5 Million Views: How Grasshopper Cracked the Code to Creating Insanely Viral Videos

Joe Stych
Joe Stych / Published October 14, 2014

Video is one of the most personal ways to connect with online customers today. And Grasshopper has adapted that in a unique way.

Grasshopper is a virtual phone service aimed at entrepreneurs. It takes a toll-free phone number and adds extensions for different team members, forwarding calls to employees across the globe and giving businesses of any size a corporate-grade phone system.

But you won’t learn any of that from most of Grasshopper’s videos. Actually, it seems like they actively avoid shoving the product down your throat.

“For us it was never about acquisition with the videos, it was about establishing the brand and the power of entrepreneurship,” says Siamak Taghaddos. Along with being co-founder and CEO at Grasshopper, Taghaddos is the idea person behind YouTube hits like “The New Dork - Entrepreneur State of Mind,“ (1.4 million views) and “Entrepreneurs can Change the World,“ (1.2 million views). For Grasshopper, it’s more humorous and inspirational, less “download your free trial NOW!”

Taylor Aldredge—ambassador of buzz and all things PR at Grasshopper—explains that giving their brand a personality is all part of the plan.

“We kept going to video because it’s such a great way of creating a brand identity, and letting people know who you are in a way that’s sharable,” he says. “We’ve also realized how good video is for building buzz and getting in front of people.”

"Would you be friends with this company?"

Grasshopper has actually been in the the video space since 2008, when they still called themselves GotVMail and produced a series of clips featuring the—let’s say, “unique”—actor Gary Busey.

“It was before he went off the deep end and everyone thought he was nuts.” Aldredge says. It was also before Amazon tapped Busey to sell the Fire TV streaming box.

Grasshopper’s script was simple: Busey dispenses advice for entrepreneurs, and the company logo pops in briefly at the end. Here’s one such idea shared by Mr. Busey:

Busey caught some serious traction: more than 1.5 million views across 41 videos. So when Taghaddos was rebranding from GotVMail to Grasshopper, he went back to video, producing “Entrepreneurs can Change the World,” with aim to create buzz in his target market.

Since then Grasshopper has worked with YouTube’s creative community to craft videos like the “Epic 80's Entrepreneur Training Video” (260K views) and “Sh*t Entrepreneurs Say (99K views)”.

“‘Would you be friends with this company?’ That’s always what we’re asking,” Aldredge says. “That’s the theme of all this stuff: Is it living up to our brand promise, and are we being a fun company?”

Since 2008, Grasshopper's videos have amassed more than 5 million views:

"There's never a formula for it."

Grasshopper’s videos are professional, heartwarming, and genuinely funny, so one might think they must have a room full of creative-types chugging coffee and blurting out sketch ideas until something sticks.

In reality, it’s much more organic than that.

“It’s a combination of being timely and producing content that everyone can latch onto,” Aldredge says. “There’s never a formula for it.”

"It’s a combination of being timely and producing content that everyone can latch onto."- Taylor Aldredge, Grasshopper Ambassador of Buzz

Most of the ideas come straight from Taghaddos, and he regularly sees them through until the end.

“He just has his finger on what people find interesting,” Aldredge says.

The process looks something like this: Taghaddos sees something that inspires him, and reaches out to the creator of that thing to discuss how they could collaborate on a project for Grasshopper. A lot of the time his inspiration already has everything needed to produce a new video—equipment, actors, scriptwriters, musicians, etc.—but if there are any resource gaps, Taghaddos personally hunts down the missing pieces.

From there, he works closely with the production team on the script, video concept, and aesthetic details.

“It’s a lot of back and forth,” Taghaddos says, “but at the end of the day it’s not, ‘Hey, Mr. Marketing company, can you make us a video?’ It’s always about working together, and collaborating on a project.”

From inspiration to upload, a video typically takes 2-3 months. But something more topical—like “Sh*t Entrepreneurs Say”, a parody of the 2011 YouTube hit “Sh*t Girls Say“—can be turned around quicker.

“That took me five days to do, because I knew that if it took 3 months the fad would be gone,” Taghaddos said.

The process for the “Epic 80's Entrepreneur Training Video” followed Grasshopper’s more standard video production schedule.

“I saw that Doritos was having a super bowl contest for who could make the best videos,” Taghaddos says. “One guy came out with a really funny video about turning unicorn tears into gold.”

The video was a contest entry from David Ward, an up-and-coming producer who had hit 3-million views with his cheesy cooking show-inspired clip.

“I thought it was amazing,” Taghaddos says. “I called him up and said, ‘Listen, I love your stuff, here’s what Grasshopper does, what can we do for a funny video to grab some attention and be different?’”

The two brainstormed some ideas, went back and forth on the script, and soon after an ultra-80s inspirational tape for entrepreneurs was born.

"Why would someone send me a VHS via FedEx?’

Once a video is out in the wild, Aldredge and Taghaddos team up to promote it in a way that builds Grasshopper’s brand.

“Our brand promises to empower entrepreneurs to succeed above all else, before adding customers through acquisition and all that other stuff,” Aldredge says. “For us in the videos, we’re trying to inspire them to do awesome things. When we do that, we’re associating that thought with our brand.”

When the “Entrepreneurs can Change the World” video launched with Grasshopper’s rebrand, they sent chocolate-covered grasshoppers to influential folks across the country and challenged them to dig in. They pulled a similar stunt for the “Epic 80's Entrepreneur Training Video”: Taghaddos came up with the idea of mailing out 1,500 VHS tapes to people who would drum up support.

Grasshopper VHS in the mail
“Why would they send this to me?“ Wrote author Brian Massey. “Probably because they though I might write this and share it with you.“

“We wanted people to say, ‘What is this? Why would someone send me a VHS via FedEx?’” Taghaddos says.

Aldredge points out that they’ve had huge success marketing an online product with physical media.

“We’ve noticed that there’s a great correlation with doing offline marketing using online information,” he says. “We use that as a mechanism to get people’s attention rather than just sharing a video and hoping it does well. At least this way people know that it exists and they end up telling people.”

"We’ve noticed that there’s a great correlation with doing offline marketing using online information."- Siamak Taghaddos, Grasshopper CEO

They deal with online promotion, too, but it’s a trial-and-error process since every video is so different. The key is seeding the video in the right places, and letting it grow on its own.

“Nothing is worse than the views that come based on promotion,” Taghaddos says. “They’re not engaged, they don’t talk about it, they’re just numbers. We try to do the pure minimum just so that the video can be seen by the people that we want to target, but the rest is our own internal efforts.”

"From top to bottom our brand is in everything"

Branding isn’t all about outside perception—it also defines how employees grow within your company. Grasshopper’s latest video dives into the core values that describe the company’s mission: empowering entrepreneurs.

“Hopefully it will get picked up by other HR departments,” Taghaddos says, “but this is just to make our own employees and teams feel good about the company; to brand us even more within our culture.”

Aldredge says that defining a culture—giving Grasshopper a personality that both customers and employees can identify with—creates a happier work environment and, by extension, happier consumers.

“Our core values, the internal structure we have—from top to bottom our brand is in everything,” he says. “Everyone adheres to it. When you make a decision for the company, you have to go back to the core values and the brand promise to help entrepreneurs.”

Credits: Grasshopper VHS photo from author Brian Massey's blog.

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