In the year 2014, Red Bull sold more than 5.5 billion cans of a product that does not even have a mention on the home page of its website. If you have never heard of Red Bull, there is a high probability that its website apparently will not tell you that it is in the business of selling the cans of fizz. But yes, if you have ever watched videos of people cycling through the grounds of the Playboy Mansion, slamming down mountain bike tracks with a GoPro or doing Wingsuit racing, you would probably know about the brand. It may appear to you that an energy drink is perhaps not so much the core product of Red Bull, rather it is the energising companion beverage of people leading an extreme lifestyle.
Right since the inception, its founder Mateschitz imagined Red Bull as a lifestyle, a kind of belief or a religion in which that ‘can’ can be perceived as a necessity and a functional product. In fact, Red Bull, the belief system, and Red Bull, the product, have been so inextricably intertwined that it is difficult to differentiate one from the other.
The epic moment for Red Bull was defined in 1990, when Mateschitz officially launched an event he called the Red Bull Flugtag. Flugtag in German language loosely translates to “flight day” or “air show.” It was an event, where the self-taught ‘pilots’ feature their homemade aircrafts and launch off from a platform that is three stories above a body of water meant to serve as the landing surface. The ground rule of the event is that the said aircraft must be powered by gravity muscle, and imagination.
The first Red Bull Flugtag competition, that was held in 1991 in Vienna, was instantaneously a massive hit. Since then, this competition takes place every year in more than 35 cities across the world, and attracts more than 300 thousand visitors per event. The success of this event laid the foundation of its core philosophy: Don’t rent space at other people’s events; create your own.
Now, 25 years later, Red Bull has become a company that is difficult to describe in conventional terms and perhaps a leading example of an organisation that has mastered the art of story doing. Instead of “telling” its story using advertising, Red Bull conveys its story through the creation of gripping experiences diligently crafted to Red Bull’s brand promise “give you wings”.
The Art of Story Doing Makes All the Difference
Whenever you talk about a story, two classic kinds of stories come to our mind: fiction and nonfiction. But there is a third kind, that is still lesser explored. It is called a meta story. A meta story is a story that is conveyed to the audience through an action. It is all about doing a story, and not saying it. Every one of us has a meta story, so does every brand.
The reason this is so important is that people are already innate story doers themselves. They use the story of our brand or business to tell part of their own personal meta story. Put in another way, people don’t buy products; they take actions that help advance their own personal meta story. As we grow up, all of us learn to manage our own meta story through our actions ; the car we drive, the clothes we wear. All of these choices are components that we know people around us will use to piece our meta story together.
Red Bull is not merely selling a packaged fizz, a utility beverage, or an energy shot, but actually the ‘challenge the limit’ experience that comes with it. Every Red Bull photo, video, documentary or an event has a ‘story’ that is the real protagonist. A story about a person, who pushes his human boundaries to achieve the impossible.A story about a person, who is about to give wings to his dreams. When the commoners look at a Formula 1 race driver, snowboarder, sky surfer or Parkour athlete doing the life-defying acts, they instantly feel connected and watch with a bated breath what is going to happen next. A perfect example of ‘story doing’.
The Corporate Philosophy Rules the Content
Lately, in every conference on the future of advertising or PR, Red Bull is often cited as the gold-standard of brand publishing; what every future leaning agency like PracticeNext, encourages its clients to emulate. Instead of the commercial, be the show. Instead of the banner ad, be the feature story.
The core of Red Bull’s content marketing initiative is Red Bull Media House. Launched in 2007 as an independent subsidiary, it now employs more than 500 people. This multi-platform media company manages print, digital, event and broadcast programming content for Red Bull.
Werner Brell, managing director of Red Bull Media House, said at the Content All Stars summit in New York “We were creators, producers and distributors of Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking leap from the outer space to Earth, which got 9 million concurrent views on YouTube. We owned the entire project.”
Actually, Red Bull is getting to the point where it’s not useful to use them as an example, since it is such an exception to the rule. And if the recent deal with Adidas is any indication, they may be hinting at the end of traditional publishing as we know it.
Social By Design
This is the term, as described by Nate Warner (Digital Marketing Director, Red Bull North America) who drives Red Bull’s social media activities. It essentially means finding the right story and making it meaningful for the people to want to talk about it and share it. When you bring together a dynamic group of artists, that don’t just create content for the sake of sharing, but because they innately love what they’re doing, you’re essentially creating as self sustaining content engine, while keeping it as original as possible.
With an average of one post a day, and a few tweets Red Bull doesn’t need to explode Facebook or Twitter with too many mentions and an ‘in your face’ kind of brand positioning. Rather, Red Bull would simply post an eye-catching photo of the week, a mind boggling video or an upcoming event, accompanied by some amazing hashtags and let the users tell, talk and share the story behind it on their own social profiles.
What Other Brands Can Learn from Red Bull?
Red Bull, in the truest sense, is the master of branding.It has proved how a brand can continue to stay relevant on its own terms! Is there any blueprint on its marketing strategy? Well, here are a few lessons, every brand can emulate from Red Bull.
Understand the persona of your target audience and position your product strategically
Red Bull identified its audience and product, like no other brand did. Particularly aimed at young, active and energetic individuals between the age group of 18-35 years, Red Bull chose a product – an energy drink that was neither available nor popular in the market that time. Not only this, it strategically positioned itself as a beverage, mainly associated with the people who liked or followed extreme sports, extreme lifestyle or lived in the moment existence.
Takeaway: Dare to venture into a territory, which no one has dared to touch before!
Become the part of your customers meta story
Red Bull created its brand and content around the likes, dislikes, persona and the lifestyle of its customers. Knowing that its customers liked action, thrill and adventure, Red Bull captured their interest and became part of their meta story by providing powerful, innovative, relevant, entertaining, inspirational and authentic content, always backed by an element of surprise.
Takeaway: Let your customer dictate your content, sales will follow!
Create massively shareable content
Photos, videos, music – anything that Red Bull shares on its social media sites creates an infectious buzz and tease that everyone would love to spread around. The story behind the content is so empowering and stimulating, that you would want to talk about it and be inspired to share it, irrespective of the fact whether you are a Red Bull customer or not.
Takeaway: Let your story be your content and your audience or real life heroes be the storytellers!
Expand your wings, be Omnipresent
If there is one more thing that Red Bull can teach you about content marketing; it is to dominate every possible medium that reaches out to the targeted customers. Social media, magazines, television, mobile, music, events – Red Bull is nothing less than a global media moghul. It has forayed into every little space, which has even a slightest possibility to engage the customers looking for a lifestyle of energy, thrill and fun.
Takeaway: Push your boundaries and break the traditional marketing barriers!
Promote your product – but be subtle and shrewd about it
You would often find most of the brands prominently displaying their product, brand or logo in their advertisements and campaigns for the customers to notice. But Red Bull does it so differently, intelligently and craftily. It never publicises its product directly anywhere, but there is always an indirect co-relation left to the sole interpretation of the customer.
Takeaway: Create a holistic brand identity, it’s not always only about the product!
Keep Innovating Your Content
Like a bull, always charged to take on the world, Red Bull too continues to spread its wings through innovative promotions. For instance, Red Bull Bedroom Jam encourages budding teenage musicians to perform live from their bedrooms for the virtual audience. Or any aspiring writer or a filmmaker can become a Red Bull Reporter by covering Red Bull events.
Build a sustainable ecosystem
Red Bull is earning huge chunks of money from the customers, but it makes sure to give it back to the community too. It sponsors talented, ambitious or budding athletes, funds extreme sports events and invests in various other community projects. Red Bull not only manages to soar higher on the popularity chart, but also garners the best material for its marketing.
Takeaway: What you give, comes back to you.
Mateschitz, in a rare interview with Fast Company magazine in 2011, explained, “What Red Bull stands for is that it ‘gives you wings…’ which means that it provides skills, abilities, power, etc., to achieve whatever you want to. It is an invitation as well as a request to be active, performance-oriented, alert and to take challenges. When you work or study, do your very best. When you do sports, go beyond your limits. When you have fun or just relax, be aware of it and appreciate it.”
So does Red Bull give you a brand publishing strategy?
With less than 30% of total marketing budget spent on advertising, Red Bull continues to invent and reinvent its brand name and trust, all through meta stories. It has used the simple concept of content strategy wherein good, old fashioned original content is produced by its vast pool of artists and enthusiasts. It all comes down to one simple factor – ‘how does the consumer perceive the brand?’, which is the very core purpose of marketing, both digital and traditional. In this case, Red Bull, with its campaigns constantly pushing the boundaries of sports, creativity and art, has evolved into a company that does more than just make energy drinks.
The noise to meaning ratio is getting higher in the brand publishing space. Some estimates suggests that 1.7 scad zillion units of new content is getting added to the web every day. The success lies in building real long term audience through real stories. The meta story, that resonates with the audience. The stories that argument the meta stories of the target audience. The world has been taking about brand publishing for a while. Now is the time to step up and do it right.