Three Steps to Building Strong Brands

No doubt, marketing these days is getting harder and increasingly complex.

In looking for a simple way to explain the underlying process of marketing for my college marketing strategy class, a model emerged:  Engage, Delight and Connect.  These are the underlying principles for all marketing, although they apply particularly well to craft beer marketing.  While they are simple principles, the marketplace execution can be quite complex.  Best to first build from a simple strategy, and then bring in complexity only as needed.


Before anyone can connect with a brand, they need to know about the brand and be interested enough to engage at least once.  In this stage, marketers build awareness, interest and hopefully initial trial.

But engaging to the point of trial means standing out from the crowd, and that’s a tall order in today’s market (especially craft beer).  Estimates vary widely, but there seems to be some consensus the US consumer sees four thousand to over ten thousand ads per day.  Digital media has opened new channels to advertising, and social media hits us with ads on a constant basis.  It used to be we could turn off the deluge of most advertising by turning off the TV and radio.  That quiet world away from the cacophony of marketing no longer exists for most of us.  The universe of brands is constantly seeking to engage our attention and initiate that first trial.  And that firehose of information blasts away our innate interest in the world around us.  We tune out to maintain our sanity.

Make It Personal

My wife and I visited Europe last 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.  We tuned out.  But in the end, we did eat out at one of these restaurants.  What stood out for us was personal engagement.

In a sea of sameness, the 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 or are obvious.  But how does this translate to off premise retail? Or to other categories where marketers don’t have people hawking their goods?

Packaging is often the only spokesperson at retail

A brand’s label, secondary packaging and POS 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’ graphics I’ve encountered fancy artwork that truly stands out, but it doesn’t answer the simple questions prospective triers have like, “How will this taste? What kind of experience can I expect?  Is this for me?”  As a result, many prospective drinkers move on to something else on the shelf they feel will more certainly meet their needs.

The personality of the artwork for specific beers needs to work with and compliment the entire lineup of beers at a brewery.  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, graphics development is one of the most difficult to master.  It’s well worth the time and effort  to get graphics right!


Once someone engages, 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 nearly 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 (for a while). But more and more, great beer is a price of entry feature.

Even great beer is not enough

Delighting goes beyond the beer to encompass the entire experience.  It’s easier to create a great brand experience in a taproom with direct exposure to the drinker.  But even that’s not universally well-executed.

No beer can overcome an indifferent staff.  The brand experience will never be better than the interaction with the staff.

This came to the fore when I visited one of my favorite local breweries a few weeks ago.  This is my go-to microbrewer in my part of town.  The beer was awesome, the food truck was outstanding, and the vibe with other drinkers was cordial.  But the staff this day were remarkably indifferent. I didn’t recognize any of the staff, so hopefully this crew will evolve or move on.  Not surly at all, but not the normal engaging personality I’ve come to expect from this brewer.  A curt “What’ll you have?” instead – just like a busy macro beer bar.  And the place just wasn’t that busy.  The difference in the experience was palpable.

Great experiences start with great staff.

The people you put in your taproom are the personification of your brand.  If you want your brand to be seen as engaging and friendly, your people should be, too.  Overly simplistic?  Not really.  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 connect with and please your customers?  Start by connecting with and pleasing your staff.


Once someone has tried you out and been delighted a few times, the task is to continually connect and reconnect with them.  In marketing, we talk about touchpoints, which are literally every place and time your customers see or 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 as 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 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.

Frequency Drives Connection

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 activities (like trivia every Tuesday night) is especially helpful in building connections.  They become rituals.  And forever, beer has been about rituals that define and connect us.

It’s about quality touchpoints 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 large craft brewer client has a unique mobile trailer which 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.  Quality touchpoints can be expensive, but they can pay off handsomely.

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.  The Cheers mantra “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?  Do your staff where name tags so patrons can learn their names?

Consistency is Key

Consistency in message is a hallmark of great marketing.  This means the imagery, copy, situation, 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, all because of inconsistency.  And these lost connections are nearly impossible to revive.

To sum it all up:  Engage.  Delight. Connect.  And then keep connecting.  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.



John (13)

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