An amazing article from the Guardian Liquid assets: how the business of bottled water went mad covers almost every aspect of marketing.
When selling something as ubiquitous as water, differentiation from your competitors is key. How do you differentiate? One way is through the right marketing mix. The marketing mix is comprised of: Product, Promotion, Price, and Placement. Also known as the 4 P’s of Marketing.
Product: Of course it’s not just water. There is value added features, such as electrolytes, flavors, caffeine, anti-oxidising manganese, etc. that companies are emphasizing to differentiate their product from the competition.
There was Life, Volvic, Ugly, Sibberi (birch or maple), Plenish, What A Melon watermelon water, Vita Coco, Coco Pro, Coco Zumi, Chi 100% Pure Coconut Water, Rebel Kitchen Coconut Water and coconut water straight from the nut (“you have to make the hole yourself”, explained a shop assistant). Also: an electrolyte-enhanced water pledging to hydrate you with 40% less fluid than ordinary water (Overly Fitness), a birch water offering “a natural source of anti-oxidising manganese” (Tapped) and an alternative birch water promising to “eliminate cellulite” (Buddha). There was also a “water bar” – a tap in the corner of the shop – that, according to the large sign hanging from the ceiling, offered, for free, the “cleanest drinking water on the planet”, thanks to a four-stage process conducted by a “reverse osmosis deionising water filter”.
You can read more about the concept of “product” from a marketing standpoint in my post about the failed McPizza.
Price: Another way to differentiate yourself from the crowd is by pricing your product/service at a rate that is considerably higher than your competition. How about a $100,000 bottle of water?
This self-proclaimed “champagne of waters” quickly won FoodBev Media’s Beverage Innovation award for the “World’s Best Still or Sparkling Water”. A case of 24 500ml bottles is $72, while a bottle from the “Luxury Collection, Diamond Edition” will cost you $100,000. It has a white gold cap set with more than 850 white and black diamonds and holds the profoundly questionable honour of being the world’s most expensive bottle of water. If you buy it, Riese will present the bottle to you in person at a private water tasting anywhere in the world.
Promotion: Promotion goes beyond just advertising. What do you communicate? Once you’ve exhausted the typical “it’s delicious!” “it’s cool!” “it’s a great value!” You can go into educating the market about the process, the people, the ingredients, etc. that goes into your product/service. It might be the same things as your competitors, but if you say you “add double the standard amount of X” while your competitors just say “they’re delicious!” then your market might assume your competitor does not add double the amount of X.
Fiji water, for example, contains 210mg TDS, including 18mg sodium, 13mg magnesium and 18mg calcium. (Fiji appears to have pulled off some fairly heavy-duty trademarking, including “Untouched by man™” and “Earth’s finest water™”.) Compare those numbers to San Pellegrino, which contains quadruple the TDS, at 925mg, including 33.6mg sodium, 53.8mg magnesium and 178mg calcium. Fiji, with far fewer solids, tastes smoother, while the San Pellegrino is bolder, saltier and naturally fizzy.
Melted iceberg essentially has no taste, having the lowest TDS (9mg) of any water on earth. It is like the ur-water, the water that pre-dates all other waters. “This is your starting point,” said Leonard, gravely. “Your baseline.”
Surprising right? Now tell me you’re not at least a little curious as to how the various waters taste. If the marketers did their jobs right, you might at least be open to trying the product once.
Placement: Placement mainly deals with distribution. Which is, where does your customer purchase your product/service. You’re not going to sell a $10 bottle of water at a gas station. You have to sell your product/service at where your market is. They are upper-middle class, baby boomers living in Massachusetts? Distributing through Whole Foods or Wegmans is a start, if you can meet their supply chain management requirements.
The dress code of the clientele in Planet Organic, Notting Hill is gym chic. On a hot day in mid-August, the men wore mid-thigh shorts, pectoral-enhancing vests, neon Nikes; the women were in black leggings and intricate ensembles of sports bras and cross-strapped Lycra. They had all either just worked out, were about to work out, or wanted to look as if working out was a constant possibility.
They examined the shelves. As well as the usual selection of kale crackers and paleo egg protein boosters, there were promises of wizardry, such as a packet of Alchemy Organic Super Blend Energy Elixir (£40 for 300g of powder). But never mind the food. Life, in 2016, is liquid. Opposite a display of untouched pastries and assorted bread products (who, in Planet Organic in Notting Hill, still eats bread?), were the waters.
The marketing of bottled water is pretty amazing amazing. Some is ridiculous snake-oil shilling. Some may have benefits, depending on the needs of the individual, that regular water cannot meet. Nonetheless, it is a $5 billion dollar industry in the US that is projected to grow 5-6% over the next five years.