Johan ‘Liquorice’ Bülow – Cooking Up Success With PR

Is it possible to build a company from scratch without investing in advertisement According to Johan Bülow, aka ‘the Liquorice King’, the answer is yes. He started his business with a boiling pot and a wooden spoon in his mother’s house on the small Danish island of Bornholm. Today, nine years later, he owns a factory in Copenhagen, employs 200 people and produces liquorice for 20 different countries – all built on PR and #FirstFixForFree, a way of generating word of mouth.

I’ve arranged to meet Johan Bülow at his factory. Walking through the front door, I’m immediately greeted by the smell of liquorice in the making and a hot cup of tea (liquorice tea, that is). Besides producing black treats, the factory also hosts the events that drive the most important part of the company’s marketing strategy. In 2016 alone, Bülow expects 4500 people to visit the production site and experience the history, the smell, and of course the taste of his products.

From customer to ambassador
”In the beginning, my wife Sarah and I cooked the liquorice ourselves in our 35 square meter shop on Bornholm. The idea was that customers would come inside to see, smell and of course taste the liquorice straight from the pot, and that this would make them want to buy our products. We were right! On the first day of opening we sold out everything – including the glass bowl that contained the free samples. When the production is running on Bornholm today, it increases our revenue by 30-35 percent. That’s because it leaves each customer with not just a product, but with an experience. In turn, our customers become ambassadors who walk out the door and tell their family, friends and colleagues about Liquorice.”

The little shop on the island has now developed into a 3500 square meter factory on the outskirts of Copenhagen. And though the manufacturing process has changed, the company’s methods haven’t.

“We are doing the exact same thing today as we did eight years ago – we’ve brought the experience from the shop to the factory. Every week we host 2-3 events and have had Michelin chefs and food bloggers coming in to show people how to cook with liquorice. Apart from creating ambassadors, these events drive a lot of PR on traditional as well as social media.”

Connecting with the right people
According to Bülow, “cool people and cool products” are what drives his business. Among other things, this means reaching out to bloggers and others with a wide social media network.

“We send bloggers new products and seasonal editions, and in return, they provide us with good publicity. But finding the right bloggers, who are popular right now, is important. The bloggers in our industry are very different. Some have a broad and commercial focus. Others keep their content tight, authentic and relevant to their core audience, which means that they reach the right people, instead of just many. An example of such a blogger is Maja Vase from Her content is clearly defined around high-quality dessert recipes and her photos are both beautiful and authentic.”

“The benefit is mutual. Our social network platforms are also of interest to them. We share their original work, featuring our products, which then helps them access a new and matching group of people.”

Activating the right media
While bloggers and ambassadors play an important part as influencers, Bülow leaves room for traditional PR too. Again, activating the right voices is crucial:

“In general, we’ve been able to keep the media interested in telling our story and spreading our message. I said yes to anything during the first years, and as a start-up business you have to, but today I’m picky about which media I want the company to get associated with. They should address the same audience as we do. In fact, we haven’t spent one penny on advertising, except from one small ad in a local newspaper on Bornholm when we first started – and yet, a little more than 90 percent of the Danish population know about our brand. That’s huge.”

Quality at heart
Bülow keeps the quality at the heart of his business and works hard to improve his range of products and develop new additions for every season. In this regard, the many events provide a helping hand:

“The events and the #FirstFixForFree strategy are valuable sources for our growth and development. They allow me to look directly into the eyes of the consumers when they taste our things, and I get a lot of feedback from them in terms of immediate and honest YES/NO responses, when they taste the products. Having a complete overview of what my customers think might be my greatest strength when I develop new ones.”

Many other liquorice manufacturers have tried to tap into Bülow’s success with similar products. However, Liquorice by Johan Bülow continues to sit tight on the majority of the Danish market.

“We’ve created an honest brand with a good story behind it, and that appeals to our segment. In addition, we constantly try to improve and add personality to our products, the liquorice as well as the packaging. For instance, on each container, you can see who actually cooked the liquorice. It’s small things like this that count.”

Tracking is difficult
Although a lot of thought has gone into Bülow’s PR strategy, tracking the effects of it doesn’t range very high on his to-do list, for two reasons:

“It’s difficult and expensive. KPI materials and reports are nice to have and you can potentially learn a lot from them. But we simply haven’t got the resources for hiring people to sit around and measure things.”

At Hypefactors, we believe that measuring is important for effective PR. And in fact, it needn’t be difficult – check out how you can keep track of and improve your publicity here.