Forgive me for a personal indulgence, but today I wanted to write about one of my favorite brands—Liquid Death. Consider yourself warned, this does not relate directly to the dental field. If you’re still here then fasten your seatbelt. For the uninitiated, Liquid Death is just canned water—that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Liquid Death is only 3 years old, and their latest valuation puts the company’s worth at just over a billion dollars. Let me repeat, they sell canned water. So how does a company that sells WATER in CANS get a valuation of a billion dollars? One word, branding.
Now let me explain, when I say “branding” in your mind you probably see images of spokespeople, colored logos, jingles from commercials etc. Is that branding? Well yes, but branding is so much more than that. When it comes to branding for me, I opt for Supreme Court Justice, Potter Steward’s, definition of obscenity “I know it when I see it.” The key to effective branding is knowing exactly who your target audience is. Liquid Death knows their audience. They target young men with disposable income who would otherwise be buying energy drinks or craft beer. They keep that target in mind with every single campaign they launch. Let me share a few examples.
In a world where everyone is focused on highlighting why they are “the best”, Liquid Death launched an ad campaign, with what I estimate was a robust budget, highlighting their worst reviews. Most business try to hide those, but they paid money to show them to everyone they could and that was just the beginning. They just finished a massive Halloween campaign where they sold custom candles with Marth Stewart who in the ad spot is portrayed as actively chopping off arms to produce the “made by hand” candles. Now if you can tell me what the link is between candles and water sales, I would be very impressed. All I know is its 100% on brand. Take a look:
They just launched a new campaign for their flavored sparkling water where they do a blind taste test not against other brands of La Croix or Polar but with cans of lobster bearnaise sauce, liquified wagyu or Spanish squid ink (yuck). You can see that video below:
So, the first question you should be asking yourself is why would a company do this, let alone put carefully allocated ad dollars behind it? According to Fast Company, Liquid Death CEO and cofounder, Mike Cessario, says the idea was to mess with an advertising trope that people are used to seeing. “So how do we make fun of that in a way that feels like Liquid Death?” he says. “At the end of the day, we’re not actually trying to get people’s opinions. We’re pulling a prank. This is just putting that prank in a familiar advertising format.” What caught my attention in that blurb is where he says, “how do we make fun of that in a way that feels like Liquid Death?” he was not thinking, how can we sell more cans of water. He was thinking what is something entertaining our brand can do that our fans will love? That is branding.
Oftentimes we get caught up in the day-to-day and focus solely on profits. I have heard the following phrases or ones just like them thousands of times, “How do we push sales to hit those Q4 goals?” “What can we say on Twitter that won’t upset anyone?” “What’s an easy campaign we can throw together really quick to highlight x deal?” Those things can drive positive results but are often short-sighted. Building an effective brand is about more than just revenue. If we would just take a second and lift our heads up and look down the road, then maybe we would change our strategies. You will never see Liquid Death launch an end of quarter campaign that does not align with their brand just to hit numbers.
What can we learn from this and how do we apply it? Thing is, I don’t know your business, but I can tell you where to start. Know your customers. This is the first great commandment. If you can’t tell me who your target customers are—not the ones walking in your door or buying your product—but your target customers, then what are we even doing? I’m not telling you to run out and pay thousands of dollars for a focus group or online survey. Just start by asking your target customers questions. Why do they like you? Why do they not like you? Why do they keep coming back? Why did they go somewhere else? Then ask yourself, how does what they are saying represent my brand? If it doesn’t line up to what you want then change it. If it does, then full speed ahead.
Figure out your voice and stick to it. When the first or the second or third campaign doesn’t work, shrug it off. You know who you are, keep pushing forward. That is the key to real long-term growth and hopefully a billion dollars.