Before GoPro became a household name, the idea of a human being playing with wild African lions as if they were the cuddly Marmadukes of the desert would have probably seemed ridiculous, or dangerous—or both. But then GoPro posted Kevin Richardson’s unforgettable video on its YouTube channel and, 20 million views later, we know that “lion whisperers” exist. And we are better for it.
Indeed, thanks to those videos, GoPro has gone from being a niche tech brand to an almost unprecedented digital chronicler of life in all its forms, from the exotic (Mud Puddles in Palau) to the ordinary but still incredible (a toddler on a skateboard). GoPro is more “now” than any company in its category—the Red Bull of video equipment, if you will. That the brand has undergone this transformation is testament to a truly impressive product, and an equally impressive marketing chief.
The company’s vp, marketing Paul Crandell “has done an outstanding job tapping into the passion of GoPro fans to build the company’s brand,” says marketing consultant David Deal, adding, “The ascendance of GoPro reminds me of Apple’s early days.”
That’s not hyperbole. On Crandell’s watch, GoPro’s revenue this year rose an astonishing 87 percent to $986 million. Research firm IDC estimates that the company—which barely existed a decade ago—now has nearly half of the action-camera market.
Behind GoPro’s YouTube channel is a savvy staff of curators. Crandell grew a skeleton crew of 17 to 149 and beefed up the sponsored athlete roster from 65 to 131 to include such names as Olympics snowboarder Shaun White and skateboarding phenom Ryan Sheckler. Meanwhile, the brand’s paid-media strategy, which included its second Super Bowl spot this year, harnesses and amplifies the glorious footage recorded by its cameras—from the top of a Shanghai skyscraper to a fireman resuscitating a kitten, to cite just two of GoPro’s gigantic video hits. “We definitely pour fuel on the fire,” says Crandell. “What’s fun about our content is that there’s something new online for us to consider every day that we walk into the building.”
“It’s tricky getting the kind of engagement that they’ve been able to accomplish,” says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, who thinks of the brand as the perfect representative of the marketing zeitgeist. “Traditional brands struggle with maintaining engagement and how consumers try your product, get over it, move on and then you’re dead. [GoPro] has been able to use the Internet and mobile to level the playing field.”
Which is no coincidence. Launched in 2002 and under Crandell’s tutelage from the early days, GoPro was coming into its own apace with social media itself. (It now boasts 7.6 million Facebook fans while its YouTube channel has amassed 2 million subscribers.)
It hasn’t hurt that the brand’s core demo is “a self-documenting generation,” in the words of Danielle McCormick, senior marketing director at digital commerce provider Skava, who credits GoPro for enabling consumers to move beyond selfies and “allow us to document entire adventures with extremely high-quality footage.”
Crandell’s aim is to make sure GoPro stays compelling, sharable and unforgettable. “There’s obviously room to grow,” he says. “We’ve got an amazing assortment of athletes and events. Scaling all of that globally is a big opportunity to create more awareness.”
And the whole world, it seems, will be watching.
View the Brand Genius winner class of 2014:
Paul Crandell, GoPro | Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle | Michelle N. Fernandez, Canon USA | Camille M. Gibson, General Mills | Trudy Hardy, BMW of North America | Matt Jauchius, Nationwide | Quinn Kilbury, Newcastle Brown Ale | David Melançon, Benjamin Moore & Co. | Shane Smith, Vice | Dana White, UFC