by Tamara Scully
Craft beverage makers pride themselves on not being “cookie-cutter,” and standing out in the crowd for certain, specific attributes. Spreading this unique message requires a focus on developing a brand image, and marketing it.
For those who equate their brand with small-batch quality, hands-on oversight and adherence to a certain set of values, all of which make their methods and final products anything but mass-produced, marketing is going to require even more attention as the big brand infringement progresses. Competing with the marketing power of major brands will necessitate getting your message heard and retained by your target demographic.
For the big brewers, adding craft brands to their product lineup means connecting with customers who don’t identify with their primary brands. Whether those brands carry an image of past generations, allude to an ideal that just doesn’t resonate, or don’t offer the taste and characteristics desired, enticing consumers seeking an alternative has led larger players to join the craft beverage resurgence. Some of these customers are the same ones that might prefer your brand, but aren’t actively going to go out of their way to discover it. Whoever’s message reaches them first, and resonates, may gain their loyalty.
The lesson that needs to be quickly learned by craft beverage makers is this: Branding matters; and so does marketing that brand.
The Brand
A brand’s description embodies the important characteristics of a company’s products. Developing a brand identity depends on consistency of product. Without consistency, a brand’s identity won’t mean much. This is according to Lindsay Barr, Sensory Specialist at New Belgium Brewing, Colorado, speaking at the Malster in the Rye conference at Hartwick College, NY, this past January.
Sampling your products and having panelists describe their experience of the product can lead to the development of the core descriptive terms that inform the brand’s identity, Barr said. There are certain words—a lexicon—that are used to describe those attributes that make up a brand identity. That lexicon embodies the visual aspects of color, clarity and foam (in the case of beer) as well as the smell and the taste attributes.
Once this lexicon is developed, you “now have a baseline to which you can compare other batches,” and ask whether the batch or product is true to the brand, she said. Quality assurance means asking, “whether or not we are within our normal variableness which is acceptable.”
Developing your lexicon is an important step to insuring quality, and marketing your brand.
Market it
Your brand identity is going to appeal to a certain demographic. In order to reach those consumers, you have to market your brand effectively. Who is likely to be intrigued by your brand message? How can you find those potential customers? How do those people communicate?
No matter what product you are marketing, reaching your target customer is key. Sending the wrong message, or sending the right message, but in a manner in which it won’t be heard, is a misstep to be avoided. While print and radio advertisement, if not television, used to be the primary means of spreading your message, online and mobile-based platforms have developed into the primary means of communication for many segments of the population today.
“I think the biggest take-home for marketing to consumers is to realize that different generations buy things differently, and the way we market to them should differ. The millennial generation isn’t just using Facebook–they’re using Snapchat and a host of other apps that a lot of older people haven’t even heard of. Generation X is having children, buying homes and wanting more information. They want options. Marketing to younger generations needs to reflect how they’re buying and what they say is important to them,” Betsy Hicks, Area Dairy Specialist, South Central New York Dairy & Field Crops Team, Cornell Cooperative Extension, said.
While Hick’s advice was given to dairy farmers marketing their own milk and milk products, it still applies if your beverage is a something a bit stronger.
Missing out on connecting via social media tools can mean overlooking most of your potential customer base. Knowing how to tailor your message to the various outlets now available—or hiring someone who is in tune with the times—is crucial. It isn’t just your message that counts: it’s finding your target audience, and relating to them in the manner they prefer.
The role of distribution in the world of alcoholic beverage can’t be overlooked. In many cases, the distributor will be determining shelf space, retail advertising availability and promotion. Working with your distributor to generate product interest by promoting your brand’s identity is imperative.
“Our biggest customer is our distributor,” Ben Roesch, Brewmaster at Wormtown Brewery in Massachusetts, said during the Hartwick College conference.
Distributors can have a very high minimum for packaging, handling and point of purchase labeling. But getting product onto retail shelves can be a growth-promoter.
For Wormtown, “the packaged product helped grow the draft sales,” Roesch said.
Anheuser-Bush and Miller are the company’s distributors, and they each have established territories. They distribute draft, cans and packaged goods to restaurants as well as servicing retail stores. But these distributors are, of course, handling the large national brands. Finding a place on their trucks and on the shelves, and growing your craft brand, takes effort, insight, and working with the distributor’s team.
Local sourcing is a large part of what keeps the “craft” in Wormtown’s craft beverages. “A Piece of Mass in Every Glass” is their slogan, and a key aspect of their brand. Local ingredients impart more than terroir to this brand.
Working with local farmers and maltsters allows them to help develop quality raw ingredients to meet their particular needs, keeping Wormtown’s products exclusively their own. And, purchasing local means that Wormtown’s products remain true to the brand’s values of local economic viability and local pride. Communicating this brand message to their core customers, and growing this base, means having a strong social media presence, including active Twitter and Instagram accounts.
While growth in their beverage-making capacity, distribution and product demand makes sourcing the amount of high-quality, locally grown ingredients a bit trickier, building the infrastructure to handle local ingredients was integral to keeping true to the brand. Found throughout Massachusetts, Wormtown’s beverages are an example of successful branding, marketing, and distribution techniques.
Generating and sustaining interest in your craft beverages requires consistent quality, a brand identity, and a marketing, promotion and distribution strategy that reinforces your message.
Making a great beverage is merely the beginning.