The Big Interview - GoPro

11 Sep 2014

In 2002, aged 26, Nick Woodman was looking for a way to capture his experiences surfing. His experiments and work led to the development of GoPro, financed by selling sea-shell necklaces he bought while surfing in Bali along the California coast. 

In 2012, GoPro sold more than two million cameras and has been valued at more than two billion dollars. In January, at the launch of the brand's first European office in Munich, Woodman spoke to about GoPro's belief in the power of content and consumer marketing.

You opened your first European office this week in Munich – a long way from when you sat thinking of how to take photographs of yourself and your friends while surfing.

It’s a big deal for us to be opening this office. It’s a testament to how important Europe is to us and to how far GoPro has come. This is all completely above and beyond our wildest expectations, thanks in large part to our customers and the incredible stories they share captured with our cameras. From humble beginnings, allowing surfers to capture their sport, we’ve grown into a standard of how people can capture their lives – from sport, to science, to medicine, to space. Europe has become a very big part of our business, as important to us as North America; it’s a big market for us with passionate consumers living in an incredible natural landscape ripe for GoPro-captured experiences. 

Those consumers have perhaps been your biggest advocates throughout your growth – what has been the secret behind that?

When you enable this type of capture - and enable people to capture incredibly exciting, compelling images - that makes for great content. And when they share that content they often describe their footage as being ‘captured by a GoPro’ – and around the world, with the volume of content people are now sharing, they are virally driving awareness for GoPro beyond anything we as a sales or marketing organisation could do. So we have a bit of a viral phenomenon going, and the content itself is very differentiated from what consumers would capture with a smartphone or traditional camera – forcing the value proposition of GoPro as a differentiated solution. 

How important is the sponsorship of sports events and athletes to your growth, and did you have it in mind from the very beginning?

We didn’t have it in mind at the beginning of the company because we didn’t have any money! But sponsorship is extremely important to GoPro for a few reasons. The brand association that comes with sponsorship is very valuable – you associate yourself with a great athlete, a world champion, and that rubs off on GoPro; we become worthy of being associated with a world champion. Professional athletes also, by nature, are some of the world’s most gifted human beings and their performances are the best in the world. Just like in Hollywood you have starring actors in the best roles in the best films, you have incredible athletes starring in the greatest human feats – and that makes for great content. 

Given that GoPro is in the media business and has the job of enabling fascinating content, it’s natural to us to look to the most fascinating human beings to help us capture that content. It’s important. It’s also important that because GoPro is benefiting from inspired humans around the world capturing and sharing their experiences, that we are supporting them and giving back. We can’t be an organisation that just takes, takes, takes and doesn’t give back to those helping us to realise our vision – so it’s natural for us to help people realise their own dreams. It’s not just business – it’s important in the grand scheme of things because these people are inspiring other people to live bigger lives. We’re trying to establish a platform to celebrate human experience.

So the marketing content you need – including sports content – is produced for you by your consumers on a daily basis, and then shared through your outlets.

Sport is a great platform to communicate performance, versatility, durability, and that’s important for a product like this. Our customers’ shared content does a lot of the messaging for us – and you’re seeing it more in our own programming that we distribute on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram etc, where we’re sharing more and more an eclectic mix of user experiences. Not just sports oriented – we just launched a new music variant to help musicians capture and share their passion – but it’s one of the strengths of GoPro that we don’t have to come out and market it. Our customers themselves are driving these ideas and that’s an important thing to consider when thinking about GoPro as an emerging media brand. 

Is there a line between it being content and being a commercial? 

The beautiful thing about this business is because all of the content is captured on our technology, we don’t ever need to say it in a video or a photo. The camera doesn’t need to appear – we sometimes remove shots where it’s too obvious the camera is there because it becomes too commercial. Our customers know it’s a commercial, but they don’t feel they’re being sold to so they don’t mind. The entertainment value of the media is above and beyond the commercial intention, so the consumer views it as entertainment programming, just as they would if they were watching it from a dedicated media brand. It’s a unique position we’re in.

You talk about marketing GoPro, but it’s also become a tool other brands use to market themselves. Do they come to you and ask how to use it effectively, or does it just happen and you see it when it’s released? And how much benefit does it have for you?

All of the above. Brands, whether commercial brands or individuals, are increasingly using GoPro as a way to self-promote and create engaging, immersive, compelling, hypnotic content that captures people’s attention. A marketer’s job is to capture people’s attention and a GoPro makes it quite easy to do that. We see GoPro being used more and more in commercials, and in film and television production as a result – and a few weeks ago the Hero3 camera won an Emmy for its contributions to the television industry, enabling all these new perspectives that weren’t available before for a very affordable price. That’s the first time a consumer camera has ever won an Emmy which is exciting and it speaks to the fact that it is becoming a tool for marketers around the world to promote their own brands. 

In the case of the individual, it’s ushering in a new era of self-promotion – it’s not enough just to be a world-class athlete any more. You need to be a world-class athlete and a content producer to drive awareness for your personal brand. And when you combine business use of a our product to drive brands and individual use to drive their own brands, that’s a lot of promotion going on. Then on top of that you have GoPro as a promotional platform in the form of our media channels and our social media reach, which is becoming increasingly effective globally. So you have Brand XYZ who buys GoPro to capture and create compelling content and then comes to us and says ‘I created this – would you help me promote my content on your network?’ We’ll do that because it’s so mutually beneficial – the brand gets to increase their exposure and we get to showcase what they did with our technology.

It makes your job easier…

Well, yes – we have arguably the world’s largest production force in the form of our customers – consumers, athletes, corporations – even NASA! It’s a marketers dream come true but I even hesitate to call it marketing. You can pull completely back from the business and just say: GoPro is a platform to celebrate human passion, and human experience is what has enabled GoPro to become the brand it is today.

See the launch of GoPro’s European headquarters here.