Essentia Water's new CMO wants to rewrite the beverage playbook

Newly named Essentia Water CMO Karyn Abrahamson
Newly named Essentia Water CMO Karyn Abrahamson

Karyn Abrahamson on her new role at the fast-growing brand.

Premium water is a booming $2.1 billion market with various established players secure in their shares. But recently, consumers have been demanding more from their bottled bliss, and alkaline water brand Essentia intends to be the answer.

Essentia already drives 80 percent of the growth in its alkaline niche, but the brand wants more: currently approaching number three in the premium water category, they have their eyes set on the top spot. This week, they announced they’ve found the right woman for the difficult job of getting them there: Karyn Abrahamson, formerly the company’s VP of brand and marketing, who is now the brand’s CMO.

"There is not a lot of sophistication in the premium water space," Abrahamson told Campaign. "Beverage brands have a general playbook where they think they need to hire a celebrity spokesperson, do a lot of traditional advertising and focus on retail, whereas for me [it’s about] brand-building and the whole customer experience."

Essentia sources its water from public systems across the US, running it through a complex filtration system that creates an ionized alkaline water with a minimum pH of 9.5. Essentia’s own studies have shown that the result is more effective than other bottled waters or tap water at rehydration, although the medical community is not fully convinced of the purported benefits.

But that doesn’t faze Essentia’s customers, who spent $124 million last year snatching up bottles from retailers including Walmart, Target and the Vitamin Shoppe. Sales for the first two months of this year have already surpassed goals, and Essentia is on track for triple-digit growth in 2018.

"Essentia has accomplished more in the last three years than many thought even possible, and Karyn’s ability as a talented leader and marketing visionary has unquestionably played a large role in that success," said Essentia founder and CEO Ken Uptain in a statement.

Abrahamson joined Essentia in 2015 after long stints at Adidas, Microsoft, T-Mobile and Starbucks. Her main task was to transition the company’s marketing from product-focused to brand-focused. She oversaw the creation and rollout of Essentia’s first national integrated campaign, ‘Overachieving H20,’ which positioned the company as an aspirational lifestyle brand. She grew the marketing team from four to more than 20, also undertaking an internal education campaign about the importance of creating a strong brand voice.

"What brought me here was wanting to do something entrepreneurial," she said. "I wanted to build a brand and a product that I believed in from the ground up."

Building a successful brand within the premium water space requires truly differentiating it from household-name competitors like Fiji. To do this, Abrahamson focuses on what makes Essentia different from competitors – its ionization – but, more importantly, the customers.

"My focus is always understanding the consumer, understanding what’s unique about the brand, and then bringing the brand to life in ways that are meaningful to consumers," she said.

Extensive research shows that Essentia’s most passionate fans are millennial males between 18 to 34 years old, with significant preference among African-American and Hispanic consumers. "Millennials are overachievers, and this is an overachieving product," Abrahamson added.

Fans are also not just gym rats; they’re everyday people who want to be healthier and get in better shape. That’s why "Overachieving H20" adopted a broad definition of who can be an "overachiever," including entertainers and other creators, not just athletes. In her new role, Abrahamson intends to use new strategies to deepen that message as well as Essentia’s brand identity in order to bring it to more people, she said.

"We’re continuing to build on that campaign concept, amplifying the interactivity of the campaign, bringing in more experiential, bringing in PR, and bringing in our paid influencers," said Abrahamson.

With Essentia on track for further global expansion this year, Abrahamson is also pushing for more PR to fuel the top-level initiatives she’ll now oversee. At the end of the day, she said, "We just need to be more focused on getting our brand story out there."

In a sector with little innovation, that may be exactly what it takes to be refreshing.