10/17/2012 12:10 EDT | Updated 12/17/2012 05:12 EST

The Perfect Marketing Strategy That Fell Out of the Sky...

Red Bull Stratos
When someone jumps from the edge of space back to earth and it's all supported by one brand, you know you are staring at a winner.

True story: Well over seven years ago, my agency (Twist Image) had the opportunity to pitch some Red Bull business. We laid out a big and bold plan that was under the umbrella of trying to put a Red Bull into every hand. Being a full-service digital marketing agency, we were looking beyond the two core brand personalities of the time. The first one was their quirky animated commercials ("Red Bull gives you wiiiiiinnnnggggsss!"). The second brand personality was the fact that the brand was not to be touched by consumers (beyond the beverage).

There were no Red Bull stickers or posters or T-shirts or hats. Red Bull held the logo sacred and only allowed the athletes that they sponsored to bear the infamous brand. We created a vision of an online channel/community (video, audio, blogs and more) that would extend the Red Bull brand into a media entity. They were already skimming in the ocean of leveraging content coupled with social media, but they had yet to deep dive into it. Our idea never took hold, but since then the brand has shifted gears and have turned their business into a true 360 degree experience. They are not just sponsors of sporting events and athletes, but have helped to bring high adrenaline activities into the zeitgeist... on their own channel.

Putting the world record aside.

Felix Baumgartner's supersonic freefall from 120,000 feet not only broke the speed of sound and a world record to go along with it, it practically broke YouTube as millions upon millions of people watched the drop from space online. And with that event, Red Bull also captured the hearts and minds of marketers all over the world. This was more than sponsoring a human being with a unique dream, and it had a lot more muscle to it than the PR play that happened in the build-up to the event (and post landing). What Red Bull truly demonstrated is the power of a fully integrated marketing plan. One that takes the consumer from the cradle to the grave. This isn't about how YouTube delivered an experience that would only be reported on by traditional television after the fact, but how the engines of all media -- when done properly -- can produce a perfect storm.

Most brands are not Red Bull.

It's true. The majority of brands are not an energy drink. The majority of brands may not have that cool factor. The majority of brands probably don't have the budget or know-how to even invent a stunt like that and turn it into such a powerful engine of marketing. That being said, all brands can grab the framework of what Red Bull did (and continues to do) and develop their own, fully-integrated plan of attack. Red Bull provides an amazing case study because the brand moved beyond traditional advertising, beyond content advertising and beyond social media marketing into a realm where consumers could simply touch brand (or, at the very least, hear about the brand) on their own terms.

What Red Bull does. What you can do...

  1. Plan. Not only was Red Bull Stratos a finely tuned engine of entertainment meets marketing, it's a concept that was planned out -- in detail. Choices and decisions were made (like whether to broadcast the event online or with a major television network). Think about that one example: if Red Bull had decided to run the event on traditional television, they could have been guaranteed a significant amount of attention, but it would be cluttered by other brand advertisers (think about the ads that would be run during the event). Red Bull, strategically, planned every component in an attempt to keep all of the attention on two things: the freefall and Red Bull.
  2. Brand as media channel. The argument could be made (and I've gone back and forth on this), that few consumers care about a brand (any brand) so much so that they would like to be enveloped in content from them. Red Bull took that thinking and pushed the idea of creating a media channel around sporting events that involve a high level of risk and adrenaline. In coalescing that community (through programming, content and even more lifestyle-based media), they were able to wrap their Red Bull banner around it, instead of the other way around. Sadly, most businesses want their brand first and the consumers second. Red Bull continues to prove that an energy drink can all be a valuable and highly-sought after media channel.
  3. Advertising works. By creating interest for the events and athletes that Red Bull sponsors, they have been able to leverage their advertising as an engine to both inform and persuade the public. Advertising supplements and compliments the product and the marketing. Too many brands believe that advertising should do all of the heavy lifting, and they're disappointed when their campaigns fail. Advertising works when the media is combined within the worlds of paid, owned and earned.
  4. Diversify the portfolio. Media pundits are harping too much on Red Bull Stratos. Don't. Spend some time on the Red Bull website, look at the sporting events they are involved with, study the types of athletes they sponsor, follow those people on Twitter and you'll begin to get a bigger perspective into the world of Red Bull and the power of the brand. They win by not doing a few things right. They win by creating a strong brand portfolio that is diversified. This includes how they advertise and it also includes how they zig and zag from event sponsors to content creators to traditional advertisers. You don't have to do everything they do (or do it at their scale), but having a diversified marketing portfolio is critical.
  5. Be a renegade.  Red Bull did not look at other beverage companies and make an attempt to mimic or improve upon what had been done before in their industry. They decided to be renegades. These are the brands that wind up doing not only the innovative work, but the work that makes a difference. Marketing is not safe. This isn't going to sit well with the C-suite, but it's true. Marketing (everything from the product, price, promotion, placement and beyond) is a risky business. The better brands mitigate risk and create a scenario for a more favourable outcome not by being reckless renegades, but by following the rules above. They plan, they create their own media, they leverage advertising to support their efforts, they diversify their portfolio and they become the renegades. Remember: they're renegades, but not reckless renegades. There is a big difference.

In a world where case studies are few and far between, dig deep into Red Bull and you'll see something else (beyond Felix Baumgartner) that is out of this world.

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image -- an award-winning digital marketing agency. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly-successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller. His next book, CTRL ALT DEL, will be published in Spring 2013.