Is your brand-spankin’ new craft beer going to survive out there? Before you answer that question, ask yourself if you see what we see at the LCBO and The Beer Store. It seems there’s a new craft beer popping up on the shelves every time you visit; and an equal amount removed, never to be seen again. Will yours be next?
Craft breweries deal with a multitude of challenges unique to their industry. And the roadblocks and hurdles can be pernicious. So, how can you navigate the increasingly competitive craft beer industry and carve out your own brand community?
First, face some realities:
When is enough, enough already?
One major obstacle is clutter. In Ontario alone there are over 300 breweries, contributing a large chunk of the nearly 1,000 breweries nationwide.
However, while the number of breweries in Canada is growing, domestic beer production and sales have not kept pace. In 2018, production decreased by 3.4%, and sales rose by only 0.3%. In total, national beer sales declined by 0.3% in 2018. Oversaturation is the cause.
When there are so many options available – and so many unknowns about flavour – it’s often much simpler for the average Joe to grab a Canadian or a Bud and move on with their lives. Considering the number of craft beers that tout alcohol percentages over 5%, it’s easy to see why a moderate drinker would grab a case of 4% Coors Light to bring to the cottage for daylong consumption.
The Wandering Eye
Craft beer drinkers are clearly adulterous when it comes to staying faithful to one brand. Their life mission seems dedicated to trying every new beer on earth, from the more popular brands to the bilge coming from your Uncle Ralph’s basement. It becomes as much hobby as true beer drinking enjoyment.
Growing up it was shocking to see my father holding anything other than a Labatt Blue in his hand. But with so many options nowadays, younger consumers aren’t sticking to one brand. After all, variety is the spice of life. The only problem is that spice is choking out craft breweries that are seeing less and less loyal fans than ever. And brand loyalty builds brand communities.
How Can You Create A Buzz?
First, it’s essential to humanize your brand. Do the polar opposite of the big beer companies and show some behind-the-label back story. Do an Instagram or Facebook live video of your brewing, canning, or bottling process. This gives the consumer a sneak-peek into what exactly is going into their beers, while at the same time creating an inviting atmosphere. An atmosphere that says, “come on home, we’ve got a cold beer waiting for you.”
To ensure your customers remain loyal, you need to build a strong, relatable brand that resonates with your audience. And while you may default to using myth, magic and Grade-A bullshit, the more enduring approach is to leverage your personal story. Add some details about the quirky or iconic location and flavour the narrative with details about your unique blend of hops, malt, and pure water. It’s also wise to share the emotional journey of the founder or brewmaster whose passion and skill have created the beer in the first place. The more authentic your tale, the more attractive the brand community is.
Cold activated labels, vented-mouth cans, and grippy textures on cans have been around for a while now. Giant beer companies use these gimmicks on their products because they’re established, the flavour profile is well entrenched and, frankly, they have nothing else to say about their mass-produced suds.
For the craft brewer, it’s best to avoid these one-hit-wonders. They’re painfully expensive, taking away scarce dollars that could be used more profitably on making better-tasting beer.
The local angle is a strong jumping-off point. When you’re one of many craft breweries in the GTA – and there are a lot – it’s smart to leverage the neighbourhood you’re in. Junction Craft Brewing, for example, has taken advantage of the Junction neighbourhood here in Toronto and its local residents have built a strong connection to the brand community.
Ramblin’ Road, one of our clients, is a Norfolk County-based “Brewery Farm” that grows its own hops and uses its own spring water. John Picard’s beers are remarkably flavourful, fresh as hell, and sell like crazy. No, you can’t get it at the LCBO or Beer Store.
High-quality ingredients make high-quality beer. Avoid GMOs and ingredients you can’t pronounce. Corn syrup has been frowned up lately as well, so best to leave it out.
Take Mill Street Organic – the result of a simple, yet great choice by Mill Street to use the word “organic” before it became the ubiquitous buzzword it is today. It’s top-of-mind for folks who prefer all-natural beers.
Corona, on the other hand, has grown exponentially by aligning it’s beer with a sexy beach vibe, making it popular among vacationers and cottagers. Unfortunately, it contains GMO Corn Syrup and Propylene Glycol. But after a few bottles, you can hardly taste that stuff.
Attaching your beer to an owner/mascot/spokesperson can be a powerful way idea if done to make the emotional connection to consumers who love the human interest angle. There are plenty of options here from the Average Joe former executive who followed his dream to start a brewery, to someone like John Picard who’s been a flavour-maker for decades (he also operates a chain of confectionary stores under the Picards’ Original brand). Again, straight up bullshit works, too. After all – it’s beer, so anything goes.
Dos Equis, for example, brewed up some kick-ass market share with their mnemonic spokesperson who was just too interesting to ignore. Some people clearly embraced the brand community just because they bought into being interesting, too! There are limits, though. Avoid B-list muppets who may have a sketchy back story when it comes to alcohol. So, scratch David Hasselhoff off your list.
While it can be tough to carve out a profitable space for your brand community in the craft beer space – it can be done. The best approach is to not blindly follow everyone else to the doors of the LCBO or Beer Store right out of the gate. That’s what Blade recommended to Ramblin’ Road and that brand has grown stronger every year since we helped launched it back in 2012.
That’s just one of the successful “craft” beers we’ve helped – others include Upper Canada, Steam Whistle and Creemore Springs, which we fluffed for its owners so that it would attract a big brewery buyer. Which it did.
Most importantly, focus on making great beer and a lot of your branding efforts will support the truth of that. Otherwise, you end up tossing a lot of crap at the wall and hoping something will stick. But if it’s crap, it will all eventually stink. And that’s the last thing you want to be associated with your tasty beer brand.