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Branded!: How to market like the pros

It’s 1995. An obsessive, quirky homebrewer approaches his state’s Senate armed with a passionately-produced product and a dream to open Delaware’s first brewpub. Like many who have tripped, jumped, or leaped with reckless abandon into the world of craft beer, Sam Calagione quickly diverged from his degreed track focusing on fiction writing upon his exposure to great beer, commencing a romance of Shakespearean proportions (minus the tragedy). From the beginning, Dogfish Head set itself apart with everything from its tagline to its products, embracing some inherent quirkiness and a masterful way with words, Calagione’s beer quickly became a household name. While the story of Dogfish Head is one many are familiar with, the lessons we can glean from the brand, and similar entities in the market, are somewhat more obscure, but nonetheless inspiring.

Unfortunately, marketing your brewery is often seen as a necessary evil — an uninspiring necessity of keeping your name embedded in your customer’s minds. Brewers are largely creative types who like to have their hands involved in making, rather than recording or promoting. But I would encourage my fellow brewers to consider marketing as simply another tool of the trade, alongside the mash paddle and carb stone. Marketing is an opportunity to share your unique story with your customers. In this respect, you can think of your daily social media postings much like you would consider a beer festival — share things that interest and intrigue and make people remember you. Dogfish Head has mastered this component of marketing their brand, adorning themselves with everything from an “Intergalactic Bocce Tournament” to limited-release product packages with Miles Davis. While these elements may, at first glance, seem like silly promotional games, Calagione makes sure to tie them back to the brand image, thereby bolstering its fandom and legitimizing its claims. Indeed, he is quoted in reference to his Davis-inspired beer release (which he listened to while writing the company’s business plan), “I wanted Dogfish Head to be a maniacally inventive and creative brewery, analog beer for the digital age.”1

Unfortunately, marketing your brewery is often seen as a necessary evil — an uninspiring necessity of keeping your name embedded in your customer’s minds.

In many ways, branding is like the artistic expression of the business plan — the delayed accompaniment to the mission statement. You have a specific goal or message you are trying to communicate, and that message should be at the foundation of what your company stands for. Your brand is an ongoing manifesto about what is important to you, and what your company represents. Be honest. Yes, you must of course tailor the message to your audience and understand your market and your place within it, but the public can spot BS a mile away. Take a moment and consider the brands that you follow or admire the most, be they breweries or otherwise. Why are those brands worthy of your valuable time? Do they make you laugh? Do they challenge you? Do you they share the same values that you care about? Good branding is genuine. Good marketing shares that trait, but includes elements of “call and response.” You’re trying to get your customers to think about something or to share their opinion or to remember you. Good marketing is like good beer — it sticks with you.

In an effort to provide a more contextualized point of view in these pieces, I’m enlisting the aid of professionals (all far more successful than I) to shed some industry-tested light on the topic at hand. In my November issue piece “Nanobrewery Models: Exploring three business plans,” I leaned on Sam Holloway, Founder and President of Crafting a Strategy, for his business expertise. This time, I turn to my friend Michael Perozzo, Founder of ZZepellin, a creative agency supporting brands like Grains of Wrath (Camas, Washington), and Pelican Brewing (Pacific City, Oregon), among others.

Q: With social media playing such a large role in any brand’s image, what is your main advice for engaging with customers on these platforms?

A: Consistency is key. Consistency in visuals, when you publish content, and the voice that the content speaks, all of which matters. It’s important to put out quality content at the rate it can be consumed best. That can mean different things for different platforms. A Facebook post, for instance, can continue to reach and engage people for 5–8 hours. An Instagram image can continue for 1–2 days. Meanwhile, most tweets exist for a mere 30–60 minutes. All in all, it takes a plan to be consistent. Consistency doesn’t happen by shooting from the hip. That’s how you shoot your eye out.

Q: Aside from promoting your brand, what are some alternative/inventive ways that you have seen marketing really work for a brewery brand (e.g., generating revenue, building customer base, expanding market reach, etc.)?

A: It’s a noisy world out there. A brewery needs to stand out to be heard and there are a number of ways to do that. For one brand, it may be a sweepstakes to garner attention. Pelican Brewing Company is a great example of this strategy. You can win a 2-night trip to the beach just for following their Facebook page, and 210,000+ people have done exactly that.

For another, it’s striking imagery. Putting time and effort into consistently looking different than everyone else can lend a distinct advantage. I feel like Wayfinder Beer (Portland, Oregon) does this very well. The short animations and graphics of their can label, along with witty, in-your-face captions, have combined to make some strikingly beautiful magic.

Q: What is/are your favorite beer brands to follow? What is it about their marketing that keeps you coming back for new content?

A: I mentioned Pelican and Wayfinder already. I really enjoy Cerebral Brewing in Denver, Colorado. They have great image quality and their beer releases are often quite long and very detailed. It plays very well with their lab/library/book nerd vibe. Normally brevity is better, but they’ve made me want to read their longer format.

Cloudburst Brewing in Seattle, Washington is a super fun follow. Their brand says, “we don’t care.” It’s in stark contrast to their beer — which they obviously care very much about. Their marketing pokes fun at marketing itself and flies in the face of our corporate beer overlords. Hilarious stuff.

Brothers Cascadia Brewing in Vancouver, Washington is a great example of a brewery using video storytelling. Their videos are well done and oozing with personality whether they’re tongue-in-cheek or very serious. Either way, there’s attention to quality and they’re very watchable.

Other brands (that I don’t personally work with) who have been very consistent, and therefore successful, include Pfriem Family Brewers (Hood River, Oregon), Left Hand Brewing (Longmont, Colorado), Fort George Brewery (Astoria, Oregon) and Reuben’s Brews (Seattle, Washington).

References:

  1. https://www.dogfish.com/brewery/beer/bitches-brew
  2. https://www.americanexpress.com/en-us/business/trends-and-insights/articles/sam-calagione-dogfish-head-craft-brewed-ales/
  3. https://www.stephenzoeller.com/building-authentic-brand-dogfish-head/