Marketing can seem so complex at times. The details of doing great marketing can be daunting. But the underlying principles for craft beer marketing (and really all marketing) are simple: engage, delight and connect.
Engaging seems obvious. This is where we build awareness and interest. Before anyone can connect with us, they need to know about us and be interested enough to engage at least once. Marketing texts will call this building awareness and trial. But in an increasingly more competitive craft beer market, simply announcing you exist and what you have to offer is no longer sufficient.
My wife and I visited Europe this summer. In Athens, we spent most of our time in the old town Plaka area in the shadow of the Acropolis. Walking Plaka at dinnertime is a gauntlet of “Acropolis this, Plaka that” restaurants with smiling staff on the sidewalk engaging passers-by in broken English with an invitation to come dine. “We have souvlaki. We have fish. We have… we have….” It’s as if they all train at the same place learning the same shtick. What stands out?
What attracted us to try a restaurant was the engagement of the person outside and the restaurant’s vibe. In a sea of sameness, the difference in food was generally indistinguishable from restaurant to restaurant. My wife and I were drawn in by the hawkers who didn’t just spew out a list of what’s on the menu, but instead, made an attempt to engage us. “What are you looking for tonight?” “Have you enjoyed your day? How about having dinner with us?” We looked for places with sense of personality that would increase our enjoyment beyond just the food. Everyone had pretty good food, but we knew from experience not everyone delivered a great experience.
The analogies between restaurants and a tap room are obvious. But how does this translate to off premise retail? Your label and point of sale have to do the job of the engaging person behind the bar in the taproom. A tall task! Too often in working with craft brewers’ label s I’ve encountered fancy artwork that truly stands out, but it doesn’t answer the simple questions prospective triers have like,“What kind of experience can I expect? Is this for me? How will it taste?”
And the personality of the artwork for specific beers needs to work with and compliment the entire lineup of beers. There is a balance to be struck in terms of having an identity that clearly links back to the brewery while still signaling how a particular beer is different from the rest of the lineup. Of all the aspects of marketing, label development is one of the most difficult to master. But your label is nearly all you have working to engage your prospective drinkers at off-premise retail.
Once someone engages enough to try, then it’s all about delighting. Meeting expectations is great. Exceeding them is even better! Which means job one is knowing what is expected.
Foremost is great beer. It’s a price of entry requirement. In my local greater Denver market, with nearly 150 breweries, less than outstanding beer is a quick road to failure. It hasn’t always been that way! When there weren’t craft breweries on every block, average craft beer was good enough to propel a microbrewery to success. Not today. In less saturated and less mature craft markets, good beer might be enough. But don’t hope to grow beyond your backyard.
But even great beer is not enough. Delighting goes beyond the beer to encompass the entire experience.
Again, it’s easier to curate the experience in a taproom with direct exposure to the drinker. I’ve had a considerable experience working with restaurants who think it all boils down to good food served at the right temperature at the right time. Wrong. Not nearly enough. Many restaurants fall short at the very start of the visit, when a less than friendly host or hostess doesn’t greet the patron well, or the wait staff is indifferent or worse, surly. No quality of food can overcome that kind of liability.
The people you put in your taproom are the personification of your brand. If your brand is engaging and friendly, your people should be, too. Overtly simplistic? Perhaps. But visit your competition and have friends visit your taproom and see what you find. Hiring the right people is the first and best step for ensuring good customer experience. And then it’s up to you to create a culture of satisfied staff. Because in no universe will an unsatisfied staff create a satisfying experience for your customers.
Want to please your customers? Start by pleasing your staff.
And then you connect. Once someone has tried you out and been delighted, the task is to continually connect and reconnect them to you. In marketing, we talk about touchpoints, which are literally every place and time your customers experience your brand. Your ongoing focus should be to use each brand touchpoint to reinforce connections to your brands.
What are your key touchpoints? Obviously, again, it’s your taproom and brewery tours. At no other time will your customers be so focused on and attentive to your brand. But it’s also when your drinkers seeing your beer at retail, events, festivals and home parties. It’s what they read about you on your social media, and on their friends’ social media, and in the mainstream media and news as well. It’s what they hear from your endorsed brand ambassadors at retail, and from bar and waitstaff at taprooms, bars and restaurants. It’s the local “homebrew guru” who mentions you to friends.
One of the drivers of connection is frequency. The more frequently you “touch” a drinker, the more chances you have to reinforce your connection. So promotions, trivia nights, special releases, meet the brewer nights – all these give people another reason to come back. Habitual frequency (like trivia ever Tuesday) is especially helpful in building connections.
But it’s not all about quantity – it’s quality as well. Having a strong, lasting single encounter may be much more effective in building connection than a boatload of superficial touchpoints. Case in point – a craft brewer client has a unique mobile trailer that was quite expensive to build and even more expensive to run around the country to events. However, when this unique trailer shows up, especially in a crowded competitive environment, the connections with drinkers are exponentially intensified compared to just having a nice booth and fancy banner.
Back home, in your tap room, nothing works better to make a quality touchpoint than for your staff to go out of their way to ask patron’s names, and remember them. “You want to go where everyone knows your name” is more than just a sitcom theme song! What are you doing to help staff connect on a personal level with your patrons?
And then there is consistency. Consistency in message is a hallmark of great marketing. This means the imagery, the copy, the situation, the delivery – everything about every aspect of the marketing is playing off the same strategic story and delivers a harmonious message. All of the aspects of the marketing execution are integrated and working well together.
The importance of consistency cannot be overemphasized. Think of how we develop deeper relationships with people we’ve come to know. When they act in a manner with consistent values and behaviors we like, we come to trust them because we share those values and can expect behavior we like from them.
Sure, we love surprises that delight us. But we hate surprising or conflicting behavior that challenges our beliefs about the person’s values or true character. At best, we look at someone who talks or behaves inconsistently as a bit off or hard to get to know. At worst, we see nefarious intent and we begin to disconnect to avoid hurt or disappointment.
We lose trust, and then we lose connection. And these lost connections are nearly impossible to revive.
To sum it all up: Engage. Delight. Connect. And to connect, manage your marketing to provide your community of drinkers with frequent, high quality and consistent experiences at every available touchpoint.
And do it all in keeping with your strategic story.
That’s a tall order! Time for a beer.
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