The Thankyou. Water story, in many ways, is about how storytelling can inspire positive change in the world.
Thankyou. Water started out of a desire to change a horrible situation. More than 700 million people don’t have access to clean water and Australians Flynn, his wife Justine and best mate Jarryd Burns wanted to change that.
The problem was, the three only had their vision and a thousand dollars.
"Bottled water is a dumb product, but people buy it. It's a one-billion-dollar industry, so we thought 'why not just sell water to get water to those who need it?' " says Flynn. "The problem was we didn’t know how to sell bottled water – we didn’t know how to sell anything – so we Googled it.”
The trio finally found a factory manager willing to back them, but the factory went into liquidation before they could deliver on their first order. Two retailers considered their proposal and then launched copycat products. Through years of trying and too many occasions when ‘yes’ turned into ‘no’ – of being repeatedly knocked back by the likes of Coles and Woolworths – the trio persisted.
“It wasn’t about a brand, or a product, or bottled water. It was about purpose. It was about something bigger than us. Our ‘why’ was our anchor,” says Flynn.
Then, ahead of a pitch they were doing to the management of 7-Eleven, the trio uploaded a short video to YouTube called: “Help us get Thankyou Water into 7-Eleven, Australia!!”
The video called on the public to post on their Facebook walls or to shoot a video about why they wanted Thankyou. Water in 7-Eleven’s more than 600 stores. They urged their small audience to tag 7-Eleven in their Facebook posts and also promised to take any videos that were made into the 7-Eleven presentation.
The tactic was successful, and similar publicity stunts followed to get their products into both Coles and Woolworths – each time beating back the sceptics with record sales.
The problem with giving all your profits to clean water, however, is that there's no money to fund growth. To raise investment capital, the trio came up with another piece of content – a book telling the Thankyou. Water story. It was called Chapter One.
“The idea of Chapter One is that it would fund Chapter Two of Thankyou. Water’s journey," says Flynn. "People told us that it was impossible; that books don’t make money anymore. We decided not to set a retail price, but to let people pay whatever they wanted.”
Chapter One raised $600,000 in the first 24 hours, and more than $1.2 million in two months. Initially, the highest price paid for one of the books was $5,000 from a buyer in Auckland. An Australian recently topped that, buying one of the books for $50,000. The lowest price paid was five cents. Overall, the book’s launch sales were second only to Harry Potter in Australia.
As of July 2017, Thankyou. Water had given more than $5.5 million to people in need, providing safe water and sanitation to more than 545,360 people, food to 132,664 people and maternal and child health services to 77,314 people.
To successfully launch and grow a product using content marketing and social media is nothing new but using those tactics to influence a face-to-face sales meeting is fresh and cheeky.
Naturally, Thankyou. Water had a 'just cause' to wage, making both public and media sympathy a virtual certainty – but what about companies that are in it for profit, and not for the greater good?
There are some takeaways – for any business – from the Thankyou. Water story, but one that is less obvious is how marketers can build momentum off the back of a pressing social issue.
By all accounts, Thankyou. Water didn't get any contracts or even any publicity for what they were doing for approximately three years. It was only when they took their message – highlighting an important social issue – to a small segment of the public, that they got traction.
Once the public moved, so did distributors and the media – and it didn’t take much; their YouTube views are minuscule compared to somebody like Fonterra.
The New Zealand dairy co-operative recently launched a campaign called 'Richie’s Milk Run' as part of Fonterra Milk for Schools. Again, here is another company – albeit less philanthropic than Thankyou. Water – raising awareness about a social issue (one that is close to home), making a difference and earning some positive brand perception as a result.
Business doesn’t need a not-for-profit purpose to impact the world. A big part of the role that Thankyou. Water has played is in educating people about the issue of water and sanitation. Fonterra is doing its part for child nutrition.
Not all companies have the money or resources to donate water or milk, but every organisation – even one-man-bands – can use their expertise for change.
At the very least, a content marketing campaign that aims to educate, inform and inspire on a social issue shifts the organisation’s brand conversation from a product or service-centric message to an audience-centric message.
An easy win would be helping people make better decisions in their own lives. For example, a company in the finance sector might want to develop content and tools that address financial literacy in children – a form of purposeful marketing.
Awareness alone inspires change; and even better, education moves change.
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