by Melissa Piper Nelson

With craft brewing, distilling and boutique winery sales snagging a good share of sales volume in the U.S., start-ups as well as established businesses are seeking the next level of marketing potential. With so many varied options, it is easy to end up with a scattered approach to marketing rather than a narrow but strategic plan for growth. If you are tired of trying to fulfill a broad marketing program that seems stagnant, focusing your energy on some key components may correct the problem.

While it may sound like age-old advice, identifying your key audience remains one of the best ways to put power behind the marketing punch. Once you know your key buyers and their spending habits, you can direct valuable resources toward targeted marketing campaigns. Aligning sales strategies and special events to bolster campaigns put the dollars where they are most effective. Craft beer bloggers point to a number of successful start-ups who researched and chose their key audiences before opening their doors. Once chosen, they built strong marketing themes around these key potential buyers even if faced with soft advertising budgets. In evaluating how to implement your next level of marketing, these three contemporary components are helpful: branding, blending and sharing.

Branding (or more accurately, brand recognition) has often been defined as a snappy logo imprinted on everything from beverage glasses to T-shirts. In the past, the science of branding was to let your logo create an image of your business in peoples’ minds and boom, you were marketing! Current branding strategies engage buyers within the parameters of their everyday experiences. Along with brand recognition, creative marketers are rethinking giveaways and instead are reuniting people with product. Food and beverage pairing programs, cooking classes with products, special reserve tastings and other experience-oriented events are now mainstream marketing tools. The customer feedback gleaned from these sessions proves invaluable in creating even more directed marketing campaigns.

Blending is a way to market your own product while working with other businesses and groups in collective promotions. When you partner in joint promotional events, you leverage more exposure time and advertising dollars. As a part of the experience you build business awareness and product identity. Blended marketing offers the opportunity to present your own narrative and product story within a local or regional context. Downtown merchant associations and regional tourism bureaus often offer well-organized promotional events which attract individual and media attention. As a regional economic development specialist notes, “When we offer beer, distiller, cider and wine trail special events, we showcase individual businesses along with what is available within a given region, including activities, dining and shopping. We encourage visitors to not only sample craft beverages but enjoy all of what the area has to offer. In the end, we feel it benefits all the partners.”

The giving spirit, or creative philanthropic marketing, is ramping up with many businesses. Giving back to the community through individual and cooperative programs establishes a sense of local pride. Above and beyond the more common support (backing sports teams and sponsoring charity events), business owners are seeking ways to underwrite educational scholarships, job training, affordable housing and other issues present and important in their own communities. In discussing craft brew marketing,, an online marketing strategy presence, presented the following: “Sewing yourself into the fiber of the community not only builds equity, but enhances your narrative.”

The pressures of starting and managing a business are numerous and challenging. Devising a marketing plan that results in the best return on investment requires time, energy, resources and creativity. Focusing your energy on creatively reaching target audiences narrows the scope of your efforts and directs key components where they will likely reap the most benefits.

The above information is presented for educational purposes and should not be substituted for professional business or legal counseling.