Will GoPro Survive 2019
GoPro has become synonymous with action cameras particularly for the extreme sports community. Unfortunately for GoPro, the market they're in seems to be too small to sustain a public company and leadership has been unable to figure out a way to make their products more appealing to the masses.
Even though GoPro's situation appears pretty dire not all of their marketing decisions were bad. Any company that is looking for broad market appeal must face the real challenge of developing a loyal following among a core customer set and then performing the careful dance that moves them from a specialty company to one with mass appeal. Consider Amazon as an example. When Amazon first appeared on the scene it was strategically positioned as an online bookseller for avid readers who wanted a broad selection of books that went well beyond what could be offered in a brick and mortar bookstore. As Amazon solidified its positioning and established itself securely in the market the company began offering related merchandise and began expanding its appeal and brand positioning. This success facilitated the rise of the dominant mass merchant we know today. But, without the initial positioning focused on a unique segment of book buyers, could Amazon have gone directly into being a successful mass merchant and transitioned the shopping experience from in person to online? It's unlikely that a startup company would have had the muscle and capital needed to take on the WalMart's of the world back in 1996. There is little doubt that the 'establish and expand' philosophy worked for Amazon. In fact, this approach has worked for many giant global brands including Apple, Nike, and UnderArmour.
So I think it's fair to say that GoPro's initial approach, focusing on a niche target with a significant unmet need that their cameras solved beautifully, was grounded in solid marketing strategy. The strategy was so successful that GoPro went public and shares traded as high as $96 in 2014 certainly based on the belief they could broaden their appeal to the much larger general market . Unfortunately, it appears that leadership at GoPro hadn't identified the strategic path that would move them from specialty camera in the extreme sports market to must have activity camera for the masses. Today GoPro is still stuck in the small specialty market where they started and, as of this writing, shares are trading below $5.
It's important to address the two specific steps necessary for success in GoPro’s approach. Step one, and maybe the most important, is that entering the market with a highly focused positioning, targeting a specific customer group where you can create relevant differentiation, is critical to a brand's early success. Deploying a positioning strategy out of the gate that sought to make GoPro a camera for the masses stood an extremely high chance of failure early on. Step two is that brand positioning requires evolving your target customers' mindset through a series of perceptual changes until they arrive at the place you need them to be for success. While these perceptual steps may need to shift as your market and competitors evolve, the initial plan must be mapped out with significant care since 'winging' it strategically is typically not a path to success. The folks at GoPro seem to have nailed step one, but if they had a plan for step two it never became very evident.
The book isn't closed on GoPro. By successfully navigating step one and establishing a core customer base they gave themselves an opportunity to move toward step two and grow into a mass market product. They have done better than many new brands which frequently enter the market with a positioning strategy that is too general and barely differentiating. While GoPro hasn’t quite gotten the move to mass market right just yet, by initially focusing on creating a loyal core customer base they’ve given themselves a chance to grow while most brands never get out of the starting blocks. Whether or not GoPro survives as a highly valued public company in 2019 will be based on their ability to finally make the conversion to a camera for the masses.