Every touchpoint for a business has the potential to impact the consumer’s perception of its brand, whether that’s a first step into a taproom, a first purchase of packaged beer, or an interaction with a company’s customer service. But increasingly, that first (and, often, most formative) experience that a consumer has is with the brand’s website and social media presence … an experience that a vast number of breweries overlook. In fact, most breweries have a Web presence that ranges from nonexistent to terrible to tolerable, but very few offer a Web experience as well-considered and thoughtfully developed as their beer. The best way to develop lifelong customers is to spread your brand, beliefs, and experience across every touchpoint. So here are eleven tips to help you hone your digital strategy.
Stay True to Yourself and Be Authentic
Are you a fifty-something retired engineer who wants to build a community hub? A twenty-something hipster who loves pop-up art? Whatever direction you take through the brand-development process, know that your brand should be an extension of you—the experiences and passions that brought you to the point of wanting to open your brewery. When someone who knows you well arrives at your website, social account, or in your taproom, (s)he should think that it is the representation of you.
In the initial phase of a brewery launch, personality drives a significant amount of brand expression, as founders, owners, and brewers handle most brewery interaction with customers and industry professionals. Ensuring brand authenticity and positive experiences should feel relatively natural.
The challenges start to arise when you begin hiring, whether that’s hiring a creative agency to help visually tell your story or hiring the first employees in your taproom. From day one, you should define a mission statement that everyone can get behind and work with people who can embrace you and your vision.
If you’re looking for great examples of staying true to who you are, look no further than Other Half Brewing (hipster, artsy, Brooklyn) on the smaller brewery side or New Belgium (employee-owned, community-driven) on the larger scale. Both breweries have carved out their niche and stayed true to it.
Provide the Right Information for Your Visitors
When you’re developing your website, think about the different personas (or use cases, in industry parlance) who will visit your site and build to their needs with your brand clearly represented. (Personas are fictional characters you create to represent the different user types who might use your website; a use case is a description of how users will perform tasks on your website.) Here are three primary personas that you will likely build to and the information they need:
Consumers: Your average beer drinker wants to understand what you’re all about and simple logistics. That’s everything from the kind of beers you brew, to the expected experience in the taproom, to the hours of operation, food options, and where to find your beer. Let people know whether they can bring their furry friend and an empty stomach. Is your spot family friendly? Think about the typical questions that your local or traveling beer drinker may want to ask and put that information front and center. And yes, put a little bit about yourself so that there’s a story that people can buy into and embrace as a community hub for years to come.
Bar/Restaurant Staff, Distributors & Liquor Stores: Industry folks need explicit information about your beer and why they should care. Most bars have space on their menu for seven to ten words that describe your beer, and your website is the best place to provide the right words that will sell your beer to their customers. As you construct those descriptions, remember that while those of us in the industry understand the parameters of beer styles, many drinkers do not, so talk about flavors through accessible terms that the general population will understand.
For many consumers, an experience reading a menu will be their first contact with your brand. Give your on-premise accounts the help they need to represent you correctly and to effectively sell your beer. The more they sell, the less likely they are to give that handle to another brewery.
Make your shared values clear and help them understand how you align as partners because at the end of the day, that’s what the on-premise market is. Give them information about medals, community involvement, giving back, consumer demand, and any other information that makes you unique.
Media: Local and national media want four things—what’s new, why they should care, details and specifications on individual beers (ABV, special ingredients, etc.), and how to get in contact for samples and interviews. Media folks generally care about innovation, awards, trends, and the pedigree of the brewer and/or brewery owner—details that add color and background to a story. Put the latest front and center on your website, tell a story in your “About us” section, and make it easy to get in contact—media folks should be happy.
Every Touchpoint Should Be from Your Brewery
Don’t farm out your public-relations work—if you need the outside expertise, work with professionals to craft a message and a plan, but make sure that they understand your values and are representing you from one of your domains with your brand voice. In the same way that your customers value and seek out a personal connection to your brewery, so, too, do writers, editors, and other media professionals value a connection directly with your company and not with a third-party PR company. Make sure the professionals you work with are representing you and that the resources they develop while you’re paying them belong to you.
A personal and authentic email from a brewery principal will get more traction with editors and writers than a hundred press releases from a PR company, so focus on quality over quantity. If you send press releases about every new hire in your accounting department (yes, we have received those), you’re putting money in the pocket of your PR company while not achieving strategic goals. Even worse, you’re wasting the time of the media professionals you send it to, and they’ll pay less attention to every subsequent communication.
Wide email blasts to a large PR list have their place, but when you’re developing your PR strategy, know the ten to twenty media outlets that are most important to you and send them personalized emails with pitches that understand their context and audience. It will make all the difference as to whether you receive a response or coverage.
Don’t Build on Rented Land
We love social media. It’s an amazing way to connect directly to your consumers and provides a fantastic platform to tell your story. The one problem with building your audience on that platform is that you don’t own it and you don’t control it. From 2012 to 2014, the average organic reach of a Facebook post dropped from 16 percent to 6.5 percent, and other credible sources cite a continued drop by 52 percent just from January to July 2016. (Source: The Decline of Organic Facebook Reach & How to Outsmart the Algorithm). Facebook controls the reach of your posts and could simply decide to require all posts by companies to have paid reach (if they wanted to).
The same is true of Instagram—algorithmic feeds are almost certainly coming—and even Twitter isn’t safe as they look for new ways to monetize the platform.
This is simply a caution to develop your audience by focusing resources on a platform you control, whether that’s an email list, your own blog with a follow function, or a Rolodex. Have a plan to reach your audience if Facebook or other social platforms go away or become too untenable to work through. Email isn’t a cool and shiny new social platform, but it drives real conversion, and you won’t stake your business on the whims of Silicon Valley billionaires.
Focus on the Most Impactful Channels
Always develop channels you control, but don’t neglect to share information where your drinkers are. Most brewery operations don’t have a designated marketing team, so focus your energy in a smart manner. You don’t have to be everywhere, but in the places you are (for most breweries, that means Facebook, Instagram, and Untappd), be active, authentic, and true to brand.
You’re most likely going to be using Facebook for communication, Instagram for quick updates, and Untappd for collecting and responding to beer feedback, though there are certainly exceptions to that. Regardless of the channels, most of the breweries we talk to find the most success in media posts (photos, videos, articles) that feature a specific beer, award, or piece of brewing equipment.
Other breweries have found success on Snapchat, BeerAdvocate, Reddit, RateBeer, Twitter, Pinterest, and other channels, but you probably don’t have the time to put into those, especially if you’re just starting out.
Respond to Everyone
Breweries are the social hub of the community. Anytime someone contacts you, whether it’s socially, through your website, or in the taproom, give them the time and respect to respond. It takes almost no effort and can have an incredible impact on your brand if people feel that they are a part of it. Respond to Facebook messages quickly. “Like” Instagram posts that tag your brewery. Find the groups on Facebook where local craft-beer fans hang out and join (don’t dominate the conversation, just listen and contribute when asked). Toast Untappd check-ins when you can and ask questions about improving your beer if a user’s rating is below expectations. Don’t argue, just listen, and respond as individuals within the business—not just the faceless business itself—because everyone enjoys connecting to real people who make the beer they’re consuming.
Don’t Make Enemies
This is a pretty simple rule but one that a lot of brewers forget, especially later into the evening after a few beers. There is little to no value in being defensive about a bad review online, discussing politics, religion, or other sensitive subjects, so just don’t do it. The brewing community is a very small one, and a couple missteps can put you on the map for all the wrong reasons. Your most embarrassing moments will be preserved for posterity by screenshots that you may not ever live down, and the underdog culture of the Internet will quickly go from rooting for you to Photoshopping you into endless memes.
Share Your Story, from Breaking Ground to Beer Releases and Awards
It’s never too early to share your story. Consumers want to invest their time and cash into something they believe in. Today’s beer drinkers are looking for more than a beer at the corner bar—they embrace breweries as hubs of their community, where the problems of life go away and they enjoy the company of those around them. Build buy-in by sharing progress about the build-out of your space, the development of your beer recipes, and the principles for which your brewery stands.
Collaboration and camaraderie are some of the core principles that get people into brewing (since we know it’s not for the money). Work with local breweries, businesses, and nonprofits to weave yourself into the fabric of the community.
Work With Experts
Don’t know what SEO, CMS, DNS, or CRM are? You can learn a lot when launching and growing a brewery, but take the time to chat with experts in technology about putting together a system that is easy for you to use and that you and your staff can manage without having an expert involved.
The same goes on the branding side. You can get your nephew to design a cool logo, but does he understand your market, your beer, and how to position your brand among thousands of others to stand out? The cost of services to get your brand on point with a digital presence (website, social accounts, social strategy) will typically run you $5,000–25,000, but that’s a fraction of the cost to get your operation up and running. If you’re positioning and building your product for the wrong market, you’ll end up spending/losing a lot more than that in the long run.
Keep Your Information Channels Up-to-Date
Make sure your hours of operation, address, amenities, and descriptions are updated across every channel where people might find you, including Google Maps, Yelp, Foursquare, and others. There are some good tools such as Moz Local that will help you take a look across all the channels you need to care about in five minutes. Being up-to-date on these channels can drive a ton of traffic, both organically and through paid promotion. During our tenure owning a craft-beer bar, we found great success in promoting different keywords on Yelp and Google, so that anytime someone searched for a bar, beer, or brewery around us, we would be the first hit. It’s an incredibly cheap way to find qualified potential customers.
Test Out “Stuff”
If you’re doing the brewery thing right, you’re going to be constantly tweaking and adding beers in your taproom and brewhouse. Your digital presence should maintain a similar level of creative freedom on the channels that you choose to embrace. Great breweries have found success with paid promotion, sharing recipes, educational information, company updates, beer releases, and so much more across their channels. Every market and every brand is a little bit different—as long as you define your overarching success metric (revenue, traffic, time on site, distribution accounts, whatever is important to your business) with the different activities you try, you can quantitatively compare the success of your efforts. It will be a little more work up front, but very successful companies have aggressive analytic methodologies around their activities.
Start small, stay focused, be agile, and always be true to you.