Know Your Audience (and Listen to them)
In terms of getting to know an audience, craft brewers have a leg up on nearly every other industry. We can actually invite people into our taprooms or tasting rooms, experiment and be creative with beers and experiences, share beers with people, and then go sit down next to the bar and talk to customers and get feedback. What an amazing opportunity!
I know that in our industry, everything is moving so rapidly that sometimes you get caught up in the business side of things or in pushing your system to brew more batches. You don’t think you can take the time to sit at the bar and listen to the beer drinkers. But that needs to be a focus. Get up from the desk or away from the brewhouse, take a deep breath, and listen. Take advantage of the feedback. If you don’t know your beer drinkers and aren’t listening to their feedback, you have the potential of doing the wrong things or things that don’t resonate.
But if you listen to and resonate with your customers, it can re-energize you and help you stay true to what you got into the business for. It can help you stay authentic and stay true to your mission. It can help you sell more beer.
Consistency Is More Important than ever
Once you have defined your brand voice and engaged with your audience, it’s imperative to be consistently on brand. If you’re all over the board, you’re not resonating with beer drinkers the way you otherwise would. A lot of this goes back to authenticity. If you get into something for the right reasons and you’re following your passions and you’re doing what you love and what feels natural and right to you, that will help your business with consistency. And it will help create a roadmap for your brand, making it easier to stay constantly moving forward and motivated.
But that being said, the beer drinker has so many options. There is so much clutter, so much messaging and data coming at them. You need to give them a reason to recognize you. If you are fortunate enough to reach and engage the beer drinkers, you damn well better offer them something that resonates, something of value that translates what your brand stands for and reminds them why they picked up a 6-pack of your beer or chose your pint over all the options in front of them.
Sometimes this happens even without using words. Imagery can be a huge part of telling your story, but it has to be consistent. Telling your brand story through consistent imagery makes an impression in the split second you have with a customer before they move on.
Remember, if you’re not consistently on brand and offering beer consumers something of value, that’s dangerous because they’ll just move on to the next brand that they think does.
Invest in and cultivate Innovation
True innovation takes time, investment, and commitment because it is often ahead of its time. Consider Oskar Blues Brewery as an example of true innovation. They put craft beer in cans…in 2002! And then it was about education, one damn can at a time. It took investment and stick-to-it-ness. Yes, now cans are everywhere, but as the first, they innovated and pushed it forward.
In our modern world of 140 characters and the quick scroll or swipe, gimmicks often get attention while true innovation is simply passed by for something easier to digest. There’s a difference between a gimmick and innovation, and it’s important to keep an eye on that. Gimmicks can be of value in the short term, especially thanks to Twitter and Instagram where you have people just scrolling all day long. People can digest gimmicks quickly. But innovation takes a long time and a commitment.
Continued innovative thinking and the drive to do things differently are tools that will allow you to stand out for the long term, even in this super-competitive market. Take Sam Adams for example. At their size, it’s expensive to grow, but they continue to invest, and for them innovation is the biggest area for growth in the industry, so they commit.
The industry is moving so rapidly, and even for the creative folks, the innovation pace is insane. However, the beer drinker is used to it and expects it. And it’s one of the biggest opportunities to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Sometimes, it can happen quickly, but for the most part, true innovation is hard, and needs focus, time, and energy. And in this market, innovation has no finish line. You can’t rest on your laurels.
Articulate and tell the story of Quality
Quality beer is not an option; it is mandatory. But I do believe offering beer drinkers valuable and high-quality content and experiences goes hand in hand with the liquid and is something that can help your brand stand out.
I was fortunate to work with Oskar Blues Brewery, where they make consistently high-quality beers. If you have a brand that you want to be highly distributed, you can’t get to that point without quality beer.
Maybe you’re a neighborhood brewpub, and you have a good population around, and you can sustain yourself. That’s great. But, even if you’re not distributing, if your beer is not high-quality, it’s bad for everyone and bad for craft beer. If you’re trying to compete in markets where you’re not local and you don’t have high-quality beer, it’s not going to go well for you.