Know Thyself: An Essay on Lazy Beer Marketing.
Know Thyself: An Essay on Lazy Beer Marketing.
There’s a lot of lazy marketing in the beer world, and it’s holding good breweries back. It’s not really anyone’s fault, it’s the result of a bad idea that’s been repeated for years: all a brewery needs to do to survive is make great beer, and that if the marketing is “good” and polished, then the beer must be bad. Unfortunately, in today’s new-brewery-every-day marketplace, that simply isn’t true.
That recurring notion stems from the misconception that marketing is just the act of making something shiny when it shouldn’t be. That it’s the swindler’s art of making stuff up to sell a product. That’s bad marketing. The truth is, real marketing — good marketing — is something much deeper than that. It’s the well-communicated story of the culture and identity of a brewery. And, whether it’s packaging design, social media content, the words on the website, or the way the reps present their story at an event, every part of what a brewery does should be focused on communicating that identity.
The following “case studies” feature breweries with marketing problems, all of which stem from the fact they aren’t doing a great job of communicating who they are to beer drinkers. Because I’m not a masochist, none of these breweries are real, but as the honorable Julia Louis-Dreyfus once said in an interview about her documentary series, Veep: “Everyone loves the show because they all think it’s about the other guy.” So, before you get mad at me: these are all about the other guy. You’re doing great.
Case Study #1: Super Brad Brewery
Super Brad Brewery is a brewpub in a small southern town known for its constant experimentation. After a recent shift to a wider distribution, they’ve found themselves needing to act more like the packaging brewery they’ve become, without abandoning their tiny-batch, change-on-a-dime brewpub origins. While waiting for a solution to magically fall into place, their social media accounts continue to treat the brewery like a bar in a small town.
A simple change in the way they approach social media would help to shift their image from being a bar that brews beer to that of an established brewery. To put it simply, these guys really suck at social media. If I see them post one more photo of the shitty band that’s playing at their taproom that week, or a poorly lit shot of a greasy looking burger on BOGO night, I’m going to lose my marbles. These things are uninspiring, unoriginal, and kind of miss the point of social media in the first place. It’s not about throwing tiny advertisements and announcements at people; it’s about providing a window into the culture of your brewery, then inviting people to join you in that culture. It’s a way for someone who has never visited your brewery to get a taste of the personality of the people that make that beer. It’s about extending the experience beyond your taproom.
The folks at Super Brad are super goofy, with a weird sense of humor and a penchant for pranks. This is reflected in the beer they brew — it’s weird and experimental and is really hard to pigeonhole into any one style, or region. Their social media should reflect this by documenting the actual scenes of life at the brewery. That time John bought a Nerf gun and that escalated into a weeklong, all-brewery dart war? Instagram that. That time Sarah wanted to see if she could brew a peanut butter porter using peanuts that she grew at home? Take some photos of the experiments and post them in an album on Facebook with a story about the process. Show off the culture of your brewery instead of trying to pull people into the brewpub.
Case Study #2: Heelflip Brewing Company
Heelflip Brewing Company is a production brewery and taproom in San Diego with a strong skateboarding theme. They have beers with names like, Double Kickflip IIPA, Boardslide Bitter and Frontside Fakie Narflip 360 BaitHook to Fakie Benihana Stout. Whenever they talk about the brewery, this is what they focus on. So much so that the beer is always treated as secondary. As a result, they’re not known for the beer they brew, even though they keep winning awards for it. It’s all summed up in their tagline: “Heelflip Brewing: Beer For Skateboarders.”
“Beer For Skateboarders” is really only half of the story. They like skateboarding, yes, but what they’re really good at is making killer beer. There’s a much stronger tie to the theme that they’ve devoted themselves to under the surface, and it’s one that shifts the focus to what’s important: the beer. Most of what they brew is low in alcohol, a decision they made because they wanted to drink sessionable beers that let them extend their skate… sessions. To let that idea speak a little louder, they could use a tagline closer to this: “Heelflip Brewing: Session Beers For Longer Sessions.” The change is subtle but important. It shifts the focus of the brand from the skateboarding to the beer. Instead of saying “We started our brewery because we like skating,” the tagline could read: “We started our brewery to make great beer, and we like to make the kind of beer that we can drink while skateboarding.”
Case Study #3: Melange Brewing Company
Their IPA, Shondorf’s Second Staff has phenomenal graphics — a bad ass illustration of a wizard hovering above a cave where a troll wearing a “Shondorf” name tag pours hops into a steamy cauldron. Awesome. But when it sits on a shelf next to their Space Dust Oyster Stout with its classic video game-inspired graphics, or their The DM Is Always Right DIPA with what appears to be the artwork of the brewmaster’s five-year-old scribbled on a bar napkin… I get confused. And then angry. And then I buy a different beer.
Consistency. Is. Key. When consumers walk into any bottle shop or liquor store these days, they’re faced with a metric butt ton of beer options. As a brewery with beer on those shelves, you have two goals: convince a first-time consumer to try your beer or remind a repeat consumer that your beer is awesome. Without a consistent identity, it’s difficult to achieve either.
For the new consumer, you want the three packages you have sitting next to each other to be clearly from the same place. IPA? Check. Porter? Check. Habanero Goose Feather Dingle Berry Pale Ale? Check. “I think I’ll try the IPA!” Good choice, new consumer, that Dingle Berry beer sounds suspicious… For the repeat consumer, you want their Tinder- and Candy Crush-addled brains, with their goldfish attention spans, to recognize your beer instantly, even if only because it’s familiar to them. If you’ve done your job, the last beer of yours they drank was fantastic, and now that they remember that experience, they’ll hopefully pick up your next beer.
Here’s the good news: when you strip away all the buzzwords and the consultants and the fancy packaging and the instapinfacetwittergrams, you’re left with the heart of good marketing, a really strong understanding of yourself. It’s the kind of thing that, given some time, intentional thinking, and a ton of elbow grease, anyone can do. All I’m saying is that you owe it to yourself and your fans to be the most thoughtful version of yourself that you can be. Or at least one that doesn’t tweet about BOGOs.