How to Brand and Advertise Your Craft Beverage Startup
In Start Your Own Microbrewery, Distillery, or Cidery, the staff of Entrepreneur Media Inc. and 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 cidery. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer a brief look at how to brand and market your craft alcoholic beverage business.
While many of the established craft brewers brag about never having marketed their beverages, if you want to succeed in the current marketplace, you have to have a marketing plan from the start, says Keith Lemcke, vice president of Chicago-based Siebel Institute of Technology and marketing manager for the World Brewing Academy. You have to be ready to sell your brand and pivot your message on a dime. The best way to do that is by properly branding your business.
Branding is your company’s foundation. Branding is your company’s reason for being, the synchronization of everything about your company that leads to consistency for you as the owner, your employees, and your potential customers. Branding meshes your marketing, public relations, business plan, packaging, pricing, customers, and employees.
Branding creates value. If done right, branding makes the buyer trust and believe your product is somehow better than those of your competitors. “Branding is the reason people perceive you as the only solution to their problem,” says branding expert Rob Frankel. “Once you can clearly articulate your brand, people have a way of evangelizing your brand.”
Branding clarifies your message. “The more distinct and clear your brand, the harder your advertising works,” Frankel says. “Instead of having to run your ads eight or nine times, you only have to run them three times.”
Branding is a promise. At the end of the day, branding is the simple, steady promise you make to every customer who walks through your door—today, tomorrow, and ten years from now. Branding creates the consistency that allows you to deliver on your promise over and over again.
At its core, a good branding strategy lists the one or two most important elements of your product or service, describes your company’s ultimate purpose in the world, and defines your target customer. The result is a blueprint for what’s most important to your company and to your customer. Don’t worry: Creating a branding strategy isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds. Here’s how you do it:
Step one. Set yourself apart. Why should people buy from your craft beverage business instead of one across town? Think about the intangible qualities of your product, using adjectives from “friendly” to “fast” and every word in between. Your goal is to own a position in the customer’s mind so they think of you differently than the competition.
Step two. Know your target customer. Once you’ve defined your product or service, think about your target customer -- the actual customers who'll walk through your door. Who is this person, and what's the one thing they'll ultimately want from your craft beverage business?
Step three. Develop a personality. How will you show customers every day what you’re all about? Think about how you’ll fulfill your brand’s promise and provide value and service to the people you serve.
Congratulations—you’ve written your branding strategy. Now you can apply this knowledge to your marketing efforts. But be warned: You're entering a far more competitive sector than existed even five years ago. You'll need to make a loud splash in the market to be heard above all the rest of the noise.
The old, slow way of selling beer by making great beer and gaining a solid following of people who want you to succeed still works, says Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association. “That following will get you through the difficult times when you have to take a leap and spend more to grow to get to the next level.” And when you spend money on marketing, it won’t be to buy ads. “It's investing in an employee who's on the street talking to retailers, going to beer festivals, talking to beer drinkers, building relationships with distributors and restaurants.”
Craft is personal. Craft is local. And craft fans still want to know who made the drink in their hand. Marketing a craft brand starts with understanding the founder’s story, which is a very different thing than deciding what that story should be. Why is this product being made here and now? What brought the founder to this place? Where does the founder want to take this enterprise? Is it the founder’s product, or is the brewmaster or distiller the soul of the brand? Answering these questions is an existential exercise that will ground the marketing in your company’s greater mission. When logos, websites, signage, and T-shirts reflect that mission in authentic ways, there's an opportunity to engage the all-important Millennial consumer.
You may not have a beautiful location, but you can—and must—create a virtual reality for your brand that is appealing, welcoming, and engaging. Everything you do online should be considered part of your virtual reality.
Websites should be designed with the same sense of place that defines the brewery, distillery, or cidery. It's often the first “place” customers interact with a craft brand. The founder’s story should inform the look, feel, and messaging on the site, including the logo and product labels. When a website doesn't include photos of the founders or a sense of where the product is made, it's a lost opportunity to capture a critical selling point for craft and builds engagement with the brand.
Robust, thoughtful Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media programs—a minimum marketing effort for any craft brand—should be designed to drive customers to the website where guests 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? Handled incorrectly, these fans will “unsubscribe” and be beyond reach. Offered engaging, relevant information and opportunities, they'll share the brand’s emails with friends. Subscribers are invited to events featuring the brand and are the people most likely to ask for the brand at stores, restaurants, and bars.
The product must be center stage. Every shred of the marketing for Green Flash’s San Diego brewery 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 about direct interaction with customers through events like South by Southwest in Austin," says Hinkley. "We stagger entering new states, building the brand in new markets one at a time. We’ll fly to a city for one beer dinner with 15 customers.
We dedicate a lot of effort to that kind of marketing. We’re small—70,000 barrels a year—and we’re in 50 states. We’re building the brand this way to maintain the margins. We don’t discount. No time or money is spent on chain stores. We talk directly to our customers. We experience our beers with our customers, educating a core group of beer geeks and new people coming into the craft market.”
Craft competitions have been the critical marketing tool for Aurora, Colorado’s Dry Dock Brewing. Founders Kevin DeLange and Michelle Reding launched their brewery in 2005 next door to their homebrewing store. When their Dry Dock Beer earned top medals in beer competitions that first year, word spread through online beer websites and sales soared, enabling them to expand. More awards followed, and they expanded again.
By growing only 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 haven’t needed to do it. Winning gets you instant credibility and free advertising.”
Corie Brown is a co-founder and general manager of Zester Media, an award-winning destination for food, wine, and travel enthusiasts. A former editor and writer with the Los Angeles Times, Corie was West Coast entertainment correspondent with Newsweek and a columnist for Premiere Magazine. On staff with BusinessWeek in Boston and other McGraw-Hill publications in New York City and Washington, D.C., she has written about energy, the environment and healthcare. She is a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine and the author of Start Your Own Microbrewery, Distillery, and Cidery (Entrepreneur Press, June 2015).