a Successful Business
Shelley and the other organizational leaders inherited a customer-first mindset from the founder of the business long ago. It continues to be the cornerstone of their business.
In fact, if we take a step back to reflect, it seems that with a strong backbone of culture established – it’s allowed the organization to experience exceptional creativity and collaboration.
Everyone at Twiddy & Co. is able to push in the same direction. Because their team has a clear priority, vision, and culture, they largely avoid getting caught on trivial disagreements.
This is a lesson that we can all take back to our respective businesses: establish strong core values, principles, and cultural practices – then ensure those have strong top-down and cross-functional commitment. Once in place, the ability to generate and execute new ideas speeds up significantly. (In addition to creating a workplace that employees love.)
Sharing Some Wisdom
Enable and Support Your People
Twiddy’s team often says their goal is to “let humans do what humans do best”. They have an extremely talented team, exceptional at generating a vision and executing on it.
One of their highest-leverage practices is to enable that team with any type of support – tools & technology, partners & vendors, and more. It provides an incredible “return on investment” when their people are empowered.
As an example, over here at Jarvis ML we’ve joined the Twiddy family to help enable them to tailor their customer journeys at scale: both as technology providers and partners!
Spread Your Optimization Efforts Across the Value Stream
Twiddy has a deep logistics and operational side to their business.
CFO Mike Wilson recognizes how important it is to optimize across the whole business: “Optimizing our marketing efforts with data analytics and machine learning is great, and applying those lessons learned to the operations side helps us deliver quality at scale… we seek to balance innovation use cases across the value stream.”
The takeaway: remember to consider the entire customer lifecycle when augmenting and testing. Plus, prepare for downstream effects throughout the company.
Full disclosure, I specifically asked Shelley in our discussion what she would like to share or recommend to other business leaders in her position: Marketing Directors that manage online revenue generation and customer acquisition.
It didn’t take much time for her to summarize her shared wisdom. She encourages other leaders to emulate the focus on customer experience.
“Our business is extremely customer-centric. We want to give our guests the best possible experience – while inside our properties, finding their next vacation on our website, or interacting with our brand at all. We constantly strive to make it unique and tailored just to them, and continue pushing the limits of how special we can be for guests.”
As mentioned earlier, this practice has delivered great results (and fulfillment) for the Twiddy business. It’s no surprise that her first recommendation is to deliver a special customer experience.
Twiddy’s executive leadership stepped in to emphasize how their marketers and data analysts approached this: “Shelley has been doing this for a long time. She took her experience and intuition – and an innate drive to make people happy – then combined that [passion] with data. That mix really answers the question of what guests want. Once that was known, the marketing team started deliberating on options that could solve for this.”
I interpret this all as: You incentivize the right actions and outcomes when you generate a company culture that prioritizes delivering value to your customers. It’s a winning strategy.
Prioritizing customers obviously plays out in various ways. An example: Twiddy & Company – consistent with their identity of prioritizing optimization – has been testing how they can deploy a machine learning (ML) intelligence engine to improve that customer journey. One use case was to customize guest buying experiences through personalization.
Shelley mentioned an initial insight: “For [businesses] who are also customer-centric, machine learning is a way to scale personalization. It’s pretty clear when you look at the data what performs better.”
While the early indicators are trending positively, this team of “constant iterators” will continue trying and testing tools & methodologies to create the most value for their customers.
Shelley and her team are leaning into their mindset of testing and optimizing to address another universal marketing challenge: increasingly expensive traffic through paid channels.
She’s a marketing director after all, so we appreciate that she refers to this in terms of CPA and ROAS: “We’re constantly pushing to decrease cost per acquisition (CPA) and get more return on our paid ads. So we’re always testing methods of making our website more efficient.”
Testing website tactics and conversion rate optimization is familiar to many marketers. However, Shelley and her team seem to approach ROAS optimization with this underpinning: that treating website leads better will drive the best results.
This is all part of the culture of a marketing team that has shared values and strong leadership.
Summarizing these recommendations succinctly:
- Focus on customer experience first.
- Continuously test and optimize to improve and grow.
- These things should be woven into the cultural fabric of the organization.
What is next in the queue for this sharp, savvy marketing team? Whatever it is, we can be sure that Shelley and her team at Twiddy & Company will always be innovating and focusing on treating customers well.
For as long as we’re able to do so, the Jarvis ML team plans to stand by the Twiddy family in this mission to deliver that feeling of 1:1 southern hospitality at scale to their guests.
Learning from businesses and people who have found success should be a more normalized exercise. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; someone has often figured out a great method or solution and we just need to tap their intelligence.
Hopefully from this article you were able to take away some lessons and tidbits that you can apply to your business! We’re still internalizing the lessons and working to mimic some of the strong cultural practices of this team.
From our perspective and experience at Jarvis ML, working with Twiddy & Co has been inspiring. The team is incredibly sharp and kind. A few of our teammates were able to visit the Twiddy offices and stay in a Twiddy property… if you’re looking to travel and have a very special experience, look no further. Seriously! Check out these awesome options in the Outer Banks.
Similarly, if you own a property in the OBX, Twiddy does an impeccable job at managing the properties and being transparent with the demand, pricing, and other metrics you’d care about as an investor. Contact the Twiddy team to learn more.
Post script: We learned that Twiddy & Company has opted out of using online travel agencies (OTAs) like Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com in order to control the guest experience, own their customer data, and be prepared for a long-term viable business.
If you’re looking to drive more direct bookings to your website and take some control back from OTA’s, check out this guide: 10 Tactics to Drive Direct Bookings and Take Power Back from OTAs