#07: A $700 Million Dollar Lesson in Positioning
January 29, 2023
Water isn’t cool; it certainly isn’t edgy. That is, until one brand came along and changed everything.
In today’s edition we’re going to dig into how Liquid Death, a trendy canned water brand, leveraged the power of positioning to turn a product customers could get for free into a business valued at $700 million dollars.
Water’s Humble Beginnings
Water is essential to our survival, and in most parts of the developed world, it’s available for free. Many companies have taken their turn at positioning this free resource into a paid commodity, with varying levels of success.
Vitamin Water found its market with health conscious consumers, and sparkling water brands like La Croix became a trendy accessory at the beach. But, few brands were able to capture a market quite like Liquid Death.
When it was announced in 2017, it quickly gained attention - hitting over 100,000 Facebook fans in less than a year. And the brand had a fan club before they even had a product. Their teaser video with just basic mockups of the can (not even the real thing) reached 3,000,000 views.
So, who was this group of early adopters? Liquid Death’s target market weren’t athletes, or travel influencers or soccer moms or Millennial hipsters. It was a market you probably wouldn’t suspect drank water at all: partiers.
Riches in the Niches
The founders of Liquid Death focused on solving a very specific customer problem: how to make a healthy beverage like water seem cool in a party scene that favored drugs, alcohol and energy drinks.
They were zeroed in on two target segments: straight edge partiers who wanted to be a part of the scene without partaking in the drugs and alcohol, as well as party-goers who still wanted to drink, but perhaps not all night long.
The problem was, neither of these customer segments wanted to walk around with a bottle of Dasani or Perrier either. They needed a brand that allowed them to feel as though they fit in. A brand that represented their identity.
Thus, Liquid Death was born.
There are three parts of the Liquid death story that stand out to me as critical to their success.
#1 - The water’s vessel. The founders could have easily chosen to put their water in a bottle or a small can like all of their competitors. This was industry standard, after all. But, instead, they chose a vessel their target market was already deeply familiar with - a tallboy can. This was the size of can that both beer and energy drinks came in, and was what would be spotted at concerts, house parties and bars. It blended into its surroundings, and looked like it belonged.
#2 - The design. Liquid Death’s can blended in for two reasons: it’s size, but also it’s design. It adopted a heavy metal design with images of skulls. It was the type of imagery you would expect to see on beer cans from small batch breweries, not water companies.
#3 - The name. The name Liquid Death certainly stands out, and it immediately places you in the type of scene they intend you to drink it in. The first time I heard of it, I assumed it was the type of beer a rock band would drink on stage. I was shocked to learn it was a brand of water. In past interviews, the founders claim they went into the naming process taking inspiration from craft breweries, not other consumer packaged goods.
The brand didn’t mess around with their launch either. They targeted tattoo parlours and bars, in addition to a strategic partnership with Live Nation. It wasn’t long before Liquid death was seen at concerts and bars across America.
Key Takeaways for Product Marketers
What can we learn from the positioning of Liquid Death?
- Narrow in on your target market. If you’re trying to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no-one. This is segmentation 101 in action. Liquid Death was radically focused on their target customer, and all of their business decisions were focused on capturing this specific market. Mass market appeal came afterwards, but it was an outcome of nailing the niche first.
- Leverage an existing mental model. Their target customer already associated both the size of the can and the type if imagery with a beverage they would expect to see at their parties. They leveraged this similarity to beer and energy drinks to facilitate a sense of belonging for their product. Their customers felt like they blended in when drinking Liquid Death.
- Meet your customers where they’re at. Liquid Death strategically launched their product in the locations where their target customer hung out - bars, tattoo parlours and music festivals.
What other brands have positioned their way to market success? Drop me a note with your faves and I’ll cover them in a future edition.
See you here next Sunday ⏰