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In Create your own microbrewery, distillery or cider house, the staff of LikendisLike Media Inc. and the writer Corie Brown with Zester Daily Contributors explain how you can get started in the craft alcoholic beverage industry, whether you want to start your own microbrewery, distillery or cider house. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer a brief overview of how to brand and market your craft alcoholic beverage business.
While many established craft brewers boast that they have never marketed their drinks, if you want to be successful in today’s market, you need to have a marketing plan from the start, says Keith Lemcke, vice president of the Siebel Institute of Technology, based in Chicago. and marketing manager of the World Brewing Academy. You have to be ready to sell your brand and rotate your message on a penny. The best way to do this is to brand your business well.
Branding is the foundation of your business. Branding is the raison d’être of your business, the timing of everything about your business, which leads to consistency for you as an owner, your employees and your potential customers. Branding incorporates your marketing, public relations, business plan, packaging, prices, customers and employees.
Branding creates value. If done right, the brand trusts the buyer and thinks that your product is somehow better than that of your competitors. “Branding is the reason why people see you as the only solution to their problem,” says branding expert Rob Frankel. “Once you can clearly articulate your brand, people have a way to evangelize your brand.”
Branding clarifies your message. “The clearer and more distinct your brand, the harder it is to advertise,” says Frankel. “Instead of having to show your ads eight or nine times, you just have to show them three times.”
Branding is a promise. Ultimately, the brand is the simple, consistent promise you make to every customer who walks through your door, today, tomorrow, and in ten years. Branding creates consistency that allows you to keep your promise over and over again.
Basically, a good brand strategy lists one or two of the most important elements of your product or service, describes the ultimate goal of your business in the world and defines your target customer. The result is a plan for what is most important to your business and to your client. Don’t worry: creating a brand strategy isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Here’s how to do it:
The first step. Stand out. Why should people buy from your craft drink business rather than from another city? Think of the intangible qualities of your product, using adjectives from “user friendly” to “fast” and each word in between. Your goal is to have a position in the mind of the customer so that they think of you differently from the competition.
Second step. Know your target customer. Once you’ve defined your product or service, think about your target customer – the real customers who will walk through your door. Who is this person and what is the only thing they will ultimately expect from your craft beverage business?
Third step. Develop a personality. How will you show your customers what you do every day? Think about how you will deliver on your brand promise and deliver value and service to the people you serve.
Congratulations, you’ve written your brand strategy. You can now apply this knowledge to your marketing efforts. But beware: you are entering a much more competitive sector than five years ago. You will need to make a loud noise in the market to be heard before all the rest of the noise.
According to Charlie Papazian, President of the Brewers Association, the old and slow way of selling beer by making good beer and getting a solid client base of people who want you to be successful still works. “The following will take you through the difficult times when you have to jump up and spend more to grow to the next level.” And when you spend money on marketing, it won’t be to buy ads. “It’s investing in an employee on the street to talk to retailers, go to beer festivals, talk to beer drinkers, build relationships with distributors and restaurants.”
The craft is personal. The crafts are local. And craft enthusiasts still want to know who made the drink by hand. Marketing a handcrafted brand begins with understanding the story of the founder, which is very different from deciding what that story should be. Why is this product made here and now? What brought the founder to this place? Where does the founder want to take this business? Is it the product of the founder, or is the master brewer or distiller the soul of the brand? Answering these questions is an existential exercise that will anchor marketing in the main mission of your business. When logos, websites, signage and t-shirts authentically reflect this mission, it is possible to engage the very important consumer of the millennium.
You may not have a beautiful location, but you can – and you must – create a virtual reality for your brand that is attractive, welcoming and engaging. Everything you do online should be seen as part of your virtual reality.
Websites should be designed with the same sense of place that defines the brewery, distillery or cider house. It is often the first “place” where customers interact with an artisan brand. The history of the founder must inform the appearance, the user-friendliness and the messages on the site, including the logo and the labels of the products. When a website doesn’t include photos of the founders or an idea of where the product is made, it’s a missed opportunity to capture a critical selling point for craftsmanship and build engagement with the brand.
Robust and thoughtful Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media programs – minimum marketing effort for any home-made brand – should be designed to drive customers to the website where customers have the opportunity to engage more deeply with the brand.
No website is complete without providing fans with a way to stay connected to the brand. How many visitors “subscribe” when they visit the site? Managed incorrectly, these fans will “unsubscribe” and will be out of reach. Offering interesting and relevant information and opportunities, they will share the brand’s emails with friends. Subscribers are invited to events showcasing the brand and are most likely to apply for the brand in stores, restaurants and bars.
The product must be in the center of the stage. Every piece of marketing at the Green Flash brewery in San Diego is designed to engage customers directly with their beer, says Mike Hinkley, co-owner of the brewery with his wife Lisa. “Our whole marketing strategy is to interact directly with customers through events like South by Southwest in Austin,” says Hinkley. “We are spreading out in new states, building the brand in new markets one by one. We will fly to a city for a beer dinner with 15 customers.
We put a lot of effort into this type of marketing. We are small – 70,000 barrels a year – and we are in 50 states. We build the brand that way to maintain the margins. We do not postpone. No time or money is spent in chain stores. We speak directly to our customers. We experience our beers with our customers, educating a core group of beer geeks and new people entering the craft market. “
Craft competitions have been the essential marketing tool for Aurora, Colorado’s Dry Dock brewery. The founders Kevin DeLange and Michelle Reding launched their brewery in 2005 next to their artisanal sewing store. When their beer in dry dock won the best medals in beer competitions this first year, the word spread on websites and online beer sales, allowing them to grow. More awards followed, and they have grown further.
By only developing in response to increased sales, they were able to finance each expansion with bank loans. From the start, their only marketing strategy was to participate in beer festivals and submit their beers to competitions, says DeLange. “We don’t do a lot of other marketing because we didn’t need it. Winning gives you instant credibility and free publicity.”