Grassroots Powdersurfers – Masters of Marketing (Snowboard Edition)
Marketing on the Edge
For an inventor/entrepreneur to be bold and creative is considered a good trait. However, being bold doesn’t always have to mean attempting to come up with the “next great version” of a product that already exists. For every iPhone there were literally dozens of cell phone failures. So why not nibble at the edges of a market. The core may be already crowded with established and well-funded competitors but there could be room to carve out a successful niche by offering a unique product.
A great example of creating something on the edge of a already crowded market is Jeremy Jensen and his company Grassroots Powdersurfing. The snowboard industry is already saturated with the market leaders, a few established medium sized companies and a continually changing roster of small start-ups. Every year there are several new companies attempting to gain market share even though there is really no room for them. So instead of building “just another snowboard company” Grassroots has carved out a niche on the edge of the snowboard market.
Creating the PowderSurfer
What Jeremy and his company created is called a powdersurfer. These snow riding boards are somewhat related to snowboarding but unique. Basically these boards have a similar look and construction to a skateboard deck (horizontally laminated wood) but are wider and longer with a foam type grip tape. There are no bindings and no edges so the riding is like surfing on (powder) snow.
It is true that Powdersurfing is done on the same terrain as snowboarding but it doesn’t directly compete with snowboarding. The reason is because presently most ski resorts would not allow Powdersurfers because of the lack of edges and bindings (although I have heard 2 ski resorts: Revelstoke Mountain, BC and Stevens Pass WA are allowing them). So Powdersurfing is done in the backcountry. I would imagine most Powdersurfers also own a snowboard that they ride while at the ski resorts.
Grassroots was originally started as a skateboard company back in the summer of 2000 in Logan, Utah. That part of Utah is known for the light and dry powder snow so a good part of a year is spent snowboarding. The originators took the three things they loved to do most (skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding in fresh pow) and combined them into one. The Powdersurf board was born.
Grassroots is a one-man show (like a lot of start-ups) everything being done by Jeremy. His job description includes all of the video, photo, web design, marketing, shape design, construction, shipping, emails, accounting, graphics, etc… Even in all the tasks he has he still makes a deliberate effort to market and promote his brand. Often marketing is the first activity that is dropped when an entrepreneur feels overwhelmed by the time demand of his business. This is a critical mistake. While at times it seems like marketing isn’t producing immediate results a lack of (effective) marketing and promotion is a company killer.
– Are you trying to force your product into the middle of an already crowded marketplace?
– Is it possible that your product could better succeed in the market as a niche product?
– Is that niche a big enough market to sustain your business?
– Are you making the time to market and promote your brand?
For years they powder surfed for fun between snowboard runs in the backcountry. As time went on they saw the potential for the sport to grow. After many years of R&D they decided to offer the boards to the public in 2009. Since then they have experienced worldwide growth. Their boards are now spread all over Europe. Italy, Spain, France, Austria, Germany, Norway, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Greece, and the UK. The Japanese embrace the concept of powdersurfing and are perhaps the most enthusiastic and accepting of all.
Grassroots Powdersurfing are a great example of (did you see this coming?) grassroots marketing. I think they have done some things that any business could learn from:
Low Cost and Effective Promotion
Like most startups when funding is tight traditional marketing is difficult. Running full-page ads in snowboard magazines or
getting a booth at the trade show is just too expensive. However, what is affordable is a GoPro Action Sports Cameras and the software to edit the footage. So that is what Grassroots did when the recorded and released a series of videos called the The Powdersurf Chronicles. As they say on their website “the power of social media was our biggest ally. People saw something that sparked their interest and it opened their eyes to something familiar but new.”
– Are you using social media to promote your business?
– If not, does it just seem too overwhelming to decide: which social network? what frequency of posts? do we need a blog also? and so on.
– Do you have someone in-house that could help?
– If not, you should hire someone, even on a contract basis to help set you up. Social media now has many tools that can automate the work-flow (like Hootsuite, Buffer etc) once decisions are made and you are set up with the tools it is much easier for you to manage.
Make it your goal to create content people remember, something they want to talk about. If you are going to produce any type promotional materials such as a website, advertisement or video, make it memorable. This means superior production values, crisp editing and catchy visuals. You want to give people something to talk about and to share. Social media makes it easy for people to share anything they find interesting and this ability can be harnessed to spread your message for free. This is exactly what Grassroots Powdersurfing has done.
As Jeremy says “I think a big reason that we have been successful is that we created something unique and attractive that pays tribute to the roots and original intentions of the sport of snowboarding and also gives back a new avenue for progression in powder riding that had never been explored. The whole idea came from a true passion for riding powder and playing in the mountains. I think people see that this comes from the heart, in the videos and material we put out and they are motivated to share it. They see that the company has a soul and is not just out there trying to make a buck of the next extreme sport. The videos have been passed all over the world and that was definitely our biggest benefit in getting the word out. People see something that stokes them out and they share it. It makes me feel good as a filmmaker and as a “founding father” of this little niche we have created.”
While your content may not go “viral” (this often is as much luck as anything) it can attract a loyal following of people who have the potential to become your customers. The availability of tools such as affordable HD cameras and video editing software, inexpensive website building options, Facebook pages and so on make it easy and inexpensive allow the average person to make and distribute content only the pros could do a few years ago. Although remember some aspects of content creation may require some outside help so don’t be afraid to hire when necessary.
– Is your content unique and memorable? Or commercial and forgettable?
– Will people want to share that content?
– Is it available in a format that can be shared? Better yet is it social media friendly?
So would some of these ideas work with your business? It is worth a trial to see what you can come up with? Social media and sharing are not going away any time soon. If all this social media frenzy is stressful I suggest you may want to get yourself a Grassroots Powdersurf Board and go get yourself some fresh air and exercise!