“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” writes award winning author Chuck Palahniuk in his novel ‘Invisible Monsters’. A slight overstatement perhaps, but well said nonetheless. Much of who we are is a compilation of all those who influence us. The same can be said for many successful companies in today’s world, and there is no better example of this than with today’s craft breweries.
The image of most American craft breweries is often perceived to be that of laid back, long-haired brewers with beards who are not afraid to brew what they want, styles be damned. While that image is not far off the mark in many cases, each brewery has its own unique personality that reflects all the individual personalies that make up the brewery. I had the opportunity to listen to several great representatives of the craft brewing community on this subject last month at the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, Ca.
In a seminar on craft beer marketing, New Belgium Brewing Co CFO, Kim Jordan, said that the ‘effort you put into your brand shows the care you place into your product.’ For craft breweries, Jordan said ‘brands should be seen as stories. Lose your story and you lose your soul.’
Wynkoop Brewing Co’s resident evangelist and beer bard, Marty Jones says ‘Beer of the past lacked soul. Craft beer comes along and it’s the Sex Pistols and the Ramon’s all rolled into one. It will offend people. We’re not afraid to shake things up’.
Jones is one-third of the group, The Gourdians, The craft beer rock group dedicated to helping craft brewers to “reach out and boldly market where no brewers have gone before”. Jones is joined by Stone Brewing Co CEO and co-founder Greg Koch, and Elsian Brewing‘s Dave Buhler who all got up to discuss marketing your brewery without compromise. The group surprised the audience of brewers, media and distributors by playing their rendition of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ entitled ‘Enter Beerman’ and joined by guest guitarist Kerri Kelli, lead guitarist for Alice Cooper.
Buhler and Koch discussed having a Willie Nelson approach to marketing a brewery. There’s nothing wrong with self-promotion, they advised, pointing out that Willie Nelson often wore his own t-shits. They went on to say that however, that ‘to be Willie Nelson every day, you have to look into yourself.’ Going back to a breweries brand being tied to their story, this is an important point I think. As Buhler points out, craft breweries are also in the entertainment business to an extent, but if your brand doesn’t reflect who you are, your customers will notice and your bottom line will to.
To this point Elysian Brewing looked into itself and came to the realization that their original approach to marketing, to include their labeling, no longer reflected who they’d become. Realizing that local is the biggest thing going, Buhler advised they had to reinvent themselves. They spent time coming up with new label designs that more reflected the breweries attitude and the beers the were brewing. Focus was also put on events. Not to fear Buhler says, they’re not afraid to upset people if need be.
Jones advised that Wynkoop too had issues with their brand. Newer generations were not wanting to drink the same beer their fathers had. They had to look at keeping themselves relevant. With a new brewer, a new approach to packaging their beers, and new types of promotions, Wynkoop has been able to keep the customers coming in.
Koch advised too, that it’s important to hire only those who are really into what you do and to make sure you hire folks who are passionate about beer, or it won’t work. Koch went on to say that a brewery must do what it believes in, to do what it wishes to and not worry about what others think. In fact, he posed the question ‘what if you only made beers you were proud of?’ Jones added saying to this ‘Sometimes one of the best things you can do is upset your customers. Have the guts to do what you want to do. You’ll lose some customers, but gain more.’
The lesson learned from all of this is that to be successful, you must remember a few things. Know who you are as a brewery; have a clear vision of what you hope to accomplish, be flexible throughout the life of your brewery, and never compromise who you are. To slip on any of these is to put in jeopardy the success of your brewery.