A Branding Lesson from Red Bull

Red Bull has solidified themselves as masters of marketing. We’re going to look at how they did it so you can implement their strategies into your own marketing.


Coca-Cola is a soda company.

Gatorade is a sports drink company.

Red Bull is a—lifestyle?

What makes Red Bull so special is that they have outgrown the label of an “energy drink company.” Sure, at their core, Red Bull sells energy drinks. But it’s what they do in addition to this that sets them apart from their competition.

On average, B2B companies spend around two to five percent of their annual revenue on marketing, and B2C companies hover around the ten percent mark. Because Red Bull is a privately held company, there are not clear statistics on their marketing budget, but estimates suggest that they spend anywhere between thirty to forty percent of their annual revenue on marketing—significantly higher than the average B2C marketing allocation.

Red Bull’s all-in strategy on marketing has resulted in a formidable market presence within the energy drink sector and beyond. But Red Bull has risen to the top not simply because they spend more on marketing than their competitors—higher budgets do not necessarily equate to more sales—but because of the way in which they spend their marketing budget.


Red Bull does NOT act like an ordinary B2C company

Red Bull strays away from the conventional B2C marketing strategy of heavy product advertisement and instead focuses primarily on content marketing. Seems counterintuitive, right? Energy drinks do not exactly lend themselves well to content marketing, but Red Bull found a way to make it work—and work really well.

Red Bull’s content marketing strategy takes an indirect approach to customer acquisition. Instead of marketing directly to their target consumers (generally young, non-conformist thrill seekers), they go after the things that their target audience cares about passionately.

If you don’t believe us, take a look at Red Bull’s website homepage below, and look carefully at how they prioritize their products:

TV, Events, Athletes… Products. Not only do they list their product section last, which is significant on its own, they don’t display a single picture of their product anywhere on the homepage. Instead, they focus on people, events, stories… all things that have become synonymous with their brand.

Consider skateboarders: they have no inherent reason to care about energy drinks (I’m sure skateboarding provides sufficient energy on its own); they care about skateboarding. But if an energy drink somehow became synonymous with skateboarding, then skateboarders would suddenly start caring about energy drinks.

That is exactly what Red Bull has achieved, and not just in skateboarding but in unconventional extreme sports and activities of all kinds.


The “Desirable by Association” Approach.

Think of any unorthodox yet popular sport and chances are Red Bull has a strong presence within it—not because they promote their drinks at events and venues but because they sponsor these events and the people who make them special. These athlete sponsorships play an especially important role in Red Bull’s marketing strategy.

Take bike racing, for example, one of the many non-conformist sports that Red Bull has embraced. Red Bull sponsors a select number of accomplished bike racers each year by giving them financial compensation, and in return the cyclists wear branded “Red Bull helmets.”

The result is a handful of extremely fast bike racers who all share one thing in common: they all wear Red Bull helmets. This positive association is a crucial component of Red Bull’s marketing success. Red Bull attaches their name and logo (i.e., their brand) to things and people that their target consumers care about. Consequently, this positive (and perhaps even subconscious) association between their brand and their consumers’ passions eventually lead to product purchases and continued brand loyalty. Does this unconventional strategy pay off? Red Bull’s continued dominance in the energy drink sector suggests so.

Of course, most businesses are not in a position to bet so heavily on indirect marketing like Red Bull does, but there is still a valuable lesson to learn from Red Bull’s marketing strategy, and it’s something that any business can implement.


Red Bull Places Their Consumers First

This may sound like a cliché, but many businesses don’t do it, and it is a crucial component of successful advertising.

When we say that Red Bull places consumers first, what we mean is that they focus first on their consumers’ wants and needs. They don’t directly promote their product often, but when they do, they always promote it in a way that makes consumers care.

The clearest example of this can be seen in their slogan, “Red Bull gives you wings.” Red Bull gives you wings. They could have easily made their slogan, “Red Bull, the premier energy drink,” but they chose not to, and for good reason.

Buying the premier energy drink does not appeal to any innate human desire, but buying wings—i.e., being “lifted up” and empowered—does. Everyone could use a lift here and there, and Red Bull satisfies that innate need (at least in theory) with a sugary energy drink. It’s amazing what good marketing can achieve, huh?


The Bottom Line: Give Your Consumers Wings

The biggest lesson to be learned from Red Bull’s unconventional marketing strategy is not that you should devote thirty to forty percent of your annual revenue towards marketing, nor is it that you should start sponsoring athletes in professional sports. The lesson to take away and apply to your own marketing is this:

If you can figure out what your target customers are passionate about and fix your brand to it, you will stand out from competitors who only focus on their products. In other words, the secret to successful marketing is to focus not on your product but on the people who you want to purchase that product.

Red Bull is not in the business of selling energy drinks. They’re in the business of giving people wings. How will you give your customers wings?


Contributed by Bryce Ward


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