When you look at travel vlogs on YouTube or surf reels on Instagram, it's often difficult to contain the FOMO you feel. You long to try surfing or skateboarding, or you simply feel like travelling often based on the stuff you see online.
But for the longest time, documenting many of these activities wasn't easy. At all.
You couldn’t carry that bulky Nikon DSLR while surfing. It wasn’t feasible to document a trek or a mountain biking trail because it wasn't feasible to lug around fancy camera gear on these expeditions.
GoPro changed all this.
Nick Woodman, GoPro’s founder, was on a surfing trip in Australia after two of his previous business ventures had failed at the go-to-market stage. On the trip, Nick realized there was no easy way to shoot his memorable surfing moments.
At first, he thought of solving the issue by attaching a rubber band to his 35mm camera and shooting the action. He quickly realized that this wasn’t the brightest idea: the weight of the camera made surfing difficult.
But he was sure about one thing: that there was a market for the kind of action cameras that could capture motion even in dynamic and turbulent moments.
Between 2002 – 2004, he borrowed money for his project and worked with a Chinese manufacturer to create small water-proof cameras manufactured at a meager $3.
And given the GTM failures of his previous ventures, Nick opted to sell these cameras directly. And when one thinks about selling something in a door-to-door fashion, one knocks on doors they know are most likely to be open to buying.
Hence, Nick decided to first sell to people he thought were the most likely to buy such a thing because it would be the most useful for them: surfers. He would go to surfing hotspots and surfboard shops to sell the camera. At $30 a piece, he made a revenue of $150,000 in the first year.
The product was formally introduced to the world at the San Diego Action Sports Retailer trade show in 2004.
Post that, Nick decided to widen his user base a little bit and focus on the larger Action Sports audience because he had built enough conviction in a year by directly selling to adventure junkies. It was still a niche, but a much larger niche than just surfers. His QVC (Quality, Value, Convenience) appearance in 2005 helped him sell 3000 units in just 10 minutes, earning him a handsome $306,000.
However, direct selling or QVC appearances couldn’t be the only marketing efforts if GoPro wished to scale sustainably. Hence, the company eventually adapted its marketing efforts by using social media platforms to reach scale, while keeping their communication strategy and target audience intact.
Making heroes out of customers
GoPro targeted a niche audience of hobby filmmakers, extreme athletes, and adventurers. They offered special mounting packages for motorsports and outdoor enthusiasts, further sharpening their product USP and usefulness to their target audience.
On the communication side, they made these customers feel like heroes. Customers were encouraged to share content that would be featured on GoPro’s social media channels.
By 2006, YouTube had become a popular video-sharing platform, and GoPro leveraged it the most to grow its audience and doubled down on featuring high-quality user-generated content. They hosted video-making contests and incentivized its users by offering hefty rewards for best-shot videos on GoPro.
By running campaigns that strongly aligned with the brand's vision — helping the world capture and share itself in immersive and exciting ways — GoPro cemented its identity in the niche audience segment.
By 2007, GoPro augmented its product — which could only capture videos — with the launch of Hero3, which could capture photographs and go up to 100 feet under water. This made the product popular amongst scuba divers who had to depend on bulky professional equipment for photos and videography.
GoPro stuck to communicating with this niche audience till 2007 and created a loyal community of customers who were constantly creating content using the product. They also faced little to no competition as they had established themselves in the action-camera category.
A major factor that sustained GoPro while other competitors like Sony and Ion created their own action cameras was the community GoPro had built around the product. Apart from an active social media push, and user-generated contests, GoPro also started aiming to serve a wider audience base.
With this in mind, the brand started using visual social-media platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube to create pockets of community that had interests other than thrill-seeking. On these platforms, the audience could see a product known primarily for its association with extreme sports incorporated into regular scenarios they could relate to.
And the larger audience had no problem trusting the quality of the product, as it had been tried and tested by the most extreme user base first: the adventure junkies.“If people doing extreme sports can use this camera, I can surely use it too!”
One such expansion is seen in the popularity of its channels dedicated to “Furry Friends“ and “Wild Animals”, which feature adorable scenarios with puppies and kittens to captivate a larger mass audience.
A video titled “It's Always Sunny in Walter's World” showcases a dog joyfully navigating a maze-like path before leaping into the ocean, accumulating over 1.1 million views.
Additionally, GoPro's Life's Moments channel captures heartwarming events involving children, ranging from lively pool parties to a young boy's milestone of riding a bike without training wheels for the first time.
This deliberate approach taken by GoPro, focusing on engaging with peripheral audiences through relatable content, exemplifies the company's content marketing strategy — go deep and then go wide. By focusing on a clearly defined audience and creating relevant content buckets for the new audience GoPro wished to serve, it became a product more users wanted to use.
With the content generated by the niche, thrill-seeking audience, GoPro created aspiration around travel and adventure. Since this content was created by its customers, it didn't feel promotional. This user-generated content strategy by niche users made the product desirable to even people who didn’t professionally pursue adventure or photography, but simply wanted a small and sturdy camera that did not get in their way while they went about documenting their life experiences.
A common thread running through all of GoPro’s marketing efforts is celebrating its target audience.
A professional camera has a bit of a learning curve and can only lend itself to a smaller market. Additionally, the narrative weaved around most camera products speaks to a professional.
This was not the case with GoPro. With GoPro, even photography amateurs could create insane video clips as long as they were doing something fun and interesting.
Even GoPro could’ve shot itself in the foot if it only communicated with the adventure junkies. But creatively adapting the product and its communication to include a wider audience helped the company achieve a scale that it otherwise wouldn't have.
Today you will notice YouTube vlogs documenting daily life shot on GoPro. And that’s where the success of the brand lies. In technical terms, the GoPro camera became a “talk trigger”, and its customers, the advertisement for the product.
Through captivating footage, customers had the opportunity to share extraordinary life adventures. And when the mass audience felt their hearts skip a beat in the middle of seeing someone perform an amazing stunt, there was at least a moment or two when a thought ran through their mind:
“How in the world did they even record this bloody thing?”
And that nifty GoPro attached to someone's chest or helmet supplied the answer.
By leveraging a powerful talk trigger, GoPro has successfully elevated brand awareness and stimulated organic word-of-mouth referrals.
But GoPro isn't alone. Even Strava, the fitness app, used the “go deep and then go wide” strategy as their GTM when they first arrived on the scene.
The young start-up used the “come for the tool, stay for the network” approach, which involves attracting users with a standalone tool and then incorporating them into a network, creating long-term value and company sustainability.
And despite the broader goal of reaching a diverse community of athletes, co-founders Gainey and Horvath decided to concentrate on the cycling community at first, enabling them to refine the product before expanding to other verticals.
Cyclists were chosen as the initial target group due to several reasons as shared by Gainey in multiple podcasts. Cyclists' inherent interest in tech and data analytics allowed for high engagement with the tool, and their willingness to invest in high-end equipment ensured good data quality. Furthermore, the existing cycling-focused tools in the 2000s lacked detailed analytics, indicating a gap in the market. Finally, cycling's social nature facilitated early adoption through word of mouth, contributing to the growth of the network.
So, both GoPro and Strava decided to vet the tool for its effectiveness and achieve PMF by first going after the pros. Only once they built conviction in the tool that they decided to go chase a wider user base.
And especially after two failed ventures at a GTM stage, Nick paid extra attention to the customer profiles for GoPro and how he would foster communication with the target audience. He focused on serving a single audience segment between 2002 to 2007 and gradually expanded to communicate with a wider mass audience for its products.
In hindsight, it all sounds pretty straightforward, but while you're in it, you need to have absolute clarity on who you're going after.
And that clarity and focus is what I ultimately find enviable about Nick and GoPro.