My epiphany came during a weekend in Cumbria with some friends in 2006. Not in the true religious sense, but in terms of my beer drinking habits. Since then I’ve eschewed the consumption of mass-produced lager in favour of real/ craft/ call-it-what-you-want ale. I’m now a true convert, a card-carrying beer aficionado, a hefeweizen, porter and IPA-swilling enthusiast hell-bent on trying every new style I can lay my taste buds on. Some might call me a beer bore or a geek but there’s so much to be enjoyed and learned from this relatively new – in brewing terms at least – but buoyant and vibrant industry. Not least about the power of clever DIY marketing.
In these cash strapped times we live in, where the everyday punter is still reeling from the effects of the credit crunch, pub (and drinking) culture is apparently still in decline. Due to a variety of factors including taxes, regulations and cultural change pubs are still closing at a rate of 31 a week. In 2003 the average adult in the UK drank 218 pints per head; by 2011 this figure had dropped by 30% to ‘just’ 152 pints. Demand for lager – which has dominated the UK beer market for decades – fell by 4% year on year in 2014 while sales of artisan and craft brews rose by 8% in the same period.
The scrapping of a less-than-popular beer duty escalator by the chancellor has helped boost the sector. Drinkers are also increasingly interested in the provenance of their chosen tipple – migrating towards brands that are brewed locally, adopt traditional methods or use sustainable, locally sourced or organic ingredients. In addition to this the market leading brands are applying innovative marketing strategies and using social media to engage with consumers on a more emotional and visceral level.
Beer marketing is centuries old. The big players – Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Carling etc – continue to spend big budgets on traditional ‘big brand’ marketing and advertising. While this is an expensive route that generally relies on huge investment and scale (you clearly need to spend a lot to convince people to drink crap beer), many craft beer producers manage to sell their products at a fraction of the cost – chiefly by using guerrilla marketing tactics and taking advantage of modern technology by blogging, using social media and focusing on doing things that actually produce returns.
So, as the craft beer market grows and becomes more crowded and competitive, what simple marketing steps are the more successful and pioneering purveyors of hop-fuelled heaven following?
- Produce a great product
A fairly simple starting point. This is, after all, what most of these guys (and girls) are really good at.
- Create a great brand story
If you can get your passion about your product across and tell an authentic, compelling story about it then it will both sell more of said product and create loyal brand advocates (more on this later).
Craft beer brands do this really well. US brewer Stone Brewing – one of the pioneers of the craft movement in the US in the mid-nineties – created a brand that is known for, and takes pride in, rallying against the mainstream, revelling in an anti-establishment image and brand values. They are now the tenth largest craft brewer in the US (where the number of craft breweries has grown almost 3000% in the last 30 years).
- Build a following offline and online
Offline, take your product to enthusiasts (in the beer world this means at specialist stores, at tastings, festivals and other events). Use eye catching, innovative point of sale. Engage in conversations with influencers – beer writers, retailers and customers in this case; the people that are most likely to talk to friends, family and colleagues about your products and recommend them as true brand advocates.
Most of the leading craft beer creators post to blog sites and are highly active in the social media sphere – the New Belgium Brewery’s experiential marketing campaign ‘Tour de Fat’ champions sustainability, volunteerism and community and is a great example of a ‘pro-social’ brand campaign.
The UK marketing campaign ‘There’s A Beer for That’ increased its social media & digital presence at the end of last year with the aim of engaging and educating consumers on beer. The main initiatives include a beer and food matching service, a weekly beer club on Twitter and a media partnership with Buzzfeed.
- Know your competition
A perfect example of competitiveness, relatively childish one-upmanship and savvy PR nous came when Scottish brewer Brew Dog (no strangers to controversy) launched a 32% ABV beer called Tactical Nuclear Penguin in 2009. This was then trumped by Germany’s Schorschbrau (at 40%). The Brewdog response? A 41% beer called Sink The Bismarck, which only served to stoke the flames amidst the Daily Mail set and strengthen the position of Brewdog as an edgy, two fingers up to the establishment, punk rock brewer and brand.
In all fairness, it’s not just the small guys who create good, memorable beer marketing campaigns – possibly my all-time favourite piece of (albeit big budget) guerrilla marketing was the Champions League final campaign from 2009 by Heineken:
So here’s to this most creative of industries. With so much choice and variety available – and the recent announcement by Chinese scientists that a compound found in hops could help fight off Alzheimers, Parkinson’s and dementia – I’ll certainly be raising one more glass to these crafty marketeers this Easter weekend.