Ambitious Brands: Ugly Drinks

Joe Benn, co-founder of the fruit-infused sparkling water brand, tells us how ambition is helping Ugly shake up the drinks industry.

This year we’re hosting a series of intimate supper clubs curated to inspire brand leaders and marketers, entitled Building a Beautiful Business. Our first evening on Thursday May 17th will explore the power and purpose of Ambition in building a beautiful brand.

With just a few weeks to go, we caught up with our speaker Joe Benn (right), co-founder of Ugly Drinks, whose brand is on a mission to shake up the drinks industry.

Tell us the Ugly Drinks story – What process did you go through to bring the brand to life? Did you get it right the first time?

Hugh and I met whilst working at Vita Coco. As some of the very first employees of the coconut water brand, we were immersed in the drinks industry and were intrigued by some of the emerging trends and changes in consumers’ drinking habits. With consumers becoming more and more conscious of sugar consumption, we asked ourselves a simple question: “If you don’t want to drink sugary or artificially sweetened drinks, what is the alternative?” The answer was just, “water”. So we created Ugly – a fruit-infused sparkling water no sugar, no sweetener and zero calories.

When it came to the brand we could have focused on wellness, health and hydration, but instead we chose to take a disruptive approach. The goal was to create something that people wanted to drink, not just because it was healthy but because it was different.

The Ugly brand is now on its third iteration, and we’ve learnt a number of lessons along the way. It’s not easy to get things right the first time; brands, products and consumer demand are constantly changing. The entire industry will probably look very different in a few years time.

To what extent would you describe Ugly as a Beautiful Business? That is to say, good on the inside and out.

Although it’s evolved over time, when Ugly first launched our strapline was “Beautifully Different”. We have always been determined to do things differently and have a positive impact, through our products and our business. We recently updated our brand strapline to “The Ugly Truth”, which embodies our passion for exposing ugly truths in a positive way.

Despite your no-frills, no-nonsense offering, how much value does Ugly place on beauty? What do you think the value of aesthetics are in 2018?

In a world consumed by social media it’s important to ask, “what do people want to be seen with?”. We know our product is really simple. We don’t make any unsubstantiated claims that it’ll help you get fit in the gym. It is just water. But despite its healthy contents, Ugly cans look more like a traditional fizzy drink than any other bottled water on the market. Our cans stand out on the shelves, encouraging consumers to buy into the brand experience.

What has the role of ambition been in building Ugly as both a brand and business?

Ambition doesn’t have to mean global domination. It can mean what you want it to mean. Starting the Ugly Drinks brand was an ambitious move in itself. We left our jobs and invested our money into the business. But our next move is our biggest yet. Hugh and I said from the very beginning that we wanted to launch Ugly in the US, and now that launch is just weeks away!

Do you think other industries could benefit from being more ambitious? Which ones?

The technology industry is a brilliant example of ambition in action. Tech businesses set goals in the billions, not millions, operating in sprints to produce amazing results. It’s a high risk, high reward environment. As a consumer I love the hospitality industry. I think restaurants have a unique opportunity to disrupt the industry and stretch people’s perceptions of the modern day dining experience.

Who would you describe as a the poster girl(s)/boy(s) for ambition, and why?

Whenever anyone says the word “Ambition” I think of Dolly Parton’s song, “9 to 5”. She begins by singing, “Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition”. If only it were as simple as that! Thinking about ambition in 2018, I think the poster boys are influential individuals like Gary Vaynerchuk. He produces an enormous amount of content, all focused on motivating people. Although his approach might not be realistic for some people, he’s certainly made an impact through his work.

With global expansion on the horizon, how will ambition help carve the future of Ugly?

We’re launching in the US by selling directly to consumers through our own web shop. The direct consumer model has been effective for a number of brands, from Glossier to Eve Mattresses. Although it’s ambitious, selling directly can help a business build stronger relationships with consumers. Our biggest ambition has always been to take on the big boys like Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co. and working in some of the biggest markets in world.

Part of being an ambitious but small business is making your brand appear bigger than it truly is. You need consumers to see your brand everywhere and ignite conversation. We’ve always wanted Ugly to be a brand that consumers want to share and that they’re proud to be seen with. We’re proud to have achieved this without a penny spent on social media or influencers – it just happens organically. We were brave in our decisions, which can have a powerful impact.

Do you have any advice (or warnings) for ambitious brand owners or marketers who want to build their business more Beautifully?

At Ugly we live by the theory, “Hell yeah or No”. Unless you think, “Hell yes, we should do this”, then it’s probably not worth doing!

Register your interest

For the chance to hear more from Joe Benn and meet like-minded brand and marketing leaders at our exclusive supper club, register your interest now.

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