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Original Article

Generating Serious B2B Buzz With Dead Bugs… and Video

Quick Read

Few entrepreneurs have made it big by playing it safe. It’s practically the mantra of the breed: You take risks, you deal with surprises, you believe in yourself, and you become an inspiration to others when you succeed.

For a company dedicated to serving startups and small businesses, how better to generate awareness and customer connections than to create a campaign that effectively encapsulates those elements?

That idea became the inspiration behind Grasshopper.com’s (formerly GotVMail Communications) rebranding campaign, which began in May of this year. It banked on unexpected deliveries of chocolate-covered grasshoppers and links to a barely branded video—a risky endeavor, indeed, but one that quickly paid off, generating more buzz in one month than the company had achieved during its entire six-year stint as GotVMail Communications.

Challenge

GotVMail Communications was founded in 2003 as a virtual business-phone solution designed to help small businesses maintain the appearance of larger organizations.

Come 2009, company founders Siamak Taghaddos and David Hauser realized the need to rework their own company’s image with a rebranding that would epitomize the company’s advanced services and expound its dedication to entrepreneurs.

So on May 4, 2009, the company was officially renamed Grasshopper.com, symbolizing the ability of the company’s services to provide entrepreneurs with the power to propel their businesses forward.

Leading up to that launch date, Taghaddos and Hauser resolved to create the promotional piece of the rebranding project in-house; their goal was to produce something that would have the capacity to go viral and generate rapid, large-scale awareness.

“We wanted to create something so remarkable, people would have to talk about it,” said Taghaddos.

Campaign

The Grasshopper rebranding campaign included the following elements.

1. A brand message capable of cutting through the clutter

The campaign’s primary message was built around the company’s core value—inspiring and empowering entrepreneurs—using an animated video that urged viewers to believe in themselves and their ability to change the world and to pursue the high aspirations they once held as youngsters.

Appearing more like a creative public-service announcement than a corporate promotion, the video made no mention of the company’s brand or product until the final screen, which read “See how Grasshopper empowers entrepreneurs to succeed.”

The video was launched on May 4, the date of the official rebranding announcement, and placed on both YouTube and the company website.

2. Distinctive promotions designed to surprise and compel recipients to take notice

Next, the company knew that it had to generate a good amount of buzz in order to rightfully establish its new brand and drive viewers to the video. So about a week after the video launched, 5,000 reporters, journalists, TV anchors, bloggers, celebrities, politicians, entrepreneurs, and CEOs—chosen for their influence among entrepreneurs—each received a lumpy UPS package containing only a tagged bag of chocolate-covered grasshoppers.

The bags were emblazoned with a vote of confidence: “You’re a risk-taker, a dreamrealizer. What’s left to do that you haven’t already done? Eat a grasshopper.” Additional copy assured recipients that the contents were indeed real grasshoppers, full of protein and safe to eat (“even approved by the FDA of Thailand”). The company logo and web address were also featured.

The tag dangling from each bag included the real call to action—“Entrepreneurs Can Change the World. Join the Movement Now!”—along with the URL for the video posted on the company website.

3. Deferential follow up

The company followed up with every blogger who received the package, just to ensure that it had arrived safely and been opened.

Then, after allowing a day or so for the online conversation to build on its own, company staff began responding to questions and posts made on blogs, Twitter, and other online networks.

Those communications were not aimed at promoting the company, brand, or even the campaign itself; instead, staff simply joined the conversations taking place and encouraged users to submit any related photos and videos (such as those of recipients tasting the goods) for placement on the company website.

Results

In the first month after campaign launch, the video posting on the company website received over 47,000 unique pageviews and the YouTube posting generated around 130,000 views (over 8,000 views per day at its peak), along with 400+ 5-star ratings and more than 160 comments.

Twitter was found to be the most successful channel for driving viewers to the video. During the first month, the campaign was mentioned in 1,461 tweets, including those of Guy Kawasaki (Founder of Alltop), Kevin Rose (founder of Digg), and Jason Calacanis (CEO of Mahalo)—influencers who had a combined reach of more than a million followers.

The campaign was also mentioned in 119 blog posts and news articles and was featured on seven major television network broadcasts.

“We’ve had more buzz and awareness in the last month than we’ve had in the last six years,” said Hauser. The company later noted that this level of coverage, combined with the influx of user-submitted pictures and videos, have been effective PR tools for generating additional press, as well.

Traffic to the company’s website also jumped significantly in the first month, with a 93% increase in people clicking on the homepage’s “How it works” prompt to learn more about Grasshopper’s services, compared with the month before launch.

The company has further realized a 4,911% increase in visitors coming from Twitter and a 3,286% increase in visitors coming from Facebook, compared with the month before launch, and has received more than 30,000 referrals from StumbleUpon.

Lessons Learned

The folks at Grasshopper definitely crafted a buzz-worthy campaign, as evidenced by the media coverage and viewership achieved. And while there’s never a guarantee that a campaign will go viral, Hauser and Taghaddos both stressed the importance of producing something unique and controversial enough that people can’t help but spread the word.

Other keys that opened the door to success for this effort:

  • Intrigue: Grasshopper’s direct-mail piece was unexpected and, although well designed, didn’t include much branding at all, aside from displaying the company logo and URL. There was no letter enclosed, nor mention of what the company does. This made people think… and act on their own will. Around 95% of recipients went to the URL printed on the tag—an astonishing response rate for direct mail.
  • Connection with a higher purpose: The video, too, was barely branded or promotional and instead aimed to identify with entrepreneurs and celebrate their potential in a time when negativity is prevalent and opportunity seems sparse. This wasn’t intended as some cheap ploy; Hauser and Taghaddos say they are convinced that it will be entrepreneurs and small businesses that save the economy and make the world a better place. And by handling the project internally, they were able to maintain complete control over their message and ensure its authenticity. (Note that the video has been used to open at least four entrepreneurial-focused conferences in the past month and is scheduled to be shown at several others—a testament to the additional value that can be realized by creating something inspirational and fairly unbranded.)
  • A sense of honor: We lied when we stated above that Grasshopper sent out 5,000 packages of chocolate-covered grasshoppers. In truth, it sent out 5,001, because a member of the media called to complain that she hadn’t made the list of most influential people. Just goes to show how powerful that notion of exclusivity can be. It took months for Grasshopper to nail down that initial list, but the combination of individuals selected and the perceived honor endowed upon them (and, of course, the novelty of receiving a bag full of bugs for consumption) was an effective approach for landing a notable amount of buzz.