In 2008, myself and my co-founders launched social enterprise Thankyou Water (now known as Thankyou Group); acting on a dream to eradicate poverty through empowering Australians to change the world through a simple purchase. Let’s be real, we were a group of wide-eyed, passionate, determined university students who were pretty naïve when it came to the business world, but we were convinced we could make our dream to help millions of people a reality.

Our collective passion and tenacity managed to help us initially get the idea off the ground and launch the business with no startup capital except a small monetary gift from a business mentor (that’s a story for another day!), but it wasn’t long until we got a big dose of reality. We soon discovered that the FMCG industry in Australia is tough for any brand to break into… let alone a social enterprise with a fraction of the budget of its competitors.

So for the first couple of years we became professionals at handling rejection from retailers – including Australia’s two major supermarkets. While so many of the companies we pitched to liked our idea and saw its potential, the meetings usually ended with a line like this: “Come back to us when you’ve got a multi-million dollar marketing campaign and we’ll consider ranging your product”.

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This was a big problem for us, because we clearly didn’t have that kind of money, and even if we did, we’d have chosen to put it towards our projects instead of putting it into billboards and TVCs. We quickly realised that to achieve cut-through in a crowded market we had to be more innovative and creative than any of our competitors when it came to our marketing. It was this perspective that helped us land our first major retail deal with 7-Eleven Australia back in 2011.

Five years into the journey we faced our next challenge. Behind the scenes, unbeknownst to the public or even our family and friends (who were constantly astounded at why we were all working so much overtime… after all, how much work is there to do at a bottled water company?!), we’d been working on the development of two new product ranges – Thankyou Food and Thankyou Body Care that would enable us to fund not only water projects, but also food and hygiene and sanitation programs too.

The thing was that we somehow had to land national distribution deals for these new products – products that weren’t even properly launched yet. As well as that, we knew that to make the impact we dreamed of making we had to get these products, and our existing water range, stocked on Coles and Woolworths shelves because that’s where around 70 per cent of Aussies shop every week. Why? Because we knew that more sales meant more impact in developing nations, which is the heart of why we exist.

So, we were back at the no-money-for-marketing situation.

We were well aware of the fact that we didn’t have the big marketing budgets of our competitors, but what we knew we did have was social media. We were certain that our fans cared about our cause as much as we did and we knew we had to find a way to harness that support to show Australia’s two major supermarkets that if they stocked our product, people would buy it.

So as a team we came up with a big campaign concept that was both a little bit bold and a little bit cheeky. On July 17 2013, we announced the Coles and Woolworths Campaign on social media following a segment on Channel 7’s Sunrise that covered our brand expansion which we’d lined up a couple of weeks before. We created a video (which involved shifting our entire office into a warehouse in Kensington in the middle of winter… fun times!) that explained what the campaign was about and how Australians could get behind it, but in a nutshell: we asked all our fans on social media to help us pitch to Australia’s two competing major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, by posting on their Facebook walls a message along the lines of “If you stocked the Thankyou range, I’d buy it”.

The minute we launched I remember having an ‘I-feel-sick-in-my-stomach’ moment.

The reality was that this campaign would either be an incredible success, or one of the most public marketing face plants that this country had ever seen. No pressure. But what happened next blew our minds. Within days thousands of posts appeared on Coles and Woolworths’ Facebook walls; people posted dances, songs and skits just to name a few. We received over 100 media mentions covering the campaign, our campaign video received over 80,000 views (which smashed our goal of 10,000 out of the park!) and we achieved over 15 million media impressions. And just to really make sure our message got across to Coles and Woollies, we pulled a little stunt during the second week to take our online campaign ‘offline’. With the support of a helicopter company that loved the idea of helping us do something so crazy, we flew two 10,000 square foot signs over the head offices of both supermarkets, asking them to ‘change the world with us’. Safe to say, we managed to make an impression on supermarket employees who saw the banners fly by. Mission accomplished!

The campaign ended and we sheepishly went in to meet with the supermarkets.

We were a little nervous as to how they’d take us, but the result spoke for itself. Within five hours of meeting with them, both retailers said ‘yes’ and over the following weeks, our products rolled out into thousands of supermarkets around the country in record time. Industry experts told us we’d turned the entire FMCG industry on its head and that they’d never seen a product ranged in Coles and Woollies quicker.

Looking at the bigger picture, in FY14 our business grew by over 200 per cent as a result of the campaign (you can find out more about our business growth and campaign success in our interactive report) and the best part of this was that this growth automatically meant greater impact through our projects. To date, we have given over $1.8 million to projects and have funded safe water access for 107,903 people, health and hygiene training for 112,532 people and short-term food aid and long-term food solutions for 23,653 people across projects in 11 different countries. What’s awesome for us is that this is just the beginning – our aim is to keep implementing innovative marketing activities to help grow the Thankyou movement so we can help thousands more, and one day millions more, people in need.

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When people ask us to share the secret behind our marketing, our answer is always the same: be bold, creative and challenge the status quo.

After all, who said you have to do things the way they’ve always been done? That’s right, no one did. The next world changing idea could be yours, so think big and never let limitations stop you from dreaming.