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How to stand out – creating an engaging brand

July 5, 2022
6 min read

Our world is full of noise. We’re overstimulated, slaves to the endless scrolling loop of targeted ads and perfect pictures. And when attention is currency, how do you cut through this noise and engage those people who your brand is for? Not by doing the same as everyone else, but by offering something that no one else can. This could mean inventing a new product, but for already established, saturated markets, you need a clear reason for existing to speak to your audience. That means communicating in a way that will engage and excite them, not turn them off. There may be 100 competitors doing the same thing as you, but you can still do it in your own, unique way.

All markets can become stagnant and need something fresh to kickstart it. A decade ago, if you wanted to open a bank account you’d visit a high-street branch of a big bank, or spend an hour on the phone listening to the same hold music on loop. These days you can do it on your phone, through an app, in a few minutes. Monzo were hailed as the first real alternative to traditional banking, and once they arrived it wasn’t long before others started appearing in the space, challenger banks to the old, rusty dinosaur banks we grew up using.

Image showing an old fashioned bank, compared to Monzo, a digital app based bank

Right now there are around 15 different options of ‘challenger banks’ in the UK, each doing pretty much the same. So as quick as the market was created, it was just as quickly saturated with competition. And when costs, fees and services are pretty much the same, who engages the best, and which brand you associate yourself with can have a huge impact.

Water is not particularly exciting. Essential for survival, yes, but not very exciting. But when it’s positioned for its purity and natural quality, with a sprinkling of alpine mountains, it becomes marketable. The water from your tap is just as good for you, yet the market size for the global bottled water industry is almost $300 billion, and growing. It pays to hydrate.

Various marketing campaigns and adverts from the bottled water industry, showing the similarity in message

For years, brands have used these similar narratives and messaging to sell their product, vying for your business by stating their water is purer, from a better mountain glacier, with optimal mineral and electrolyte content. And it wasn’t really until we understood just how bad it was to purchase water in single-use plastic bottles, that challenger brands appeared, offering something different.

Now consumers had a different reason to purchase a product, it wasn’t just about the marketing spiel on the advert or label. They’re able to make a conscious buying decision based on their values, in this case doing less harm to the environment by purchasing water packaged in a plant-based recycled carton vs water packaged in single-use plastic. And like the bank example, as quickly as a new sub-market is created, it fills up quickly, and there’s a handful of brands with the same packaging and similar message.

Comparison of 2 carton water companies branding
Comparison of 2 carton water companies art direction
Comparison of 2 carton water companies message

Aquapax and Cart on Water are two different brands with nothing to separate them. Identical packaging, similar creative direction and the same reason for existing. There's no reason to choose one over the other.

And when the market gets saturated, with similar, safe-looking brands, it’s hard to become an advocate for any of them. Until one brand comes along and does something so different, you can’t help but take notice. In the consumer water market, that brand is Liquid Death.

Liquid Death branding and message

Skulls, murder (your thirst) and killing (plastic pollution). Packaging that looks like a beer label for a rock band, and ridiculous, pastiche advertising. About as far away from the competition as you can get. But it works. And it works because it’s done with intention. To understand how, and more importantly why it works, let’s break it down.

It’s purpose-driven

Where many water brands reference plastic recycling and pollution as a goal for reducing, Liquid Death go for the knockout punch at the first bell; Plastic recycling is a myth, but aluminium is infinitely recyclable. You can only purchase their water in aluminium cans - no plastic bottles, no cartons, just cans.

Liquid Death branding and message

It doesn’t need to educate why people shouldn’t use plastic or have a lengthy sustainability report with a 5-year plan. It gives them an easy alternative. Drink our water, recycle our cans, and save the world from plastic pollution.

It speaks to its audience

The majority of people will never read a corporate page on Evians plastic 2025 goals, but they will watch a tongue-in-cheek 90-second advert. Serious subjects can be framed with humour and wit, making the message far more palatable. Liquid Death do this 10-fold. The copy is there because it needs to be. There’s zero fluff, no buzz words, but a directness with rebellious confidence. And when attention is as sparse as leadership in the British Government, it's about getting the message across quickly and succinctly. Liquid Death understand their audience, they know their behaviors, and they create content that will engage, in a language that's familiar.

It has personality and doesn’t seek approval from all

Born from a guy who grew up playing in rock bands, the branding and tone plays off the aesthetic of beer and energy drinks, beverages that its target audience knows well - injecting a ‘cool factor’ into a boring, sterile market. And yes, parody adverts of waterboarding may be too much for some, and that’s the point. Appeal to all and appeal to no one. Find your tribe, your audience, your niche. You don’t need approval from everyone to be successful.

Creativity is used as a differentiator

Liquid Death isn’t the only water company that sells water in an aluminium can, who’s message is about highlighting the in-practicality of plastic recycling. And when the fundamentals are the same, it comes down to how you frame and position your brand for your target audience.

2 water can brands compared in terms of packaging
2 water can brands compared in terms of marketing

Canowater and Liquid Death share founding principles, but that's where the similarities end. Liquid Death don't take themselves too seriously, with their use of humour and viral-worthy campaigns. Canowater, go for the stripped-back, minimal approach. For 2 such similar products, which would you buy off a shelf? Which brand merch would you wear? Which brand video would you share? Which brand is more desirable? Which brand would you remember? There’s no right or wrong here, it all depends on which brand aesthetic YOU associate yourself with and who's 'why' resonates with your views.

There will always be room for another competitor, in even the most saturated of markets. Many will be sheep, blindly following the herd and hoping to steal a few percent from their nearest rivals. But those that find ways to innovate, challenge and carve their niche in the market, are the brands we revere, actively engage with and see ourselves not as customers, but as fans.

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