What Craft Beer Taught Me About Marketing

A few simple lessons learned

I like craft beer. Lots of people do. And it should be no surprise to anyone that small, local craft beer breweries have exploded in popularity across the US in recent years. Oddly enough, their massive growth has taught me a thing or two about marketing a brand successfully.

Right off the bat, the flavor and variety of choices do have something to do with why I enjoy craft beers so much. But, while there’s nothing quite like the bite of a good IPA, or the complexity of a mocha stout, their flavors alone don’t endear me to certain craft beers. When I think about what truly speaks to me as a beer drinker and consumer, it’s the distinct, creative, and proud brands the various craft brewers have created for themselves.

Each brewery markets its beer differently, and none seems willing to back down on their brand’s story. In a sense, they’re not ashamed to be themselves. But, what did that notion teach me about marketing? A lot. Looking at how craft breweries present themselves and their beers to the public, I’ve taken away a few key points that are applicable to any brand.

With brands like Sam Adams, you can almost taste the home-town pride stirred in on top of the hops, yeast, and other flavors that the brewers choose.

1. Take pride in your brand.

One of the first things I’ll usually ask someone when they tell me about a great new beer they tried is, “Where is it from?” To me, it seems that small craft breweries take extreme pride in where their beer comes from, so I like to keep location in mind as I enjoy their beverages. Though a beer brewed in Philadelphia may be quite similar in taste to one from Denver, the attitude and geographic context and personality provided by different cities helps to frame the brand identity for me. Their own local pride helps sell the experience for me.

Clearly, every city, state, or country has its own distinct culture and source of pride (sports teams, history, etc.), and along those lines, most craft breweries leverage some form of geographic context to strengthen their brand. On the most basic level, craft breweries start locally then grow nationally. After all, it was local recognition and pride in their home-made brand that gave breweries such as Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, and especially Samuel Adams such strong foundations, enabling them to expand their brands into nationally recognizable forces.

2. Embrace your audience.

There’s a reason people feel so strongly about which beer brands they like. Craft beers have learned how to embrace their audience (partially due to the local connection mentioned above), and have found great success in remaining highly focused on building personal connections with their drinkers. Flying Dog Brewery has even adopted the endearing tag-line “Good people drink good beer,” quoting the infamous Hunter S. Thompson and drawing upon the trippy imagery of his hit novel (turned movie) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What better way to connect with a young, hip audience than by lovingly referencing pop culture?

Unapologetic messaging and imagery from Flying Dog Brewery.

Furthermore, Dogfish Head calls its brand of beer “Off-centered ales for off-centered people,” playing off the experimental and “alternative” styles of beer they produce and the audience of quirky people that tends to enjoy them. The take away point, though, is that brands like this seem to fully understand that certain people love their product. People enjoy identifying with their brand, because the breweries make it so easy to do so! They have, for the most part, done an excellent job of providing a clear point of connection, something with which a very specific audience can relate to easily.

3. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.

Unlike the giant beer producers that have dominated the market for years, small craft breweries are not afraid to not be everything to everyone. In fact, you’ll often find many craft brands come out with statements such as,

“You really might hate this beer.”

These small, proud brands have embraced the fact that they can’t please everyone with their products, and they’re not afraid to market themselves based on that fact. Everything from graphics to bottle style serve as unique identifying aspects of craft brews and many breweries have made names for themselves based on their distinct and personal style. And while some people hate the strong, harsh bite of a bitter brew, some breweries have built their entire business around insanely bitter and traditionally “unpleasant” beers.

When marketing any brand, resist the urge to try to please everyone. While there may be a broad solution to a product that would satisfy a multitude of audiences, many brands excel at marketing just one or two specific products. In craft breweries, we see a prime example of “quality over quantity” when compared to the giant national beer brands. In some sense less is better for them, right?

Poured with passion.

4. Have passion for your product.

It’s as simple as that. The biggest piece of marketing advice I've taken away from my experience with craft beer is that passion shines through if you let it. After seeing an amazing cinemagraph of the Dogfish Head brewing process, I understood everything about them. The passion oozes out of the series of moving images. To this day I think of the images when I order their beer, and the hands-on process of brewing still fresh in my mind. It’s passion like this, and dedication to the crafting process, that shows a sincere and genuine love for the product that small breweries are producing. We could all learn from them in that regard.

As someone working in marketing, I've found it exponentially easier to work with those who have a passion for their product. No matter the industry, it’s easy to market something someone loves. So, my final take-away? Work with people who love what they do. That way, everyone wins and the marketing comes easy.

I posted this ages ago over on my personal blog, but felt compelled to give it the Medium treatment. Thanks for reading.

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