There was a time when GoPro was the hottest name in tech hardware, and its founder, Nick Woodman, was one of the most celebrated poster children of the Silicon Valley way. He became a billionaire by doing what he loved and disrupting the stagnant photography market. On October 3, 2014, GoPro’s stock price hit $87 per share.
As of December 30, 2016, GoPro’s share price was $8.74.
As its market value plummets, the company finds itself copying competitors instead of shifting its focus toward the hugely important experiential marketing side of its business.
Meanwhile, Snapchat recently expanded and formed a parent company, Snap, Inc., to preside over its valuable app, Snapchat, and its new hardware business. As you know, its product—Snapchat Spectacles—is a pair of camera-enabled, hipster-ish glasses that allows the wearer to capture Snapchat photos and videos from a unique perspective.
In an era where both hardware and software are invaluable assets of the technology industry, the trajectories of these two brands can teach us valuable lessons about the state of experiential marketing
When GoPro stormed onto the scene, its cameras flew off the shelves. Nobody had ever seen such a small and rugged camera before, let alone one that made it easy to capture heroic images through a wide-angle lens that made nervously snowboarding down an easy slope look like an epic action movie. At first, its rags-to-riches narrative and those alluring video montages at their in-store kiosks made everyone want to buy a camera and start filming their every move. Then, the inevitable question arose: so, like, what are you actually going to do with all that footage?
Rather than crafting a broader product story that included use cases for the amazing footage users were capturing, GoPro decided that answer was irrelevant and continued to update its hardware.
It iterated with megapixels and Bluetooth capability and signed bigger and bigger sponsorship deals and decided the best use of its famously creative thinking was strapping its cameras to eagles’ talons and guys in squirrel suits. This was all well and good—until users realized that videos of themselves skiing on spring break, albeit cool, wasn’t all that meaningful, even with a sweet soundtrack and a clever title on YouTube.
Snapchat has enjoyed a similar zero-to-hero story. When Evan Spiegel and co. first launched their disappearing picture app, it seemed like a short-lived project for sending questionable content among college-aged friends. Then came its surprise popularity and the famous moment when 23-year-old Spiegel shunned Facebook’s offer to purchase the app for three billion dollars. A scant two years later, the brand is worth over eight times that much. It now has multiple revenue channels and content partners. As a software-first company, Snapchat has already achieved more than double the valuation of GoPro’s absolute peak, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Why mess with success and split the brand and delve into hardware, then? It makes more sense than it seems to.
On some level, Go Pro’s plateau is not surprising. There are only so many people who need a compact, wide-angle action sports camera. And eventually the iterations become less convincing than the leaps between iPhone generations, and its business tapers off. It’s a niche product. Of course, so are glasses with a camera attached to them that are designed to do nothing but film 10 second videos and take disappearing pictures.
The difference is the story behind them: GoPro made world-class videos and let the public aspire to matching them with its product, Snapchat gave people a storytelling tool rooted in a piece of software that revolutionized the way an entire generation communicates and perceives social media. A participatory social network has lots more staying power than content creation tools that don’t offer a community or a set place to share and engage with that content. Those equal-but-opposite arcs demonstrate exactly why Snapchat’s (excuse me, Snap, Inc.’s) Spectacles are practically flying out of their Snapbots while GoPro’s latest products languish on the shelves at big-box retailers.
In a market of gimmicky hardware, Snapchat’s Spectacles rose to the top over incumbent camera-toy devices like drones and, yes, GoPros. It’s not because they do anything particularly well, but because they’re a sort of content creation status symbol at the heart of what’s already the most-engaged-with and beloved social network for a very large demographic. Content created with Spectacles is immediately recognizable, and the devices themselves are still rather difficult to purchase—a real double whammy for creating a season’s must-have tech toy.
Looking beyond the obvious buzz of Spectacles, the real story here is the way a software company beat a hardware company at its own game. And the moral of that story is that communal storytelling is a priceless medium that can help a small startup from Venice Beach slay giants. Whatever your brand sells, whatever your brand’s story is, the most important element is the way you engage your audience. Snapchat Spectacles may not provide much by way of new opportunities for brand marketers, but what they represent is valuable for anyone who has an audience to engage.