What’s your difference?

In one of my upper-level marketing classes, I have students conduct a detailed analysis of a craft brewer’s marketing strategy, providing a critique and suggested improvements.  The assignment is given early in the class, and about half way to the due date I check in with students on their progress.

“How many of you feel you have a good understanding of what makes your craft brewer different from other craft breweries?”

Most hands go up quickly.

Then I have students shout out the key points of differentiation for their brewers.  The list is predictable:

– High quality

– Flavorful beer

– Small batch

– Brewed with care

– Innovative/risk-taking

– Follows their own muse

– Uses the best/most expensive ingredients

– Cares about its employees

– Cares about the community

– Cares about the environment

– Is small/family/employee-owned

Quickly, the class realizes most everyone’s brewer is telling a very similar story.  They conclude one of two things:  either they don’t know their brewer deeply enough, or their brewer does not communicate how it is importantly different from other brewers.

In most cases, it’s the latter. Their craft brewer is not telling a story that is importantly different from other craft brewers.  When craft brewers were scarce, and distribution did not overlap so widely, it was sufficient to tell a story drawing on the generic elements above and be successful.  Craft beer was selling against macro beer, and all those points were differentiating and motivating enough.

As craft beer saturated the marketplace, craft brewers are now competing principally with each other.  And now, craft brewer’s stories are often too shallow or formulaic to be motivating in a sea of more interesting brewery stories.

One of the most important aspects of great marketing is differentiation:  the ability to make your brand story stand out for memorable reasons important to craft drinkers.

In today’s craft beer market, that’s a tall order.  With over 5,500 brewers and who knows how many individual beers out there, it’s hard to be unique.  But it’s still worth the trouble.

To stand out and thrive in this sea of sameness, breweries would do well to have a sound understanding of who they are, and what about them is different from every other brewery out there.  For smaller brewers, it may be sufficient to just consider how your brewery is different from others in your narrow area of distribution.  You don’t need to go against the whole world.

For regional or national brewers, however, the stakes and challenges are higher.  Your brewery really does need to stand out in the sea of competitors, not just your home port.

It’s not easy, but those who successfully take on the challenge of important, motivating differentiation will enjoy greater loyalty and higher margins in the long run.  Those who do not meet this challenge will be relegated to the backwaters over time, and at the extreme, swim in the commodity end of the profit pool.  Or worse, they will close their doors.

We’ll look at breweries who have successfully differentiated themselves in future blogs.

What makes you different that is important and motivating to craft beer drinkers?



John (13)

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