The death-themed, canned water brand, Liquid Death Mountain Water, has gained great acclaim for its brand and business success since its launch in 2019, with the slogan "Murder Your Thirst". The company sells what is essentially water-in-a-can. Liquid Death was estimated to have annual revenue exceeding $130 million in 2022. In addition, the brand has amassed 1.3 million Instagram followers and recently completed its second capital raise, valued at $700 million. Co-Founder Mike Cessario, ex-creative director at Netflix, built a unique brand DNA by breaking all the rules in the aspirational health and wellness category that led Liquid Death to dominate the market.
Before the emergence of Liquid Death, water brands were essentially indistinguishable. The same plastic or glass bottle featuring pastel blue and pink logos, to the typically lofty tone of voice associated with nature-based imagery such as mountain peaks and trickling springs. Even their choice of models featured in ads is similar - usually attractive athletes and fitspo models with perfectly hydrated skin.
It's hard to imagine Evian, Highland Spring, and other well-known water brands existing in the same realm as Liquid Death. Given the unique, rebellious messaging and the controversial content that they publish. There's simply no comparison between Liquid Death and the other branded water competitors.
So why is that?
Liquid Death chose a bold approach instead of opting for the safe and traditional marketing strategies deployed by other brands. It drew influence from the heavy metal and punk rock scene. They targeted a specific customer base; young men who usually only drink water during gym workouts.
Liquid Death leveraged existing traits that attract young men, such as energy drinks, craft beer and punk rock, to construct an effective marketing strategy. This strategy is visible in its tongue-in-cheek brand identity, metal-inspired artwork, tallboy beer can packaging, and attention-grabbing social media content.
With that all being said, what is this company actually doing differently? What lessons can we learn from them? And, most importantly, how can their principles be applied to your business?
Here are the four brand strategies we can learn from Liquid Death.
Strategy #1: Find Solutions to BIG Problems
Millennials and Gen-Z are attracted to businesses that promote sustainability and health. So it is no surprise they are backing a firm revolutionising the traditional water industry.
When Mike Cessario decided to take on the plastic industry, Liquid Death was born to solve a huge problem that affects us all. The company tackled a significant issue before beginning work on the product's design. As a result, Liquid Death is disrupting the water market while simultaneously challenging the plastic industry.
In addition, Mike observed that the most amusing, incredible and irreverent brands of the last 30 years were all unhealthy products like energy drinks, alcohol and junk food. The fact is that traditionally healthy brands do not invest in fun, comedy or youth culture. He saw a gap in the market and a big problem to be solved.
Therefore, before marketing, consider what big meaningful problem your brand solves for others and use this to define your purpose.
Strategy #2: Brand Positioning Strategy is Key
A brand positioning strategy is comparable to earning your right on the supermarket shelf, a right I've earned for two of my brands Gourmosa and Foodery.
But why do we buy what we buy at the supermarket? Nut butters, for example, are just nuts (peanuts, almonds or cashews etc., with maybe a pinch of salt), so why do we reach for one brand over the other?
It comes down to points of differentiation and similarity between competitors and their target customers. Whole Earth pushes its natural and pure positioning as UK consumers start to wise up to the health benefits of the spread. And this is why they are the UK's number-one peanut butter brand.
Philip Kotler, the father of modern marketing, defined brand positioning as "designing a company's offering and image to occupy a particular place in the target market's mind".
Fast forward to the 21st century, and brand positioning extends beyond a positive perception. It informs and positions the brand as the best choice based on price, value, benefits, and the problem it solves in the target market's mind.
In simple terms, brand positioning aims to "make customers think of your business whenever they need what you offer", and you can achieve this both visually and verbally:
1. To visualise your brand positioning, you must develop a brand package guide.
2. To verbalise your brand positioning, you need a brand positioning statement.
A brand package essentially aids your design team in creating brand assets. These assets will communicate your message across all your marketing channels, including your website, packaging and social media profiles.
A brand positioning statement should be a concise description that answers the following:
1. Whom does your brand serve?
2. What is your product or service category?
3. What benefits does your brand provide?
4. How do you prove those benefits?
Liquid Death spent time positioning its brand and developing a clear brand strategy enabling them to create an entirely new market based on its own identity. Understanding more about your customers and what they care about at a deeper level might take more time and effort but will often help you stand out and produce significant results.
Strategy #3: Communicate with Personality
If your brand is a large corporation, a start-up, or a single leader, having a recognisable identity and distinct style online is essential for building customer recognition and loyalty. It is crucial to maintain a consistent voice and tone across all channels and make customers feel recognised and connected to your brand.
The tone is an emotional variation that is dependent on the subject matter. In contrast, the voice is the enduring character of a brand reflected in all communication. Both of these aspects contribute to the formation of a brand's identity.
So how do you go about defining your own brand's personality? Here are three actionable steps:
1. Before you start branding, get to know your audience and your industry. Research how your competitors and target demographic discuss relevant topics and collect as much information as possible. These insights will help you to focus on the right things resulting in your best moves. Your brand's voice should be unique and relatable.
2. Define your brand's values and purpose. Customers are more likely to stay loyal to transparent brands. Creating a clear definition of your brand's values and purpose is essential. You can create a list of words, phrases and sentences that reflect your brand's purpose. Include these elements within your brand's deliverables across platforms. That's how you create a recognisable persona and communicate your core values and the brand's purpose.
3. Create a brand voice chart. Create a chart with your top three or four words to best describe your brand. Explain how each attribute should and should not be a part of your communication tactics. Doing this will make your online presence more consistent and transparent.
Liquid Death has a clear brand voice that is bold and stands out. It can be seen in every detail, down to the choice of words on the cans. With phrases like "Murder your thirst, Kill plastic pollution and Recycle or die". These phrases stem from having a clear mission and unique value proposition.
When you create your brand, don't focus only on visual aesthetics. Take your time to develop a verbal identity because your brand's voice connects with your customer's emotions.
Strategy #4: Create a Cult Brand Following
Cult brands can establish a special relationship with their customers. They tap into people's need to be part of a collective. These brands build a fan base with an emotional attachment to the product. This sentiment is sometimes so powerful that it can transform a niche brand into a household name; think of Apple. This success is usually a result of a brand's devoted followers, who are passionate about sharing a powerful story.
There is no secret formula to creating a cult brand. Cult brands like Tesla, Liquid Death and Peloton all involve five common traits:
1. A Charismatic leader
2. They inspire their customers
3. Not afraid to be different
4. Build a community
5. Consistent messaging
These five brand traits, combined with the power of storytelling, led to Liquid Death cultivating an iconic cult following through their social and entertaining content.
In its first video ad, Liquid Death gained almost 5 million views on YouTube, partially due to its mention of "Marketing f**k boys", who deceive people into thinking water is merely a feminine beverage for yoga moms with nice labels.
The brand presents water as the most dangerous element on earth, calling it Liquid Death. It talks about how water takes the lives of many innocent snowboarders, kayakers, and surfers annually. To contrast this and to take a jab at the corporate executives of the plastic industry, the video ad ends with a somewhat dark and horrific tone. As the camera pans downwards, the calm and beautiful woman narrating the ad is waterboarding an executive in a suit, taped to a table.
As a result, the brand quickly grew a following on social media not for selling water but for its unique, humorous content. Their posts often contain sarcastic humour, accompanied by sleeve-inspired designs with bloody figures and severed heads.
By leveraging the Von Restorff effect (the isolation effect), Liquid Death created a unique marketing strategy for their water-in-a-can. This phenomenon explains our natural inclination to remember what stands out, and Liquid Death has successfully become unusual in a very usual water category.
Digging beneath the hard exterior, Liquid Death has made a significant effort towards sustainability without relying on typical eco-friendly approaches. Their motto, "Death to Plastic", promotes the benefits of fully recyclable aluminium. Furthermore, the "Cutie Polluties" plush toys in the company's merch store are cute ocean creatures hurt by single-use plastic. All proceeds from the sales of these toys go to fight ocean pollution.
So the next time your standing in the bottled water aisle, presented with an array of products that all taste the same, cast your mind back to this article. Take a moment to observe all the brands presented to you and which one grabs your attention the most. I bet it will be the metallic can of Liquid Death, and the recollection of a funny reel on Instagram you saw the week before would be enough to make you decide to buy it.
Mike Cessario and his marketing team have done an impressive job creating strong brand recognition for Liquid Death. While disruption may not be the goal of all businesses, finding a solution to a real issue and uniting people around similar principles can give your brand a competitive edge.
I'm committed to supporting companies thinking about developing a brand strategy, people who want to build deeper connections with their customers and stand out, and even those who dare to disrupt. I'd love to hear from you. My email is email@example.com, or you can visit STUDIO AZAM to learn more about what we do and how we can help.