If there’s one brand that’s appeared in our #inspiration Slack channel more than any other brand in the last five years, it’s Liquid Death. Over and over, the water brand has made waves in the marketing world by telling a, well, killer brand story.
As we’ve talked about many times, story is the last remaining competitive advantage in the marketplace, but becoming a master of brand storytelling takes time. That’s why it’s so impressive that Liquid Death has become the GOAT so quickly. (The brand only officially launched in 2019.)
So how did this punk rock water brand earn a $700 million valuation in only five years? Today, we’re breaking down the blueprint to their success so that you can master marketing just like Liquid Death.
But first, let’s start with a quick overview.
The Liquid Death Brand Story
Liquid Death was created by Mike Cessario, a graphic designer and marketer who wanted to introduce a healthier alternative to the alcohol and energy drinks that dominated the music venues he came of age in. He decided to create a water brand that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to bring on stage (or nurse as you walk around a music festival). And, most importantly, as a marketer who kinda hated marketing, he wanted to do it in a totally unique way.
After putting out a funny and irreverent test ad for the concept, which happened to go viral, he officially launched Liquid Death and has since built the brand into the beast of the beverage industry.
The path wasn’t necessarily perfect, but what Cessario had from the beginning was a clear vision and the branding chops to see it through. If you want to follow in Cessario’s footsteps, here are five ways to do it.
1) Put your mission at the center of your story—and keep it there.
The most crucial component of any successful brand is its brand heart (aka purpose, vision, mission, and values). Unfortunately, many brands either don’t have a clear brand heart—or they don’t have one they can really follow through on.
From the beginning, Liquid Death has had a clear message and mission: “Our evil mission is to make people laugh and get more of them to drink more healthy beverages more often, all while helping to kill plastic pollution.”
Whereas many brands bury their mission on their About page, Liquid Death makes #deathtoplastic its calling card. Everything they do is geared to further that mission, from their aluminum can packaging to their marketing messages, including things like this fairly demented toy commercial for “Cutie Polluties” (stuffed animals harmed by plastic in the sea).
One of the biggest mistakes we see B2B marketers make is telling a complicated or convoluted story. Liquid Death’s simple mission allows them to streamline their story and push the boundaries of creativity—without straying from their core messaging.
By putting this mission front and center, they have created a cultlike following of supporters who share their values and voraciously consume the product to support it.
Tip: If you want people to connect with your brand’s mission, you need to tell compelling stories about who you are and what you believe in. To do this well, see our guide to master brand storytelling across channels.
2) Take inspiration from other industries/brands.
From the jump, Liquid Death took its inspiration from an unlikely source: beer companies. From the heavy metal-inspired can design to the in-your-face marketing messaging, treating Liquid Death like a beer company has turned out to be the key to its success.
In the beginning, however, potential investors were highly skeptical of this approach, as it was so markedly different than other beverages in the market. But Cessario believed in this angle, and it worked. The brand made such a splash in the market that it blew the competition out of the…water.
Even as the brand expands, it continues to adopt the party monster energy of beer companies. For example, their new sparkling water line features flavors like Convicted Melon.
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In the B2B space, where markets are becoming increasingly competitive and commodified, brands desperately need to differentiate from the competition. Zigging where your competition zags is one of the best ways to make a big impression. Think of the core elements of your brand story—whether it’s your visual identity, your brand personality, your website, or your explainer videos—and look for ways to make them stand out from the competition.
Tip: You can take inspiration from a variety of unexpected sources. For example, Drew Hoffman, VP of brand at SentinelOne, told us he takes his marketing inspiration from film directors. (Here are five things you can learn from them too.)
3) Push the boundaries as much as you can.
Both Cessario and his VP of Marketing Greg Fass have expressed their general disdain for marketing in general. Their counterculture roots serve them well, as they often push the brand to do things that eclipse anything a traditional water brand might do.
When you think about an edgy product, you don’t think about a water brand. But Liquid Death has flipped that idea upside down, inside out, and added a tattoo and a couple of piercings to push buttons, envelopes, and the boundaries of creativity.
In keeping with their badass, heavy metal image, they are constantly creating headlines with their marketing gimmicks.
- They collaborated with Tony Hawk to create limited-edition skateboards infused with his blood.
- They turned their favorite hate comments into a 10-song album called Greatest Hates Vol. 3.
- They partnered with Travis Barker to create an Enema of the State enema kit in honor of Blink-182’s Enemy of the State album anniversary.
How do they come up with these wild ideas? As Cessario told NPR’s Marketplace, “We think about our marketing team more like Saturday Night Live. Like, we’re an entertainment machine and we’re constantly trying to put what we put out on the level of an SNL sketch.“
While these stunts may be too much for a B2B brand, B2B marketing doesn’t have to be boring. You can show off your brand personality in all sorts of ways.
- Use humor.
- Make fun of a trope in your industry. M
- ake the little stuff (like CTAs and emails) unexpectedly entertaining.
4) Experiment a ton.
Beyond pushing the boundaries with scroll-stopping marketing stunts, one of the most impressive things about Liquid Death is their never-ending stream of experimental marketing. From content, to in-person events, to additional revenue streams, the brand is always trying something new to push the brand into the culture. This willingness to experiment has kept them relevant and plugged into the zeitgeist in a remarkable way.
- Their NFT club (aka the Murder Head Death Club) launched with 6,666 NFTs that, naturally, sold out in three hours.
- The Liquid Death Country Club invites you to “sell your soul” for special rewards.
- Their merch line generated $3 million in 2021.
What other water brand could create a nightlight that sells out multiple times?
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This ability to generate value (and additional revenue streams) through wild experimental ideas gives them both cachet and real ROI that a standard marketing campaign would not.
Tip: Experimentation is crucial to break out of a rut, but you need to do it intentionally and with the ability to measure your success. See our guide to choose and use the right content marketing metrics.
5) Lock in the right language.
Liquid Death is a bold name that perfectly reflects this bold and brash brand. One of the best things about them is their ability to infuse every piece of content with that same personality—often through rich, evocative language.
- Their tagline encourages you to “Murder Your Thirst.”
- Their site features a “Timewaster 5000” page where they encourage you to watch every dumb thing they’ve ever made.
- You don’t earn points with them, you earn “skulls.”
- Even their email signup list encourages you “to be brainwashed by Liquid Death marketing through rare (but hilarious) emails.”
This level of creativity—and attention to detail—shows just how strong and intentional the brand is.
Tip: To master your language, you need a clear and distinct brand voice. See our guide to uncover your voice and personality. Then follow these tips to infuse your marketing with more emotional copywriting.
How to Become a Better Brand
Even if you don’t have a hip water brand to sell, there are still plenty of ways B2B marketers can make an impact in their industry.
- Keep it human. B2B marketers (especially tech marketers) tend to forget they’re talking to real people behind all those screens. Try these tips to create more emotionally driven content that really connects with the right people. (On that note, make sure you’re creating human-centric marketing strategies, not company-centric strategies.)
- Focus on trust. Liquid Death is so successful because consumers know exactly what they’re going to get from them—every time. Their consistent brand voice, their clear message, and their overall presentation help cultivate that trust with every piece of content they create. Follow these tips to create trust between your brand and audience.
- Simplify your buyer journey. One of the best ways to sabotage your brand is to create an overly complicated buyer journey. Find out how to streamline and simplify to create a better user experience that increases conversions.
But perhaps the best thing you can do to create better marketing is educate yourself. To start, subscribe to our Best Story Wins podcast, where we talk with marketing pros about how they’re winning hearts, minds, and market share.
And if you need a partner to help you tell your own brand story, find out how we’ve helped other brands meet their goals, see our FAQs to learn more about working with us, or reach out. We’d love to help you make a Liquid Death-level impact in your industry.