3 lessons Liquid Death’s killer marketing can teach B2B brands
Liquid Death is a commodity. It’s water in a can. Yet its irreverent marketing has led to a recent $700m valuation. So, what can B2B marketers learn from a brand that’s not afraid to leverage punk rock and unusual stars? Former Winc brand vice-president Shilo Gray explains.
Yes, marketing a B2B commodity can be tastefully authentic
Brand and creative leaders like me have followed Liquid Death Mountain Water’s unapologetic run to be the go-to when you need your thirst murdered. Quarter after quarter we’ve applauded, shared and dissected the work the brand’s vice-president of creative Andy Pearson and his team have been doing. And at the center of those conversations is Liquid Death’s double-down on brand in a business environment when perfectly-attributable marketing spend has been the dominant definition of success.
Now, the interesting thing is that Liquid Death’s approach is not even remotely new. It is standing on the shoulders of what the great advertising giants (such as David Ogilvy, Dan Wieden and Helen Lansdowne Resor) did before it by applying this principle: be true to yourself, be interesting, and people will remember you. But Liquid Death does deserve supreme recognition for demonstrating the bravery to trust in its brand, its team and the emotional intelligence of its customers.
Launched in 2019, it’s only taken a few years for the marketers behind the canned water brand – founded by former Netflix executive Mike Cessario – to achieve near unicorn status. While Cessario and his team are building a formidable company, the brand they created is the real star. What can B2B brands learn from this fast-growing startup?
Lesson 1: Let your audience inspire your difference
Cessario is a former rock musician who, during the 2008 Warped Tour, noticed energy drink companies invested significantly in band tours and music festivals. When speaking with musicians, he discovered that they preferred to hydrate with H2O while performing, but they often had to put water in an energy drink can due to sponsorship agreements.
Not ideal, right? So he created a water brand for them. Cessario did what all interesting brands do: he found a real problem to solve for real people who were unique enough to, in turn, inspire uniqueness in his brand. Imbuing brands with actual differences is most effective when borrowed from life. You literally can’t make it up.
Lesson 2: Sell your brand to sell your products
First, the packaging of clean water in a tall boy, like a beer can, is arguably brilliant. But the marketing strategy is also a massive part of Liquid Death’s success story.
For instance, in an ad campaign earlier this year, Liquid Death launched a new line of flavored sparkling waters – Severed Lime, Mango Chainsaw and Berry It Alive. The campaign was a Jackass-like, prank-minded, humor-driven creative effort that had everyday consumers taste-test $1.99 cans of Liquid Death against tallboys of the most expensive consumable fluids on the planet. This included lobster béarnaise sauce ($50), liquified Japanese wagyu cheeseburger ($51), Spanish squid ink ($58) and beluga caviar ($580). The idea was to toy with an advertising trope – the taste test – that people are used to seeing. One of the videos on YouTube got a million views alone.
In May 2020, Liquid Death leaned into Cessario’s musical background, releasing a ‘Greatest Hates’ album, consisting of death metal music created with lyrics from hate comments the company received online. There was a follow-up album of hate comments, described as punk rock, released later that year. And this rock ‘n’ roll plan had legs because nearly two years later, in February 2022, during Super Bowl LVI, the company ran a Big Game spot that featured children and a pregnant woman enjoying the beverage with heavy metal music. It played on the idea that tallboys are usually filled with beer, and the spot concluded with the tagline: ‘Don’t be scared, it’s just water.’ In addition to the nearly 100 million Super Bowl viewers who saw the spot, the ad got millions of views on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms.
The lesson for B2B marketers is to give the people what they want over and over again in the most interesting way possible. Then they’ll do more than buy your products – they’ll buy your brand. While we are in the business of lead generation, we need not be boring.
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Lesson 3: Package your purpose
Liquid Death relies on humor a lot in its marketing, but is serious about the environment and eliminating plastic beverage bottles. And that stance is data-backed: 73% of an aluminum can is made of recycled material.
Aluminum cans are more eco-friendly than bottled or boxed water. Because of that, Liquid Death is packed in aluminum cans, and the brand has partnered with a handful of not-for-profit organizations to further its efforts to curb climate change. At the same time, 10% of the profits from each can are donated to help kill plastic pollution.
This purpose resonates with younger generations especially, but also almost everyone else: a survey made by Accenture revealed that 62% of all consumers prefer purpose-driven companies that have a stand on the challenges surrounding corporate sustainability, transparency and fair employment practices.
The final lesson for the B2B community? Package and market your team’s passion. This could be the culture you nurture, the talent you attract, the process by which you innovate, or the ways your brand exhibits social responsibility. It doesn’t have to be ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke,’ but it has to be uniquely you.
There’s always more to say, and the work that Liquid Death is churning out deserves all of the ink. So, let’s start here, B2B marketers. Let’s show up uniquely, consistently, for our customers in the ways that matter to them. I’ll look for the ‘Murder your inefficiency’ keynote at the next B2B conference.
Shiloh Gray is vice-president of brand and creative at ASAPP.