Red Bull over the course of almost 3 decades has slowly positioned itself as the number one energy drink in the world. Almost 5.2 billion cans were downed in 2015 around the world attesting its popularity among it core consumers and its brand recognition about just well…almost anywhere. It made close to $12.5 billion in sales in 2015 while Monster Energy drink, its closest competitor, made a little over $4.7 billion in sales. Red Bull is now a recognised global brand and though it may not have the recognition that a behemoth like Coca Cola does, the numbers are quite astounding for such a young company that spends “only” 20% of its marketing budget on paid advertisement. In a social-media infested world where audiences and markets are increasingly fragmented, the challenge to reach individual customers is becoming quite daunting. Red Bull however has braved through these tides in a way that few brands have and offers the following 8 lessons which we can all learn from in the current marketing environment setting.
1. Be customer-centric: Rarely will you find another company that has put its customer at the core of its brand as Red Bull has. To put it another way, selling cans of energy drink to its customers almost seems to have become a secondary objective. In fact for someone who has never heard about Red Bull one look at its homepage will give no indication that this is in fact a company that sells energy drinks. Red Bull instead banks on accompanying its core consumers on the activities they love to do; that is, adrenaline-infused activities like hang gliding, skating, skateboarding, parachuting, surfing, snowboarding…you name it. It quickly realised its core consumers were adrenaline junkies who need to be revved up with ‘energy’ after drinking a Red Bull and has directly moved in to be a part of this lifestyle. Within that bubble and in the most innocuous way, Red Bull sends a message that says “if you want to do something really exciting, you should have a Red Bull first.” And many of its customers have drunk the Kool-Aid (pun intended). Red Bull has moved from simply being an energy drink to a premium drink reflective of a particular lifestyle, age and exuberance. Even it’s most famous cocktail (Red Bull and vodka) is now seen to be a classy party starter.
2. Great Content Marketing is The Way to Go: Red Bull is a company that churns out a lot of content; and it should when you consider that it has become more a lifestyle company than a commodity company. Simply Measured in a 2013 blog post reported 550 brand posts across different social media platforms by Red Bull during a two week period! While most companies will likely outsource their content marketing efforts or hire the services of a community manager, Red Bull took its content creation further by establishing the Red Bull Media House (RBMH), an in-house media department established in 2007 and employing over 130 people that is directly responsible for all its content it creates as print, online, video and television formats. RBMH has writers, content creators, graphic designers, filmmakers and editors among its ranks. Red Bull even owns a magazine, the RED BULLETIN, with a reported circulation of about 5 million. Their content quality is top notch and resonates highly with its audience members who are constantly searching for the next incredible stories like this one about a Ugandan skateboarder. Its content is rich, diverse and touches different areas of its core consumer groups and is directly in line with its brand image.
3. Never Underestimate the Power of Experiential Marketing: Thanks to Red Bull, we now know that something as silly and goofy as the Red Bull flugtag race is an amazing way to engage and connect with consumers while promoting the identity of a brand. Red Bull exemplifies the quintessential company which has built its brand and brand image using the power of experiential marketing. For example the Red Bull flugtag race attracts crowds of up to 30,000 spectators over a weekend of activities. Experiential events are an amazing soft sell technique which if well planned and orchestrated can lead to great positive brand associations with great benefits eventually trickling down to the bottom line. Red bull has understood this and does so (as Donald Trump would say) “bigly.” And though not every company may have the necessary resources it takes to organise a flugtag race, in essence it is possible to scale it down to something in the same spirit where the principal question one asks is how to engage customers in a way that they understand the essence and identity of the brand and connect with it.
4: Influencer Marketing is no gimmick: Influencer marketing is now perhaps one of the very top means via which a brand can gain exposure and following. With the growth of social media and the ever increasing fragmentation of millennial markets where social validation is now a very determinant factor in purchase decision-making, this is even more obvious. Red Bull currently has over 46 million followers on Facebook and 120,000+ on Vine. It has 5.4 million followers on its Instagram page and thousands of followers on its official affiliate Instagram pages such as Red Bull UK, Red Bull Surfing, Red Bull X Fighters, Red Bull Air Racing, and Red Bull Desert Wings. I counted 40 official pages just on Instagram alone. These pages feature pro athletes, deejays, pilots, bikers all competing in Red Bull events and at other competitions and often drinking Red Bull and promoting the brand through snapshots of their branded gear. Tom Pages, a biker sponsored by Red Bull, has over 150,000 followers alone on Instagram. Red Bull brilliantly finds influencers who share common core values with its brand and keep up with their content creation and sharing. In fact a huge portion of content shared by Red Bull is dedicated to its influencers; a strategy which led to Red Bull to hit the amazing milestone of a billion views on its YouTube channel in 2015! And with the mind blowing growth of Snapchat Red Bull capitalised on that in 2015 by giving the Canadian snowboarder and X Games champion Mark McMorris (pictured below) control of its Snapchat account.
5: To make a big splash, try going viral: Felix Baumgartner’s jump from the stratosphere (dubbed the Red Bull Stratos jump) was perhaps the most-viewed event of 2012. The Austrian daredevil broke the sound barrier as he jumped from a capsule 39km above the earth. 9.5 million people viewed the 9 minutes event live on YouTube alone and 52 million people viewed it in total across the multiple online platforms broadcasting it live. Millions of other people viewed it as well in the days following the event and in the six months after the campaign, U.S. sales of Red Bull increased 7% to $1.6 billion, according to research firm IRI. Red Bull, whose logo was visibly emblazoned on the helmet and suit of David Baumgartner gathered hundreds of millions of dollars in free publicity as videos, pictures and media reports of the jump was shared across social media and reported on traditional media. This jump along with the ice bucket challenge have set standards for what viral marketing should look like. Sometimes viral marketing may go wrong but when it does go right, then the Red Bull way is perhaps the kind of splash you may want to make.
6. Sponsor the right kind of events: Red Bull’s marketing directly targets young people who participate in and are fans of extreme sports. It has not only streamlined its sponsorship to reflect this target market and core consumer group but pretty much like it does with its content marketing, has taken things a step further by organising its own events as well. It organises over 30 events among which are the Red Bull Cliff Diving Series, the Red Bull Road Rampage, and the Motorcycle Grand Prix of the Americas. It also sponsors motor sports, extreme sports events, football teams and has endorsed numerous extreme sportsmen and women. Every aspect of its sponsorship is reflective of its brand image and central message.
7. Engage consumers via social media in a clear consistent manner: The Red Bull Media House’s worth come in full display on social media. Red Bull has perfectly maneuvered its social media strategy to maximise engagement across different platforms. On Facebook it favours mostly videos showing the full extent of its brand with snappy captions that prompt you to click on them. On Twitter pictures mostly are favoured and Red Bull connects with its followers by retweeting relevant content. On Snapchat it makes raw, authentic and fun videos. On Instagram it favours short format videos that fit into the now-allotted 60 seconds time frame for the platform, while on YouTube it shares mostly long format videos, usually above 3 minutes and with a storytelling format. Every social platform is used in a way that generates the most engagement. Red Bull understands that the same consumer will be engaged in different ways as he moves through his different social media accounts and their individual peculiarities. It understands each channel and understands how users use these and builds its strategy around this knowledge with very clear objectives in mind. And as always, Red Bull stays true to itself by not promoting a product, but rather promoting a lifestyle.
8. Ditch traditional media and focus on word of mouth and mouse: This may sound insane, but is it really? Red Bull spends a mere 20% of its marketing budget on traditional advertising. The rest goes basically to content creation and diffusion, sponsorship and experiential marketing. It sounds simple when put that way but before you take this crazy direction (it is a little crazy) there are certain things you have to ask yourself first. Do I understand my brand? Does it have a unique identity? Do my customers understand my brand and its identity? Can I create an emotion and an experience around my brand? How do I translate that into something tangible? Will my customers understand and connect with that experience and actually feel it? What are my customers saying about my brand and where are they saying it? Are they saying what I want them to say and where I want them to? Can they effectively carry the message via the mouth and the mouse? Is their reach enough? If no, then how can I help them to do so and do so effectively? Are the end results in line with my objectives? There are so many questions to ask and this list is certainly not exhaustive. But guess what? We are living in a world where traditional advertisement is increasingly fragmented and far less effective than it was just a decade ago and this path may not be that crazy after all. Red Bull has been able to do that in the last decade with a focused consistency; and so can you.
Are there any other marketing lessons from Red Bull you want to share? I’ll be glad to read about it in the comment section!
Daniel is passionate about marketing and creative writing. He is a champion at “The Big Bang Theory” trivia. An avid fan of “Game of Thrones” and John Grisham, he has been a Manchester United supporter since he was 10. If it’s your thing, you can follow him on Twitter as well.