38 min read

How GoPro grows through a product and SaaS subscription model

GoPro created a category and have dominated it from day 1. What's more interesting is how they've leveraged a physical product AND SaaS subscription to grow.
How GoPro grows through a product and SaaS subscription model

GoPro is one of the few brands that has both created a category and managed to stay at the top of their creation.

Countless other competitor brands within the "action camera" space have followed in their footsteps, and yet none have been able to overcome them.  

Is it because they're one of the few brands whose name has become interchangeable with the product.  

Or is it because they have an incredible marketing strategy that successfully mixes the revenue spikes of big-ticket sales with the ongoing revenue of a solid subscription offer?

If you run any sort of single product (physical or digital) sales process and want to bolster your income with a subscription offer, you need to read about GoPro's marketing.  

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What is GoPro

Key Takeaways: 10 second version

GoPro is an “Action Camera” company that has become synonymous with the name of the product they sell.     


→ Revenue has been steady at just over $1B for 4 of last 5 years, dropped to ~$900MM in 2020 (likely due to Pandemic).  

→ Revenue was higher pre-2016.  

→ They’ve raised a total of $288MM. 


Section Summary: (30 second version)

Company age: Founded in 2002 by Nick Woodman who was looking to solve his own problem. Initial prototype was a strap system rather than a camera. 


Growth: Their growth between 2012-2015 was huge. In 2012 to 2013 they added over $400MM to their revenue. Numbers dropped from $1.6B in 2015 to $1.1B in 2016 where it’s stayed until 2020. 


Acquisitions: Unlike many similar brands, GoPro hasn’t secured multiple funding rounds (they’ve had 2). They have acquired other businesses to help with growth though. These acquisitions have helped improve their service to customers. Much easier to acquire established offerings than build them yourself.  


What is GoPro?

GoPro terms itself as an “action camera” company. At its core, GoPro is a tech company. It produces small cameras that can be used in extreme conditions.

This has led to their products becoming a favourite with extreme sports enthusiasts who want a permanent record of their antics and adventures.

As the company has grown, GoPro has branched out from offering only cameras to also offer editing software and cloud video storage solutions.

When was GoPro Founded?

GoPro was founded in 2002 by Nick Woodman. Like many great businesses, GoPro started as a solution to the founder’s problem.

Nick wanted a camera that he could use to capture his surf days with his friends.

His initial solution was to strap a 35mm camera to his wrist with old wetsuits and plastic scraps (more on this later).

GoPro’s revenue

There’s an interesting change in GoPro’s revenue over the years.

I can only find files going back to 2012. But there’s an interesting trend.

Between 2012 and 2015 GoPro saw pretty incredible YoY growth. In those 4 years, they grew from $526MM to $1.62B.

However, they then tapered off and made around $1.1B for the following 4 years.

In 2020, revenue dropped to just below $900MM which isn’t surprising. I assume fewer people were taking international trips and so had fewer needs to upgrade their GoPro equipment or services.

Let’s take a look at what caused that massive leap in revenue over those 4 years.

GoPro’s funding

If you dive into GoPro’s funding you’ll notice something pretty interesting.

The 4 years of growth coincide directly with their funding amounts.

What I love about their funding is that they secured only 3 rounds. Then, unlike many brands who continue to raise, they put their heads down and grew the brand.

In 2011, they secured $88MM in funding. At the end of 2012 they received a further $200MM.

And then in 2013, they saw their biggest year of growth.

They obviously put that funding money to work to grow the brand.

What they did with the cash is something I haven’t been able to figure out. They made a lot of acquisitions of smaller companies to flesh out their service offerings, but they didn’t begin those acquisitions until late 2013.

So those brands likely helped tip the revenue over the $1B mark. But that first year of almost doubling revenue (2012 - 2013) is something of a mystery.

My assumption is they poured a lot of it into both R&D for new products and marketing spend.

GoPro’s acquisitions

Speaking of GoPro’s acquisitions, let’s run through them.

Below is a quick table of the companies GoPro has acquired over the years, and what that brand offered to the GoPro family.

Year of acquisition

Brand acquired

Acquired brand’s service

How it helps GoPro

2013

General Things

Software engineering

Improvements to camera software

2015

Kolor

Virtual reality

360-degree filming capability

2015

Lumific

Photo editing

Allows Gopro to build editing software

2015

Skybotix

Engineering

Drone video services

2016

Vemory

Video editing

Improvements to GoPro’s editing app

2016

Stupefix

Video editing

Improvements to GoPro’s editing app

GoPro made some smart choices here.

To me it looks like they started out acquiring brands who could beef up their own development infrastructure.

People to basically help the brand improve their existing architecture and the workings of the physical goods.

Once that was up to a level, they simply bought services they’d like to include within GoPro and integrated their service into the GoPro family.

Which they needed. Because I remember back then that their video editing software (both mobile and desktop) was extremely weak and a pain to use.

Rather than refine that service themselves, they simply found someone else doing it better and bought their offer.

It’s obviously only viable for brands with tonnes of cash on hand, but this is a very quick way to add extra functionality to a business.

GoPro’s valuation

The GoPro team created a tool that people love. They grew the revenue to 9-figures, secured hundreds of millions in funding, and acquired multiple other businesses to improve the service they provide.

What has that done to their overall valuation? In short, not a lot.

GoPro went public in 2014 and had one of the most successful tech IPOs of that year.

Their valuation after going public was a little over $8B.

However, that valuation dropped over subsequent years to just over $1B.

The primary reasons are the stagnating growth of the brand.

The question is why did growth stagnate.

I could get into their failed drone launch or really pull apart their financials. However, even a quick Google will highlight the issue.

Bear with me on this. There’s an important point here which will be relevant when we get into their marketing.

Camera Phones have been around longer than GoPros.

But for the majority of their lives, they were…

  • Cumbersome
  • Poor quality
  • Extremely fragile
  • Had very low memory limits (meaning you couldn’t store lots of high-res images)

GoPro was - for a long time -  a much better option for those looking for a compact camera.

But through the mid 2010s camera phone technology exploded.

We were seeing better cameras on the device we were already carrying.

A device that had better storage and already fit comfortably in our pockets.

As that tech progressed, the casual photographers who wanted a simple way to chronicle their recent vacation trip would use the camera they already had instead of purchasing a higher priced item from GoPro.

You can see how the overall interest in search for GoPros dwindled as camera phone tech improved.

The real question then is why is GoPro still around when other “portable camera” companies have been all but destroyed by the improvements in smartphone tech?

It’s because they offer something smartphones cannot now (nor likely ever) will be able to do.

GoPro’s are smaller and more robust, which makes them ideal for the extreme sports crowd.

In short, I think the 2012 funding was used to market to a much wider audience.

However, after 2015, much of that wider audience didn’t need a waterproof camera or the ability to strap it to their chest/helmet while climbing Yosemite or surfing huge waves in Mexico.

The camera phone in their pocket did everything they needed it to.

GoPro hasn’t unfortunately doubled down on that audience. Instead trying to launch other products and services which aren’t necessarily the best use of their time (in our opinion).

Here’s how they’ve monetised their brand.

GoPro’s revenue model

The core of GoPro’s business is, of course, their action cameras.

The small, robust cameras that film incredible quality video regardless of conditions.

One of the problems with creating such high quality goods is it lowers the need for customers to upgrade.

When your product lasts for years, the majority of your customers won’t need to upgrade for a long time. We’re talking things like…

  • Laptops
  • Cars

They’ll wait for a major update in quality or features. For GoPro, that might be something like…

  • Better camera resolution
  • Camera that has better water resistance
  • Camera that works in a new environment without issue

So, GoPro did what most ecommerce stores that focus on high-value physical products did.

They focused on up and cross sells.

By bundling a small handle, clip, and case in with their Hero 9 camera, they can increase the AoV of that product by £50.

Not bad, but it doesn’t solve the problem of predictable revenue or very “spikey” LTV surges.

The customer will buy a camera today, go quiet for a few years, before maybe returning for an upgrade or replacement.

So, GoPro have a second tier of products that improve the experience of using their primary tier - the camera.

After you’ve purchased something from them, you’ll be reminded of periodic offers, sales, and new additions to their store for items including…

  • Lights
  • Cases
  • Tripods
  • Batteries

The secondary tier of products are there to add value to the primary tier.

The primary tier is a great entry point to upsell the secondary.

They work together to increase the other’s value and your likelihood of buying.

Sounds obvious, but a lot of brands don’t get this right and have no real strategy when it comes to up sells.

GoPro have even branched out into bags and clothing.

However, once again this raises the issue of it being a single purchase here and there. It doesn’t help you accurately predict revenue beyond predictions and assumptions.

That’s where GoPro’s acquisitions come into the equation.  

On their website you’ll find a link to download their apps. Which include…

App/Software name

What it does

Price

GoPro Quik

Edit images and videos on mobile

Free with upgraded service included with GoPro Subscription

GoPro Player

Edit images and videos on desktop

Free

GoPro Webcam

Use your GoPro as a webcam

Free

Reelsteady

Stabilizes videos for easier viewing

$99

Most GoPro customers will simply use the free tools.

Which is fine and could actually be beneficial to GoPro.

If they have their data collection linked, they should be able to identify power users of their tools for easier marketing opportunities down the line.

However, again the free tools don’t make revenue prediction any easier.

What they do is allow GoPro to identify higher-value users and offer a simple upsell for more serious users.

The more a user interacts with GoPro branded products, the more data GoPro receives and the more likely the brand is to stay top of mind.

However, What I really love here is how they’ve baked a freemium model into some of that software to help them push the membership.

If you head to the “subscribe” heading on their website, you’ll find the below in the above the fold section.

Pretty normal.

But if you scroll down you’ll see features like…

  • Unlimited cloud storage
  • Live streaming through GoPro
  • Up to 50% off in the GoPro store
  • A camera replacement service (with obvious limitations)

The best thing for me though is how they upgrade the software services with the subscription.

You get access to more “pro” features in their editing apps by subscribing.

I love this for a few reasons.

  1. It’s another, more predictable revenue stream for them (£50 / year per person on auto-renew)
  2. There are multiple entry points and benefits to getting someone from that one time purchase to a yearly subscription

There aren’t many physical product brands that offer this subscription product <> SaaS hybrid model which is why it’s so interesting.

I’ve offered a quick visual of how the different models work, and how a subscription model creates an easier to manage revenue model for a business.

As a primary physical product business, you’re always going to see peaks in each customer’s value as they come back to buy again or get some form of add-on.

However, by adding a subscription you can ensure that the “down” periods don’t see that customer’s down period reduce their value to $0.

It keeps money flowing in and allows you to predict with more accuracy the LTV of each customer and your revenue trends.

Let’s run some hypothetical numbers between customer A 9without subscription) and customer B (a subscriber) and their value over 10 years.

We’re gonna have to make a couple of assumptions here. Let’s imagine each person upgrades their primary tier product every 3 years and buys an add-on every so often.

And that the subscription offers a flat 20% discount on all products.

The numbers might look something like the below.

Year

Customer A purchase

Customer A spend

Customer B purchase

Customer B spend

1

Camera

$300

Camera + subscription

$300

2


$0

Subscription

$49

3

Add-on

$100

Add-ons + subscription

$80 + ($49)

4

Camera

$300

Camera + subscription

240 + ($49)

5


$0

Subscription

$49

6


$0

Add-on + subscription

$80 +($49)

7

Camera

$300

Camera + subscription

240 + ($49)

8

Add-ons

$100

Add-ons + subscription

$80 +($49)

9


$0

Subscription

$49

10

Camera

$300

Camera + subscription

240 + ($49)

Totals


$1400


$1701

The user might get periodic discounts, but they end up paying more consistently into the business.

And the data you collect allows you to better personalise and incentivise new offers, leading to another “add-on” sale.

This is all great, however, the real question we need to answer is how do GoPro run their marketing and growth strategies to ensure they’re maximising their revenue potential across all these different types of models.

GoPro’s positioning and messaging

Key Takeaways: 10 second version

Here’s how GoPro established a new product category: 


→ Identified the problem with existing cameras being too big and not robust enough for sport use.  

→ Created a camera that was small and could be used for various outdoor sports.  

→ Focused on that single product offer ands managed to steal the “action camera” category out from other camera producers like Sony.  


Section Summary: (30 second version)

Target Audience: People interested in outdoor and extreme sports.


Examples of Established Competitors: Sony, Nikon etc. However, no one had at that point created a good action camera.  


Problem: Most cameras simply weren’t suitable for outdoor or sports use. The camera would either be too distracting or you risked breaking it. 


Solution: GoPro created a camera that’s...

  • Smaller than existing cameras

  • Water and shock resistant and proof

  • Easily “strapped on” to various protective gear/body parts so it doesn’t get in the way


GoPro’s positioning and messaging

As we keep seeing in these growth studies, differentiation and finding your perfect audience is key to that hockey stick growth.

GoPro is yet another perfect example of this.

They identified the problem…

  • Existing cameras were too big and not robust enough for extreme sports

They created a simple solution…

  • Create a camera that could withstand water, heat, and more serious falls

They marketed it to a crowd of people who needed it…

  • The extreme sports crowd who wanted to film their outdoor adventures

Here’s the thing that’s so interesting about this.

GoPro didn’t technically invent anything.

Cameras already existed.

All they did was found a single segment of camera users and a primary problem they had. Then, they built their solution around solving that problem.

If we look back at some of our other studies, we can see the same thing happening again and again.

Brand

Existing solutions

Problem a single segment experiences

Improved solution offered by new brand

Noom

Weight Watchers

Easy to gain back the weight they lost

Behavioural change for lasting effects

Morning Brew

The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times

Dry and boring coverage, takes too long to read daily

Shorter form and fun summary of news 

GoPro

Camera companies, smartphones

Camera phones not good for outdoor sports

Robust cameras specifically for outdoor sports

If you want to stand out in a saturated market, you have to find an edge that addresses your target audience’s better/cheaper/quicker than the competition.

In fact, GoPro were so effective in solving a specific market segment’s problem, they pretty much launched a category of products now known as “action cameras”.

Let’s take a deeper look at how GoPro have managed to stand out from the crowd.

The Market

The Target Audience

GoPro sells action cameras to athletes, active hobbyists, and outdoors enthusiasts.

Their ideal customer is someone who regularly engages in the sporty activities that standard digital cameras aren’t built for.

GoPros are designed to be:

  • Rugged and tough to damage.
  • Waterproof.
  • Easily mountable to a variety of surfaces and sports gear.
  • Easy to use - simple UX to navigate and easy to operate mid-sport.

GoPro’s target audience is active, passionate about their activities, and care about creating high-quality photos/video.

The Competition

When the first GoPro was built in 2004, there was nothing like it on the market. “Action cameras” weren’t a thing yet.

In the first decade or so of existence, GoPro created the action camera niche and owned the space almost exclusively.

But, more recently, they’ve had to deal with a number of different competitors. This competition these days tends to fall into two main camps:

  1. Expensive action cameras made by familiar brands like:
  2. Sony
  3. Garmin
  4. Nikon
  5. Action cameras made by brands you’ve probably never heard of, like:
  6. Akaso
  7. Campark
  8. DJI

The big brands’ action cameras tend to try and compete with GoPro on quality, and can end up being significantly more expensive.

For example, the GoPro Hero9 retails for $349, while the Sony RX0 II costs $698.

The smaller brands, on the other hand, tend to compete with GoPro on price and/or niche uses.

For example, Akaso makes several models that retail for less than $100. Another brand, Vtech, makes a GoPro alternative for kids.

You can grab a Vemont for $23.99 on Amazon

So, while a few brands have produced specific models that might fit a few niche uses a little better than a GoPro Hero, every serious review we’ve read ends up recommending the Hero as the best overall action camera (often, by a mile).

Whatever the angle they take, competing brands are still struggling to catch up with GoPro’s hold on the market. You’re more likely to think “I need a GoPro” than “I need an ‘action camera’”, right?

The Problem

Before Nick Woodman developed the GoPro, amateur athletes and adventurers did not have access to cameras that were built to record their exploits.

In the early 2000s, consumer-level digital cameras were bulky, fragile, and ill-equipped for fast-moving action scenes.

This was a common problem for athletes across many different sports, whether you were surfing, climbing, biking, or generally being outdoorsy.

If you did try and bring a camera along, you’d run into a lot of problems.

  • They were bulky
  • The were often easily damaged
  • Most digital cameras couldn’t keep up with fast-paced scenes and bumpy rides

They came at a premium cost but couldn’t keep up with the intended use.

The Solution

Nick Woodman built the first GoPro to solve his own problem - he wanted to film his surfing up close, but couldn’t find a camera that could handle a ride on a surfboard.

The GoPro was a practical answer to his specific challenge.

Woodman’s first efforts were really focused more on the camera strap - he actually called it the “Ultimate Camera Strap”. Here’s what the prototype looked like:

He designed a strap-on rig for a 35 mm camera, found a manufacturer in China, and soon had a working model. This is what the first GoPro looked like back in 2004:

This version, dubbed the GoPro Hero 1, cost Woodman $3/unit to manufacture and retailed for $20-40.

It didn’t take long for them to catch on.

As other athletes started using GoPros to film their excursions, Woodman and his team built on the first version and added features to make the camera better and better.

Two years after the Hero 1, GoPro released the Hero 3, which had the ability to film short videos.

At the time of writing, GoPro is on its 9th version, the GoPro Hero 9.

Front View

Back View

Now, the product is much more about the camera, not the strap. Hero 9’s can film in 5K, shoot 20 megapixel photos, and are Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/GPS-enabled. It’s also compatible with 30+ accessories, depending on your specific needs.

This shift to focus on the camera, not the strapping mechanism might be the smartest thing Woodman did. A strap is easy to copy and has a relatively low price ceiling - but the tech angle proved to be much “bigger”.

It’s also harder to copy, thus giving GoPro an easier to defend moat from ambitious rivals.

GoPro’s Edge

GoPro’s primary edge is that it’s more than just a brand name - it’s now being used as a generic term for this class of camera.

I’ve never met anyone who’s said the term “action camera” out loud. Instead, most of us say “GoPro”. When your brand name doubles as the term for the entire product class, you’re probably winning.

They got here in large part because they created the first action camera. Technically, they’re the first mover in this space and got to lead the market for several years before other brands started trying to compete directly.

Being around first can be a big advantage, but it doesn't guarantee lasting success. And yet, GoPros are still thought of as the best-in-class action cameras.

GoPro has maintained its hold on the market because of two central ideas:

  1. The product is excellent. As mentioned, it’s the #1 rated action camera on every major review we’ve read while researching this piece.
  2. They’ve created a culture around their brand. We’ll get into exactly how they did this in the next couple of sections.

GoPro’s Acquisition and Conversion Process

Key Takeaways: 10 second version

Here’s how GoPro acquires a lot of their new users: 


→ They’ve become synonymous with the term action camera. And so rank #1 for product and brand related terms.  

→ For other BoFu terms, they use affiliates. Offer people who are ranking on page 1 an affiliate link and use their position to drive high-intent traffic to offers. 

→ They also bid on brand and product names to retain the top spots. They use SKAGs for this to ensure control. 

→ The result is page 1 of Google for brand and BoFu terms all lead to a GoPro sales page. 


Section Summary: (30 second version)

Organic acquisition: GoPro has the benefit of being the industry leader. So they already rank #1 for their brand and product searches. This is hard to replicate in the short term for many. But by focusing on one product and market, it can be achieved with patience.  


Affiliate acquisition: To ensure they capture the searches for BoFu terms (“best action camera” etc), they make use of affiliate payouts. All page 1 results for these terms include an affiliate link back to GoPro’s sales pages


Paid acquisition: They make heavy use of search ads. They seem to use Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) to maintain control over their bids etc. They also bid heavily on their brand name and products to ensure they retain control of page one for high intent searches.  


Social acquisition: There’s a lot GoPro do on social. However, the vast majority is User Generated Content. It’s a natural fit for GoPro as the product helps people create the content. We break this down later. 

Downloads:


You can find all of the below downloads in file “SKAGs”


→ A step-by-step guide to setting up your own SKAGs 

→ Visual representation and guide to setting up SKAGs

→ A real case study on how I’ve used SKAGs for great benefits in the past


GoPro’s Acquisition and Conversion Process

GoPro had what every successful brand needs.

A product that solved a problem their user base couldn’t solve elsewhere.

The product-market fit was there from the start - which makes growing any brand immeasurably easier.

However, as you’ll often find me saying - this isn’t Field of Dreams.

Building something is not enough to ensure sales. Even if you have brand recognition you’re gonna need to get that product in front of as many ideal customers as possible.

Here’s how GoPro did exactly that with great success.

A high-level overview of GoPro’s marketing

According to SimilarWeb, GoPro makes heavy use of search marketing in their acquisition.

Hardly surprising when you think about it.

As we mentioned earlier, they’ve basically created a category of product themselves. And even competing products are often referred to as GoPros.

Here’s what I love about what they’ve done here. They’ve taken an approach that’s very similar to what we saw with Noom.

Below is a quick visualisation of this, with a full, detailed explanation following.

GoPro’s SERP affiliate strategy

First, for solution aware searches, they don’t really rank for the relevant terms.

We’re talking things like…

  • Best GoPro
  • Best action camera
  • Best sports / outdoor camera

If you take a look at the first page of Google for these terms, you’ll find one of 4 different types of content.

  1. An ad run by GoPro themselves
  2. “Review” articles from respectable third parties (which include affiliate links)
  3. “Review” videos (that include affiliate links)
  4. Paid ads from other brands that promote GoPro products

If you check out the pieces, it’s pretty obvious that the “recommendations” are in fact affiliate offers. Here’s one from Techradar.

I personally think this is genius.

GoPro not only get to dominate page 1 of the search results, but each result carries more trust than an article published by GoPro on their website.

These third-party reviews are seen as more trustworthy and so will carry more weight with the customer.

We’ve seen this a few times now with brands, most notably with Noom's marketing.

It is the best way to dominate page 1 of the search results without having to put a lot of time into creating tonnes of content and getting it to rank.

In short, all you need to do is…

  • Establish an affiliate program
  • Find people who are ranking one page 1 for BoFu terms
  • Get them to include your product in their piece for an affiliate commission
  • Rinse and repeat

That’ll help with the people who are comparing the product and trying to assess if your product is the best for their needs.

Hold on though.

SimilarWeb estimates 60% of GoPro’s traffic comes direct from search. Not through an affiliate referral.

So, what’s that about?

Well, this is because GoPro have done such a great job of establishing themselves as the go-to action camera.

As we mentioned earlier, most people will use the name GoPro when they really mean action camera.

The brand has become synonymous with the product. And, as a result, they dominate page one for short tail keywords of GoPro.

Here’s the page one results of a simple “GoPro” search.

Pretty much every result is direct to their site or a property they own.

This isn’t something easily replicable for most brands.  Creating a genre of products is, well, almost impossible (but if you can, then do so).

However, you can ensure that you are ranking and showing for your brand name even before your SEO for [BRAND NAME] kicks in.

This is something you have to watch out for. As soon as you get some traction, you’re going to find that other people will buy search ads focused on your name.

GoPro isn’t immune from this. You’ll note that their top paid keywords aren’t for BoFu comparison terms, but are for their brand and product names.

The CPC of the general GoPro term is insanely high as well.

I doubt they make much profit off that term. However, if they weren’t paying for it, someone else would be.

The CPC is proof of that.

The other thing I think is worth noting with GoPro is their own unusual hub-and-spoke model.

GoPro’s interlinking content strategy

The hub-and-spoke model is an SEO strategy that’s become a best practice for most industries.

If you’re not aware, here’s the quick and dirty version.

  • You create a hub piece that addresses the core topic from a high level.
  • You then spin that off into several more detailed pieces about elements that make up the whole.
  • You then link them all together to create a single interlinked resource showing you are the authority.

GoPro haven’t done this as they focus more on user generated content (we’ll break that down later).

However, if you look at their referral traffic, the top referrers are primarily brands and sites they own.

They’ve basically created a “site hub”.

Brands like Kolor (which they acquired) are used to funnel traffic in.

And products like Reelsteady (which I believe they own) are where they send traffic.

It’s a semi-closed ecosystem that helps retain the attention of the traffic they attract and shape it towards the offers they want to push.

I’ve seen this with other brands as well.

They’ll own multiple domains which work together to help them funnel people between one another. It helps them retain control over the customer journey and collect an incredible amount of useful data for future efforts.

If you want to read a little about this, be sure to check out our micro-study on The Agora’s $1B machine.

If I was starting a product business, the above is what I would focus on.

I’d dominate page one of the search results through affiliate reviews and do all I could to retain the attention of that traffic for as long as possible.

However, there comes a time when that alone isn’t enough and you need to scale.

Which is when ads come into the equation.

Here’s GoPro’s approach to running ads.

GoPro’s ad strategy

GoPro runs three types of ads.

In order of their usage, we have…

  • Search ads
  • Social ads
  • Display network ads

Here’s the thing.

I honestly don’t think their ad strategy is particularly impressive. I feel like they’ve lost a lot of the creativity and uniqueness they could have with their products.

GoPro’s search ads

Taking a look through, it looks like GoPro is using the SKAG approach to search ads.

If you’re not aware, SKAG stands for Single Keyword Ad Group and is a way to control at a more granular level what your ads show.

If you look at the ad copy and targeting they’re running, it’s pretty obvious.

The first giveaway was the number of keywords being used for each ad.

In this short section of their top ads, we have the ads showing only for between 1-3 keywords.

If you’ve ever run Google Ads, you’ll know that your ads will often show for lots of potential variants through broad match.

For example, if not controlled, a single GoPro ad that’s targeted on the term GoPro, might also show for…

  • Action camera
  • Outdoor camera
  • GoPro
  • Surfing camera

Or 100+ other non-relevant search terms.

This might seem like a great idea to cast a wide net, but it actually damages the ads effectiveness.

Someone searching for “best action camera” is looking for a comparison, not a direct ad to GoPro’s site.

Anyone who clicks on that ad will be unlikely to purchase, thus wasting GoPro’s ad spend.

The second giveaway for me is the headline copy.

To get the most out of SKAgs it’s better to include a direct match to the keyword within the headline itself.

I’ve highlighted the exact match keywords in the above image for you.

If we run through the above (top row first), I’d wager the keywords they’re targeting are…

  1. Go Pro, Hero9
  2. Hero9, Hero9 Black, Action Camera
  3. Hero9 Black, Hero9
  4. Not sure
  5. GoPro Subscription, Hero9 Black
  6. Waterproof digital camera, digital camera
  7. GoPro, Hero9 Black
  8. Action Camera

Back when I was running ads for clients, I had great success with this kind of approach.

Single Keywords Ad Groups allow for greater granularity in your targeting. You can focus on specific keywords and thus match intent.

That reduces the chance of you targeting people who are at a problem stage from being fed an ad for those at the solution stage.

It also helps with the ad’s relevance - a major indicator to Google of the ad’s quality which influences CPC.

By also including the search term (GoPro Hero9 Black) in the headline, you increase CTR.  Serving the search back to the searcher signals you have the answer they’re actively looking for.

It’s a really simple method of improving the relevancy and perceived value of your ads.

Which goes a long way in getting better results through search.

By using SKAGs, GoPro can create ads that are specific and aligned with the searcher's level of intent. It's a common model and it works well.

GoPro’s Social Ads

This is where GoPro lets themselves down in my opinion.

They have some of the best user-generated content out there. And yet their social ads are pretty generic.

Take a look at a sample below.

Nothing particularly interesting.

No common frameworks, templates, or anything particularly unique about the creative.

I’d be willing to bet that’s because these aren’t top of funnel ads.

These are likely retargeting ads based on people who have abandoned.

I mean, I can’t see the value in funneling cold traffic to a second-tier product like the camera light.

The profit margins aren’t going to work out.

If you're sending cold traffic to an add-on product, you're likely wasting money - after all, who is going to start their brand relationship by buying an accessory first.

Complete conjecture on my part as you can’t check these things, but I’m pretty certain all of their social ads are for retargeting over cold traffic generation.

Which explains why the ad copy and creative is extremely direct. In fact, all of that ad copy is a mix or combination of…

  • A straight explanation of the product
  • Focuses on price (more importantly savings)
  • A single benefit of a single product

This is the sort of copy that would appeal to someone who knows about the product already, but maybe hasn’t yet taken the plunge to purchase.

I have taken the time to build out a simple template from these though, which you can again find in the appendices in your downloads.

GoPro’s display ads

Again, these ads aren’t particularly creative nor interesting.

They feature a single product and seem to focus primarily on the savings you can make if you buy now.

If I had to bet, I’d say they’re using display advertising in the same way as their social ads. Primarily for retargeting of people who viewed but then abandoned their cart.

If we break that down into a basic model, it would look something like this.

One thing I really think is missing here is that initial cold traffic generation.

Sure, they’re getting branded results in search.

They also have the incredible affiliate strategy that helps them dominate page one of Google.

And finally, they’ve got search ads for BoFu and brand terms.

But there’s little in the way of ToFu intent traffic generation.

They might be a household name now, but how on earth did they initially generate interest around their products in the first place?

Well, it was thanks to an incredible user-generated content approach.

GoPro’s User Generated Content (UGC)

Key Takeaways: 10 second version

Here’s how GoPro leverages UGC:


→ GoPro has a benefit other brands don’t. Their product naturally creates great UGC.   

→ Much of their social media presence is simple curation of the content others are creating with their GoPros.  

→ They have a handful of “GoPro athletes”. Professionals in their area who provide more extreme UGC.  


Section Summary: (30 second version)

The UGC approach: Because GoPro cameras are aimed at outdoor enthusiasts and extreme sports athletes, the content they produce is naturally visually striking. GoPro simply curates the content these users share and reuse it on their own social channels.  


Why UGC?: UGC builds more trust than straight social proof. Social proof is people telling you how great the product is, good UGC will show the transformational benefits UGC provides.  


UGC as part of the funnel: GoPro don’t just reshare the UGC they find on their own social channels. They use it as a ToFu traffic driver. They’ll drop links to the products used to create the content in the description, which is yet another way into their sales funnel.  


Downloads:


You can find all of the below downloads in file “UGC”


→ A step-by-step guide to getting a UGC campaign off the ground 

→ A visual representation of the model of a solid UGC campaign

→ Prompts to send to your audience to get them to create great UGC for you


GoPro’s User Generated Content (UGC)

Here’s where I think things get really interesting with GoPro.

If you dive into their traffic sources, you’ll notice that the majority of their social traffic comes from sites that are heavily visual.

I am surprised Instagram is so low on the list. But I’m not at all surprised that youTube is at the top.

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world by use.

And so a lot of brands obviously want to rank there and see what they can do to drive traffic (more on this in next month’s edition).

However, churning out video content is time consuming, expensive, and difficult to manage for a lot of brands.

Not so for GoPro.

Take this quick comparison as an example.

Nike, one of the biggest sportswear manufacturers in the world who…

  • Are known for doing visually stunning advertisements (that should work well on YouTube)
  • Have countless top athletes on their payroll for sponsorships
  • Are valued at almost $35 billion dollars

They have a YouTube subscriber base of 1.6M people.

GoPro is a much smaller brand, and yet their YouTube following is 10.3M.

And the most amazing thing?

The majority of their content is produced simply by people using their product.

Check out their video list.

The GoPro team may have helped fund some of these videos.

But more often than not, they offer a sponsorship to an athlete and get them to record incredible footage GoPro can use in their marketing.

Take this video from GoPro athlete Trevor Kennison.

It’s a visually stunning video that people interested in snowboarding are going to want to watch.

As they watch, they’re going to be thinking “wow, the quality of this footage is incredible. How can I capture that kind of quality on my next trip?

If they scroll down, they’ll find links to various GoPro properties.


GoPro YouTube video descriptions

And of course, the end card from the video also pushes people towards…

  1. The GoPro home page (which doubles as a sales page)
  2. Another GoPro video (to keep you engaged)

It’s a similar story on Facebook, their second biggest traffic generator.

Their pages are full of content produced by people using GoPros.

GoPro simply curate this content, share it to their audience, and add a link to the products being used.

You’ll see the same system play out across all of the various channels they drive traffic from.

And it’s genius.

Here’s the breakdown of why this works so well.

Why User-Generated Content is more powerful than social proof

I could tell you that I am the best copywriter and marketing strategist in the UK, or even the world.

Would you believe me?

Likely not - and you’d be right not to.

I have something to gain from making those claims so I am, of course, going to inflate the hype around myself.

However, if I were to get a handful of top marketers to corroborate my claims and say “yeah, Pete really is the best”, you’re more likely to believe it.

Those third parties have very little to gain from recommending me and so their word is trusted a little more.

This approach is the classic social proof.

Get other people to sing your praises.

But it’s not going as far as it can or should.

There’s a level of trust-building and belief building beyond social proof.

The way I see it is social proof still falls prey to the issue many marketers have. They TELL their audience why they’re so great.

When we all know you get the best results by SHOWING how you’re so much better than the competition.

This is where User Generated Content (UGC) fills the gap.

If, instead of getting people to tell you how great I was, I had my past clients and customer show you the results I generated for them, you’re going to trust in that claim completely.

It not only comes from a more trustworthy source, but it also shows the transformational benefits of working with me.

It’s a powerful one-two punch.

Why GoPro’s UGC is the gold-standard

The reason GoPro’s UGC is the gold-standard of this strategy is partly down to the product itself.

GoPros actively record material that’s both perfect for marketing, and an excellent demonstration of the product’s abilities.

The ability to “show, don’t tell” is built into the product.

However, it’s how GoPro uses what people are capturing with their products that makes this so impressive.

Their UGC strategy completes a more traditional flywheel.

Here’s how it looks written out.

Step 1 - People see GoPro’s marketing materials of incredible views and action

Step 2 - That person checks out GoPro’s site and products

Step 3 - They purchase or abandon

Step 3.5 - Abandoners are retargeted

Step 4 - The new customer gets a GoPro and starts using it to create content perfect for GoPro’s marketing team

Step 5 - GoPro curates that content and uses it in their organic and top-of-funnel marketing campaigns

It’s the perfect synergy for GoPro.

Here’s that process visualised.

In short, they use UGC to get people to check out their products.

For each person that buys, they gain another potential source of UGC.

This is a marketing flywheel in the truest sense.

Once this system is worked out and is driving positive gains, it’ll continue to grow.

You increase the input once, and then it should grow exponentially from there.

The only real effort needed from the marketing team is to collect and curate the best pieces of marketing that show GoPro in the best light.

That’s a tough job, but much easier than also having to create that content.

This is why it’s the gold standard.

A lot of brands try to implement a UGC strategy but don’t get this flywheel element right.

If you check the downloads, you’ll find a guide on setting up an easy to manage flywheel for your customers that can be adapted to different industries.  

GoPro’s Subscription Service

Key Takeaways: 10 second version

Here’s how GoPro turned a product into a subscription:


→ Subscription offers help you create a more predictable revenue stream for your business.   

→ Selling a subscription is hard, GoPro don’t sell the subscription but offer the first billing cycle as a “freebie” when you purchase a bundle.

→ GoPro have included an insurance element to keep their subscribers coming back even after the first billing cycle is over.  


Section Summary: (30 second version)

Overcoming problems with subscription offers: Telling someone you’re going to take money out of their account periodically is a hard sell. GoPro overcome this by front loading the value. You’re not buying a subscription but a camera (so you get value right now) and the subscription is added on as a freebie. You then have one billing cycle to prove value, which will keep the customer paying monthly.    


Subscription as insurance?: GoPro adds an extra value element. They include 2 free camera replacements per year with the subscription. This “insurance” offer could save the customer hundreds of dollars. With a camera for extreme sports, the offer is well aligned.  


Extra benefits of subscription offers: GoPro will also get better data and thus have an easier time marketing new offers to their customers.  Subscription offers are a great way to continually collect enrichment data from your best customers.    


Downloads:


You can find all of the below downloads in file “Subscription”:


→ A step-by-step guide to turning a product into a subscription

→ A visual representation of the how subscription models influence revenue


GoPro’s Subscription Service

In 2021, subscription services are a dime a dozen.

Software is almost always offered on a subscription basis. And it’s a great way (preferably to many) to operate your monetisation strategy.

The reasons subscription models are so effective is simple. They offer a number of benefits including…

  • Often a better LTV
  • Easier to predict revenue
  • More stable revenue over time

From an owner’s perspective, subscription is amazing.

However, it’s not something that’s easy to set up (trust me, I know from first hand experience), nor is it something that’s common to physical product ecommerce brands like GoPro.

While I can’t get a look at their financials to tell you how well their subscription service is working in terms of revenue, what I can do is deconstruct the reasons why I think their subscription model is pretty well set-up so you can do the same.

The common problem with subscription services

This isn’t rocket science.

It’s hard to sell someone on the idea that you’re going to be pulling money out of their bank every single day/week/month/year.

A one time purchase is far less threatening and will have a much higher conversion rate.

There’s no need to get into the psychology of this as it’s apparent.

Losing money is the opposite of what we all want.

Losing money once is less painful than seeing a similar amount get debited from you periodically.

This is what you have to overcome when selling a subscription. But if you can overcome it, you can see the LTV and predictability of revenue increase.

How to get combat the “repeat fee” element of subscriptions

The short version of the goal is to focus not on the subscription element, but on the value.

You;ve got to do two things here, and GoPro is a great example of this. I’m going to use months as the period for subscriptions, but it could easily be weeks, years or any other period.

  1. You have to front load the value and basically over-deliver on month 1 to remove the risk they take up front.
  2. You then have one billing cycle to prove to users that the value you provide is more than the fee they’re being asked to pay.

If you can do both of those, you have the basis for a good subscription product.

Let’s put it in real terms with GoPro.

GoPro front loads the value for their subscription

GoPro does sell singular access to their subscription.

However, I highly doubt many of their subscribers come from this page.

While they’ve done a good job of providing value that outstrips the fee (more on that later), for a new customer it’s just not very compelling as a standalone offer.

Which is why they create a bundle for new customers.

All of their products are sold with a bundle that includes the first year of the subscription for free.

If you follow a purchase through to checkout, you’re hit with the savings you’re making. Which of course include that first year of GoPro’s subscription.

What they’re basically doing is minimising the perceived risk of signing up for a repeating charge on your card.

Whereas the Subscription page sells it for £49.99 / year, the bundle doesn’t sell it at all.

It’s positioned as a freebie that’s included with your purchase. And who’s going to say no to a freebie?

Trying to get someone to agree to a repeating charge is hard.

So, don’t do it.

Simple as that.

Instead, you sell your customers something now and include the first billing cycle of the subscription as an add-on.

If you deliver on the value of your subscription, they won’t want to cancel when it comes time to renew.

But the most important thing is to make today’s purchase a no brainer.

Don’t position it as “pay us every X months”.

Position it as “pay this and get this today”. Front load that value to make the purchase a no brainer.

Then deliver the value they want to keep them.

A subscription as “insurance”

Here’s the crazy thing with GoPro’s subscription and one of the other reasons I think it works so well.

A monthly fee on its own for cloud storage isn’t that enticing. Especially when a $0.99 payment to iCloud will provide you with the majority of your storage needs.

They’ve obviously recognised this and have built an element into their subscription that increases the value of it.

That element is an insurance policy.

This is genius.

A lot of people pay a lot of money already for insurance policies like…

  • Car insurance
  • Home insurance
  • Pet insurance
  • Health insurance

People are happier to pay a monthly fee if it will remove or negate a later cost of a large expenditure.

By offering 2 camera replacements per year as part of the subscription, they offer the same security an insurance policy would offer.

Which mitigates risk for both…

  • The expensive upfront purchase
  • The subscription fee

Non Financial benefits of a GoPro subscription

Building a business around a single revenue metric is hard.

It sounds odd, as that’s what we all want with our businesses. For them to be popular and profitable.

However, what a lot of people get wrong about their growth approach is that revenue is a difficult beast to optimise for.

A lot of the top brands in the world today - by both revenue and valuation - optimise for a different North Star metric.

These metrics aren’t a cold, hard dollar number to hit.  They often sit between the problem a user experiences and the revenue goals of the business.

They are the stepping stone.

And if they’re well optimised for, they should positively contribute to the revenue goals of your business.

Here are a few examples and how they feed into the revenue goals of that business.

Brand

North Star Metric (NSM)

How it relates to revenue

Slack

Messages sent

Slack has a “free message” limit. Once over that limit, people need to pay to get access to past messages.

Facebook

Daily active users

More DAUs, the more attractive their advertising system is

AirBnB

Number of nights booked

Increases the LTV for each and every customer

Amazon

Number of purchases per month

Obviously increases LTV

Whilst not a complete guide on NSM, you’re basically starting with the one thing that’s going to positively impact revenue and working your way back to the steps that will contribute to that NSM.

For example…

In the above case, all of the little things Amazon does to bring you back are pushing you towards contributing to their NSM.

eCommerce is, in my opinion, one of the more difficult NSMs to optimise for.

For something like Amazon, a straight “number of purchases per month” makes sense. The breadth of their offerings is huge and they can push people to buy everything from daily use items like toothpaste to one off items like televisions.

But it doesn’t work for a lot of other physical product brands.  eCommerce is often reduced to focusing on something like...

  • Increased LTV (lifetime value of a customer)
  • Increased AoV (average order value)
  • Number of orders

Or some other similar number that’s related to products out and $$$s in.

For something like GoPro though, that’s not going to work.

Most people would buy a camera and be happy to use it for 1-2 years before they’d even consider an upgrade.

That’s a long time for them to wait around for a replacement or upgrade purchase. So, GoPro has to look at selling people things like…

  • Mounts
  • Lights
  • Harnesses

And so on.

This is where I think their subscription service will really help them out with growth.

Setting up a team whose sole goal is to get more people into the subscription will help  a North Star metric like LTV.

The subscription will help the GoPro team identify a couple of things.

  1. People who upload a lot of high-quality video to their cloud servers can be tagged as “high value” prospects for ongoing promotions
  2. People who use a lot of the editing services in their apps can also be tagged as high-usage and high-value
  3. People who frequently need a camera replacement can be tagged as a high-usage customer who needs robust add-ons

The subscription services basically give GoPro a lot more data to use in personalising their advertising.

Add to that the discount that comes with the subscription and you’ve got everything you need for more frequent, personalised, and valuable outreach.

Conclusion

GoPro has struggled in the last few years and their growth has stalled.  

However, they're one of the few physical product brands that have managed to implement a decent subscription service.

Most physical product brands simply offer a "subscription" to get more of the same product, or as a form of discount.  

They basically imitate Amazon's subscribe and save feature. Which is great, but it's still a single revenue stream.

GoPro has built a secondary revenue stream into their offer which is what I believe. tobe holding off any more serious drops in revenue.  

Not to mention this approach giving them more assets and offers to play around with in their marketing.  

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