How to build a beverage brand: Liquid Death on its marketing magic

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Mike Cessario founded Liquid Death in 2018. 'I did not expect this level of success!', he tells us.
Mike Cessario founded Liquid Death in 2018. 'I did not expect this level of success!', he tells us.

Related tags Marketing branding Advertising Bottled water

Liquid Death has turned the bottled water category on its head: with its energy-drink-esque branding and novel approach to marketing ('Murder your thirst!' declares the brand's tagline). Mike Cessario, founder and CEO, sits down with BeverageDaily and explains how he's built his beverage brand.

As one of the fastest growing non-alcoholic beverage brands, Liquid Death uses comedy and entertainment 'to make health and sustainability 50 times more fun'.

The brand hit $263m in retail scanned sales in 2023 and expanded to 113,000 retail doors across the US and UK (where it debuted last year). It achieved triple-digit growth for the third consecutive year, becoming the fastest growing top water brand, according to SPINS.

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In March, it closed $67m in financing and announced a $1.4bn valuation. And its social following captures a cool 7.9 million followers across TikTok and Instagram, making it the third most followed beverage globally (behind only Red Bull and Monster).

After 10 years working in advertising creative, Mike Cessario founded Liquid Death in 2018 and is the CEO of the Santa Monica, California-headquartered company. He tells us what the secret to success has been.

BD: What's Liquid Death's USP - and why does it resonate with today's consumers?

MC: Liquid Death makes a variety of healthy beverages packaged in infinitely recyclable aluminum cans.

We started out selling mountain spring water in cans, then we launched low-calorie, low-sugar line of flavored sparkling water, and last year we launched low-calorie, low-sugar line of iced tea.

liquid death inset

Beyond customers saying how much more flavor they think our drinks have over most other better-for-you drinks, the most unique thing about Liquid Death is we take comedic entertainment first approach to marketing and brand that is typically only used by unhealthy products like beer, soda, and junk food.

Our target audience is wide. Our drinkers range from 9 year old kids who are excited to drink water and low-sugar drinks for the first time because of the brand, all the way to people in their 40’s and 50’s who are cutting out alcohol more often in social occasions and use Liquid Death as a replacement for beer. 

We're always told brands have a very short time to appeal to busy consumers, and must convey their proposition in a matter of milliseconds. But Liquid Death doesn't look like a water brand...

liquid death inset 2
Liquid Death flavors: Mango Chainsaw, Berry It Alive, Severed Lime

Many marketers and brand owners undervalue the power of true curiosity.

If your brand can truly stop someone in their tracks and make them curious or to make them actually have questions, you have a much better shot as a new brand to convert them into a new customer.

True disruption is a highly complex art and science. The details and strategic nuance matter.

But if you can get them right, you can get far larger ROI than taking more expected paths that often require a lot more marketing capital to reach mass awareness.

The genius of Liquid Death is its marketing. Critics would say that – at the end of the day – it’s just water. What do you say to that?

Liquid Death may have first launched as a mountain spring water in a can, but we have now shown the power of this brand far exceeds the massive bottled water category.

We are one of the only brands in history that is winning in completely different beverage categories: still spring water, flavored sparkling water, and iced tea.

On Amazon in the US, we are currently a Top 3 total water brand and also the #1 iced brand.

Our flavored sparkling beverage and iced tea combined are now over 60% of our retail sales. And this shows that Liquid Death has permission to go into additional better-for-you beverage categories in the future.

Amazon may have started out selling books - and they still sell a lot of books- but it’s no longer considered a book company. 

Liquid Death has just closed $67m in strategic financing. How will that help you grow?

We’re focused on using the recent funding to fuel further product innovation across our multi-category beverage platform, creating new variations of the products people already love and more.

The demand from our retailers continues to soar, and we’re completely heads-down on optimizing our production and distribution processes.

How will you ensure you keep your identity and branding consistent while growing globally and working across different markets?

We’re currently expanding our footprint through the EU and Australian markets where we have employed strategic teams that are leading our efforts.

Our strong brand identity is something we make sure is consistent across all channels and markets.

The whole reason we started expanding internationally was because our brand and content in the US was already resonating in many other international markets.

We were getting tons of messages on social media asking when the brand was coming to their countries. 

Mike Cessario's seven deadly things

What’s your poison? ​George T Stagg Bourbon

What’s your worst vice? ​I’ve never had many vices. I do enjoy a good cocktail or bourbon or mezcal every once in a while.

Worst work mistake? ​Early in my advertising career, I chased money over creativity. That quickly becomes a trap that is very hard to escape. 

Biggest waste of money? ​Running uninteresting marketing on traditional media channels. 

What company or brand are you most jealous of? ​Trader Joe’s — they’ve built a true fandom and cult-like obsession around a single cohesive brand that makes a whole variety of products across categories from wine to snacks to cleaning products. 

When has your pride caused a fall? ​Pass...

What makes you most angry? ​Fear-mongering

Your background is in advertising, not beverages. Why not launch a shampoo, pet food or chocolate bar - why water?

Marketing and brand follows similar principals regardless of the type of product you are selling. That is why any given advertising agency has a wide variety of clients and products they help market.

But when it comes to starting your own product, you have to be extremely passionate about whatever you are selling as it takes every ounce of you to be successful. 

Did you expect this level of success with Liquid Death?

I did not! I always knew it was a big idea with legs, but I didn’t know how big or how far it would actually travel.

What’s your top tip to other beverage entrepreneurs?

If you believe what makes your brand unique is a functional ingredient or taste or flavor, then you don’t actually have a brand. You have a product. 

How do you start and end your working days?

They tend to start with meetings and end with meetings. 

What’s the favorite part of your job today as a CEO?

I love the challenge and process of building big things. 

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