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August 08, 2008

The story behind Groundswell on Will It Blend

by Josh Bernoff

This is the story of the video in the following post.

In Groundswell we profiled George Wright and the team at Blendtec that created "Will It Blend", a series of goofy videos that show off the power of the company's industrial-strength blender (and have increased sales by 20%).

I thought to myself, "I wonder if I could market Groundswell as cleverly as this." Rather than think of something original, I ask George if we could work with him. Amazingly, he agreed. (If you've followed Groundswell you know we've tried a number of original things, but this was an opportunity not to be missed.)

First a little about the video. When it comes to viral video, you need to make sure 1) you create something people will spread and 2) that the video carries a payload -- a message about your product. Fail on point 1 and your video won't spread. Fail on point 2 and you'll be a hit -- but it won't help your company. It's a very difficult balance. Blendtec hits it brilliantly, as does Greg the Architect. Very few others have.

welcome to blendtec

I tried to hit this balance in my own Blendtec video. As you'll see, we make the point that mixing technologies without focusing on a clear objective isn't a good strategy. Do you think it works?

If you're interested in the making of this video, read on. The rest of this post is about my visit to Blendtec in Orem, Utah.

Blendtec is nestled in an industrial park in the exurbs of Salt Lake City. The squat, industrial building gives no clue as to the creativity going on inside.

Blendtec's blenders are microprocessor controlled, which is what makes them special. They use a direct drive and avoid jamming using the microprocessor, rather than with an indirect drive like other blenders. So this product really is better than other blenders -- and it's also why it costs $399.

blender motor cores

As I saw in their factory, most of the parts are manufactured elsewhere and assembled in Utah. But the direct drive portion is custom-manufactured right in the factory in Utah, since it needs to meet exact tolerances to work properly. (I love this picture of all the direct drive elements lined up and ready to go.) They actually test the motor portion in a "burn in" period, which results in the unusual sight of a cabinet full of blender bases whirring at full speed as they go through their various cycles in a test mode. Loud!

blender testing

The TV studio is a room off the warehouse floor, outfitted to look like a game show. The CEO, Tom Dickson, is every bit as much fun in person as he appears in his videos -- at 60+, he's become a video star that people recognize in airports, but from what I saw during the taping, it's clear he really cares about the product and the employees. He is a natural.

blendtec set

The taping itself took place over the course of a single morning and gave me the chance to wear my seldom-used green groundswell tie. Kels Goodman, Blendtec's videographer, has taken his considerable video skills and turned them to this very narrow but effective area of humorous blender video production.

I asked the CMO George Wright if the company was now as much a media company as a blender company and he didn't quite have an answer. Blendtec is now working with other companies that are willing to pay for a Will It Blend videos as a form of advertising (for the record, we didn't pay, they volunteered to create this video with us). Every one of Blendtec's videos created with other marketers helps to generate more publicity for the company, but they keep them sequestered from the "official" Will It Blend videos in a partner area to avoid confusion. Blendtec's marketing has created a new business for it. Is this great, or a distraction? You tell me.

What we have here is a bunch of industrial manufacturing guys, focused originally on a quality product and selling to restaurants, who found they could have a bit of fun showing off their product and found a whole new market. Fun attracts an audience. Are you having fun in your company? How will you use that to invite people to join you?


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Jake McKee

I recall seeing George speak a few months back and having him tell the audience that sales had increased 500%.. hmm.

Josh Bernoff

@jake Hey, George has more up to date information that me.

Maybe he means consumer sales. They still have a strong business selling to restaurants.

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