This post started with a simple, intriguing bit of information: a marketing campaign based on chocolate grasshoppers. For a company that doesn’t do food or grasshoppers.
Needless to say, my interest was piqued.
Grasshopper is a company offering a virtual phone system and domain names to support the efforts of entrepreneurs in the US, and soon the world.
Up until 2008, they went by another name, GotVMail, which required a lot of explanation. GotVMail was already offering a powerful service, but the GotVMail brand was cumbersome and not particularly inspiring to potential customers.
Sometime after deciding to rebrand, the GotVMail team stumbled onto the idea of the grasshopper. Grasshoppers, of course, are an excellent avatar for entrepreneurs. Constantly moving, making huge jumps, unencumbered by their surroundings, grasshoppers would encompass the solutions the company offered, and the spirit of entrepreneurs themselves.
GotVMail became Grasshopper.
To commemorate the rebrand, they did what anybody would do in that situation: they mailed 5 chocolate covered grasshoppers to each of 5,000 “influencers” along with a link to a video. That’s it.
Does it directly relate to virtual phone systems? No.
Does it explain what the company is about? No.
Does it make you want to know more? Absolutely.
The chocolate-covered grasshoppers turned people onto Grasshopper, but that wasn’t the end. At Grasshopper.com, visitors were greeted with a video about how entrepreneurs could change the world and how Grasshopper was a solution they needed to make that happen.
And the whole thing went viral. As you know, virality is the Holy Grail of Internet marketing and is notoriously difficult to predict or reproduce. Yet, Grasshopper managed to achieve virality. They’re still feeling the ripples from the chocolate-covered grasshoppers.
The grasshoppers predate the arrival of Taylor Aldredge, the current Ambassador of Buzz for Grasshopper. But they’re still a part of his life. “I still get at least an email a week asking about the chocolate grasshoppers,” he said in a recent phone interview. I caught up with Taylor to talk about the grasshoppers, but was surprised to find that insects were a small part of a fascinating marketing machine.
“The grasshoppers were a great way to get our message out there and create some brand awareness. It became viral and that got people interested in what Grasshopper was offering,” he said.
He mentioned this after we covered some other marketing campaigns that the company is rolling out: they’re spearheading a campaign to get Congress to officially designate a National Entrepreneur’s Day and they just sent out 1,500 VHS business training tapes (yeah, VHS) for a faux 1980’s business training mentor.
On the surface, it seems like they’re just going for some far out ideas. Which is true. But there’s more to it than that.
“At the core of all our marketing is the message: ‘Empowering Entrepreneurs to Succeed…’ Whenever we come up with a marketing campaign, we’re always asking ourselves how we can do it better than everybody else. How can we do something different? That’s really how we get noticed: by doing things differently. But all these projects are tied by the vision that is at the core of our business.”
In all their marketing efforts, Grasshopper demonstrates a willingness to take their own approach and emanate a very unique vibe that can only be identified as Grasshopper. They clearly understand branding. They’re not trying to be everything to everybody. They’re just Grasshopper being an indispensable tool for entrepreneurs.
That message consumed most of our conversation.
In addition to rolling out unorthodox marketing ideas, Taylor gets paid to spread the story of Grasshopper and network, which is where the marketing power of Grasshopper lies. When they roll out a new campaign, they already have a solid network in place to help them spread the word.
“I feel really fortunate to have this job. I come to work and I’m just me, talking to people and getting them excited about being entrepreneurs. We’re not selling something that’s terribly exciting on it’s own – we’re basically a phone system. But it’s an incredible tool for entrepreneurs. So that’s what we’re about. That’s what we’ve always been about.”
It’s hard to not feel excited about Grasshopper when talking to Taylor. I suspect that reaction is more than a contact high from someone who’s stoked about life. It’s about storytelling. Taylor is a talented storyteller, part of the larger story of Grasshopper. Saying that he is energized and passionate about sharing the vision of Grasshopper is a bit of an understatement.
After just a few minutes, I felt like many of my ideas about marketing were forever changed. It’s one thing to wave the flag for customer interaction, but another completely to see a company that’s pulling it off, in a very genuine way, and growing their business.
Taylor attributes all that to the Grasshopper culture, something that founders Siamak Tagghados and David Hauser have made a priority.
During a period of accelerated company growth, they made an effort to put culture before growth and revenue, knowing that without the framework for a strong culture in place, the company could easily lose it’s focus and drift into irrelevance. The result of that strategy is evident in the Grasshopper office and in their marketing efforts.
As Taylor told me, “If people are happy, they’ll always be excited to come to work and make cool stuff.” We’ve all experienced small businesses that could take that message to heart.
And I think we know how it feels when culture perfectly aligns with employee conduct and customer wishes. Everything in its right place. Customers walk away happy. Each day is a pleasure to come to work and tackle new challenges.
As we wrapped up the conversation, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming enthusiasm to make cool stuff, which is exactly how I want to feel about my work. How can you create that feeling at work? How can you transfer that culture to your customer and coworkers?
And who can forget the grasshoppers? There is a lot to be learned about this use of promotional products. Grasshopper has proven that a promo item needn’t be directly related to the service or product of the company.
But it must intrigue and inspire. The chocolate covered grasshoppers offered people an experience they’ve never had. They captured interest about a company and ultimately lured people into seeking out more information. It’s a masterful use of promotional marketing and one that you’re bound to never forget.
For more information about Grasshopper, check out: