Becomes a Unicorn by Selling Just Water – How Did They Do It?

Surprisingly effective branding and marketing strategy

Liquid Death is a company started by an ex-creative director, Mike Cessario.

Mike believes that a brand cannot be different from what the company’s top decision-makers actually are.

If the top decision-maker of a brand tries to be what they really are not, the brand will fail. 

Even if you have all the cool and creative people working for you and the top decision-maker doesn’t understand the idea, it will not work. 

How did he come up with the idea of Liquid Death?

Mike grew up playing in bands, and he liked to draw as well. He was designing the t-shirts for bands and doing all the DIY things that all the punk rock bands do.

He said he didn’t know that graphic designing was even a real job. 

He ended up going to graphic design school and then switched to advertising in college later.

He was into making people laugh with his cartoon. He was inspired by magazines like MAD magazine. 

He always wanted to make cool and funny commercials. 

He applied all the skills he learned in his advertising career to Liquid Death.

He was always into making cool stuff and making a disruptive approach. 

Whenever he tries to come up with ideas, he always thinks about will the idea get to the press. 

How do you make an idea that attracts media where they’re so interesting that people have to talk about it and spread it for free. 

He always wanted to work with creative companies and create creative things but he didn’t get any job because he didn’t have a good portfolio. 

That’s when he decided to create his own creative and cool brand. 

Where he decided to try making brandy drinks cool. 

He was thinking of finding something uncool in the market and making it cool. That got him into brandy. 

He found a brandy company in Northern California and pitched his ideas where they loved it.

He attracted some other spirit brands as well. But all the legal issues, rules and regulations got them to slow down. 

Then he moved to Tennessee when one of his friends asked him to join running an agency. 

An organic protein shake called Organic Valley came to them, and they helped them launch a campaign called “Save The Bros”. 

It got viral and got successful. That was a big aha moment for him. 

This got him to think about what are the healthy things that he cares about, and a lot of people like him in the world of punk rock, heavy metal and alternative rock culture.

After having the taste of brandy’s journey, he realized that he was an entrepreneur, and nothing was more rewarding than building his own thing.

Instead of being a service for some other company, he thought that it would be better to build his own brand.

That’s when he started thinking about what is the easiest thing to create where he doesn’t have to worry about ingredients sourcing, crazy permits and something like that.

He thought it had to be something that he himself legitimately liked consuming. 

Then it got him thinking that he drinks a lot of water and a lot of his friends drink it too. 

So water naturally became the thing he was looking for. 

Building of Liquid Death

After he came up with the idea, he slowly started building the concept of canned water to make it feel like bad things you’re not supposed to have, like beer, soda, and energy drinks.

He was still working at an agency when he was building Liquid Death as a side project.

He slowly started deciding and refining the name, branding idea and approach. 

When he was done with finalizing the idea, he knew that no one was going to sign a check for this idea. 

He thought investors would say it’s a stupid idea, people would think it’s beer, no one’s going to buy it and all. 

From his design background, he created a realistic 3D render of a can that looked real. 

Then he created just a Facebook page. He came up with an idea of a video and shot it for $1500. 

Then he invested a couple of thousand bucks on paid ads for 4 months. 

And the video had 3 million views, and the Facebook page got 80,000 followers, which was more than Aquafina at the time. 

Received hundreds of messages saying they’d like to buy Liquid Death. 

Store owners were approaching them, asking how they could order Liquid Death.

Then they launched it on Amazon and their website in January 2019. In the first month, they spent $2000 and made $100000 in sales. 

Then it got the media’s attention and went viral. This made Liquid Death blow up.

Whole Foods Market was the first to get in because they were into sustainability too. 

Branding and Marketing Strategy

If you were thinking they were targeting only a specific audience, you’d be wrong. They were doing the opposite.

Mike Cessario says Liquid Death’s branding is built around entertainment. 

Their target audience is people who want to laugh. They want to entertain people and make people laugh.

They focused on entertaining people and making them laugh.

The reason why big water companies are not going for cans is that plastics are dirt cheap. 

There’s less profit margin for using aluminium, but it’s more recyclable than plastic. 

Aluminium is infinitely recyclable, and in the long run, aluminium will win.

Their flavoured water has 3 grams of sugar which are healthier than other drinks. 

Mike said it has to be healthy, even for kids. 

They’ll be launching iced tea soon, which is around the $6 billion market size category. 

It will be healthier than other iced tea with low sugar. 

Mike believes that people are repeatedly buying Liquid Death because it has more to it than just branding. 

He clarifies that they are not a D2C brand anymore. 

Customers can’t buy it from their website anymore. They’re available only on Amazon now. 

That’s because it’s really expensive to ship them. If you go to Fedex and try to send a 14lb case of water, it’ll cost $20. 

And customer acquisition on social media is getting expensive. On the contrary, retail is much cheaper compared to this. 

Since they’re building a brand, they’re also selling merch and other stuff.

They’ve also collaborated with many other brands.

Mike says Liquid Death could literally have a hotel – the most insane hotel experience or funny thing you can imagine. 

This is the power of branding.

How many movies does Netflix have to create before they get a hit one? 

How many movies do a blockbuster have to release before they get a hit one? 

Building a hit brand is similar to that. 

It’s really hard to build a truly hit brand that could do all these things.

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