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How Tom Dickson went viral with $50 and a blender

The ‘Will It Blend?’ video series has been named the most successful viral marketing campaign of all time having received over 200 million views on YouTube in just six years. Here, the founder of Blendtec and star of the video series Tom Dickson talks marketing tricks for the digital age.

An engineer by trade, Dickson entered the appliance business with his original invention, the Kitchen Mill, which was the first domestic device to be built with a vacuum motor. It was these experiments with processors that got Dickson interested in building mixers and blenders until, in 1995, Blendtec launched its first blender.

Dickson knew he was making winning products, but as most of the business’ cash was being invested into engineering and design, consumer awareness of them was weak. For years, Dickson had been testing his blenders by pushing random objects into the jars in an effort to break them, but it took a newly hired marketing director to realise his quirky testing methods could be used to create a one-of-a-kind campaign. So, having spent all of $50 on a Happy Meal, a rotisserie chicken, coke cans and some golf balls, they made five videos. In just six days, the videos had 6 million YouTube views – Dickson and his team had quite obviously struck viral marketing gold.

In the six years since, Dickson has made over 120 videos, blending everything from iPads to hockey pucks and glow sticks – and retail sales of Blendtec products have grown by over 800 percent as a result. No longer does the company struggle with a lack of awareness about its products, with its founder recognised around the world for his madcap YouTube videos.

Tom, can you give me a bit of insight into your background?

To begin with, I feel that I have been given some gifts that many would see as challenges. I am speaking specifically of dyslexia and ADHD. These gifts allow me to see things in a completely different light. Because of this perspective I have been able to envision some ingenious creations that make life easier.

Also, because of these challenges I had to work harder than most to get through formal schooling. This focus helped me determine what I really wanted to do when I grew up—and engineering was the top pick.

I live by these four principles:

  • Have fun at what you do.
  • Surround yourself with the best people.
  • Set your course and lead out.
  • Share the wealth and be grateful.

Before launching the ‘Will it Blend’ campaign, where did you spend most of your marketing dollars?

Right before the ‘Will it Blend?’ (WIB) campaign exploded in Fall 2006 I had just hired my first marketing professional. What you have to understand is that Blendtec is primarily an engineering company with the sole purpose of creating the best products in the world. Our direction will continue to support this early vision, but we are now becoming a marketing powerhouse – and the competition is worried.

Now that we have created the strongest, most advanced blender ever, we are in a hurry to share it with world.

You launched ‘Will It Blend’ in 2006, making it one of the first successful viral marketing campaigns. Did you know digital media was going to take off, or was it a happy coincidence?

This overnight success on this new video channel of YouTube was a sheer and very happy coincidence. How many people knew about YouTube in 2006?

Social media since has grown by leaps and bounds and one of our main focuses is to stay ahead of the curve on this new marketing platform.

Did you note an immediate rise in sales as a result of the campaign? Are you able to estimate how many blenders you’ve sold as a result of this?

At the same time that we introduced the ‘Will it Blend?’ campaign we also made a big push for retail expansion as part of our marketing plan. We had been in retail for some time, but without the driving force of a professional marketing director. It is difficult to directly link sales to our ‘Will it Blend?’ campaign mainly because the demographic of our WIB viewers is very different from those who actually buy our blenders. However, these 16-24 year-old male WIB viewers are great influencers to their 35-65 year-old mums and grandmas. We do know that our retail growth has been over 800 percent since 2006.

Also, everywhere I go I am recognised as the man who can destroy anything in my blender!

The campaign has obviously generated a rush of interest in your products, but what do you do to maintain this interest and create relationships with customers?

Staying connected with our Loyalty Loop of customers is very important. Through Facebook and YouTube we can introduce new recipes each week and we can create separate channels: one to communicate with the ‘Will it Blend?’ fans and another to communicate with our Blendtec customers and blender users.

The goal is to keep our customer base engaged in our product. We have specific guidelines we follow on all of our social media platforms.

Which video is your favourite?

Glow sticks, actually! I love the glowing skeleton. But, I love blending rake handles in live demonstrations. There is just something crazy about blending a 4-foot rake handle into dust.

What’s the secret to creating a successful viral marketing campaign? Is this something any small business owner can replicate?

It would be arrogant to think that we have all the answers, and there are many, many factors to a successful viral marketing campaign. One of the keys is that the material has to be organic and original – and not something that can be easily replicated. And there’s a lot of timing and luck involved too. But businesses should always strive to create great video content and post on their social channels. If everything aligns to create something viral, they need to have the resources to keep that momentum moving forward.

Is there anything you know about running a business now that you wish you had when you first started Blendtec?

I have always been grateful to be surrounded with good mentors who have led me through the challenges in the business world.

My advice would be to become acutely aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Do what you are best at and surround yourself with experts in those areas where you struggle.

Do you have any plans to move on from the ‘Will it Blend?’ marketing strategy?

We are facing the same challenge that many other businesses go through regarding social media. Sure, we have had a great success, but now what? How can we get another successful viral campaign going? What will be the material? For the time being we actually plan on maintaining the current WIB theme and releasing new videos each month that coincide with other events. We hope this will ensure a continued following.

What’s next for Blendtec?

We have many aspirations for becoming a mainstream brand in the kitchen appliance arena. We want to be known for more than making the most powerful blender. From our home blenders to our other products yet to be released, we hope Blendtec will become known for being the most technologically advanced, highest performing and easiest-to-use brand for the kitchen.

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Lorna Brett

Lorna Brett

Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/dynamicbusiness">Twitter @DynamicBusiness</a>

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