Brewing up Business for Craft Beer

It’s impossible to escape the craft beer wave as new breweries pop up in revitalized urban digs, big beer festivals pack into downtown streets, and craft-inspired foods infiltrate kitchens. Your favorite local restaurant or grocery store probably includes a few samplings from a brewery around the corner—after all, 75% of Americans now live within 10 miles of a brewery.

The prominent farm-to-table, local-centric focus of modern American society has brought craft beer into the cool sector. Drinkers seek out beers with ingredients sourced in their neighborhood or crafted by someone with a passionate, personal story instead of by a distant corporation.

And while the legalization of brewpubs and homebrewing in the 1970s gave rise to craft beer’s first big boom in America, the increasing passion of the locavore gave the hobby yet another boost in the 2000s and led to a new class of newbie brewers opening businesses.

Now the market has reach ultra-competitive levels (or perhaps is over-saturated? That’s an argument for another day). There is no denying that craft beer is now a battleground of fresh IPAs and puckering sours begging for new Millennial taste buds to destroy. Slowly, macro breweries like AB InBev and Heineken have seen their numbers stagnate or slightly lessen as beer lovers switch from cheap swill to quality, conscientious craft.

This brings to light the unique balancing act of marketing for beer: you want your brewery to outsell your neighbors so your taproom remains full, yet your community still expects you and your competitor to unite as a single entity against “big beer.” The fellowship of craft is a mighty foe against the monopoly of macro, so your marketing strategy has to keep in mind that we’re all in this together but that we’re each also wanting to win on our own. Make sense?

How to Market for Craft Beer

Marketing for craft beer is about much more than a newsletter worth of tap listings and happy hour specials. For starters, your audience is predominately Millennials (go ahead, angrily mutter “ugh hipsters”). Yes, craft beer is loved by an increasing number of adults and particularly women, but the 21- to 34-year-old crowd is the big craft supporter. Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, Millennials are just what you need: they want unique options and quality, they want something luxurious but affordable, and they want something local that’s made with environmental, social or other greater issues in mind.

It’s Time to Get Social

So tell your story, whether you’re about to open a brewery or have been open five years. Rock a #throwbackthursday on Instagram with your first homebrew photos. Share the struggles to find your location by blogging on your stellar website. Talk about your ingredients, who you get them from and who has a hand at every stage of the brew. Do you send your spent grain off to a farmer? Post a Vine of her cows munching on lunch. Millennials love that stuff—and will subsequently share it and come by your brewery to learn about the process, sip your brews and feel good about their beer’s waste being repurposed.

Clearly, social media plays a gigantic factor in your marketing, from your daily posts to sponsored ads and shared events to reach new drinkers. But consider your story and your brand before you go nuts. Sharing funny jokes on your beer page might get you laughs and likes, but is it engaging your customers enough to get them in the door? Are your posts garnering brand awareness and loyalty?

When customers learn more about who you are, they feel a sense of personal connection and a desire to see you succeed like they might feel for a friend. Do highlight posts with your next beer release, but also give everyone a glimpse into the daily minutia: talk about brewing and kegging, tease new brew ideas, chat up your staff and customers. Is there a valued experience in drinking your brews? Give your brewery a persona so drinkers drop in for a pint, not wanting to miss the next big thing to go down.

Think about the bigger picture of your brand: where do you stand in your community? How are you contributing to craft beer on a state-wide or national level? You might not be distributing beer out of your area code, but as I mentioned before, craft breweries are still united as one giant colony against macro beer. Your actions matter to the industry—and they’re also the perfect story fodder to build local interest in your beer and bring in new customers.

Colorful beer flight on a wooden table

Part of brewing a beer with purpose and conscience is being aware of the details from start to finish, and that could include working with beer on a legislative level. Does your state have outdated laws limiting how much beer you can serve? Are you barely paying bills under the weight of a three-tier distribution system? Invite drinkers to help you take down The Man and make their stand against antiquated laws.

Your taproom could be a rallying point for improving state laws—a perfect opportunity for you to market to consumers and get butts at your bar, local interest in your craft and perhaps a larger spotlight from across the state or even nationally as you work to improve the craft scene. Give your customers a cause to drink to, and they’ll raise their tulip glasses to the challenge.

Get to Know the Locals

You can also use relationships to market your brews. Play to everyone’s love of local goods by showcasing artists, from those who wield guitars to those who’ve mastered paintbrushes. Concerts and food truck rodeos are regular sights in brewery parking lots, but broaden your scope to host performance artists, chefs, artisan good makers and more. Those people will bring their fans to you and share your name with a broader audience, while your beer drinkers will enjoy the experience of supporting local talent.

Build Relationships

Additionally, build relationships with the people at your bar. You’re bound to have regulars, and those who are intelligent, passionate super fans can become an important marketing tool. Get to know them, share with them on social media, use their expertise for beer classes and events, and welcome them into your beer family—their influence is ten-fold as they will go away with an abundance of love for your brews and begin sharing word of your amazing brewery.

Craft Beer That Speaks to Your Style

But at the end of the day, the beer you carefully keg is what speaks volumes to your customers. Determine your style and design quality, reliable flagship beers, but also be aware that craft drinkers are always looking for something new to plug into Untappd. A Demeter Group Investment Bank report noted that that craft drinkers comprise “experimenters and nonlinear explorers who jump from one new beer or spirits or hard cider to another without an obvious, discernable progression.”

It’s important to study the trends—both on a broad and a local level—and try brewing something to satisfy the intrigue of consumers. But don’t release a mediocre trendy beer for hype’s sake: craft beer drinkers, especially Millennials, despise gimmicky beers and fake brands. Misleading customers into sipping something less than ideal to make a buck reminds drinkers of the cheap tricks of Big Beer and may backfire.

You have countless ways to market to drinkers, from social media shares to online content to community events. For all the fine details of when, where and how to reach craft beer consumers, so much of it falls back on your own authenticity: if you’re passionate about your beer and working hard to succeed, then share that story, make that personal connection and prepare to pour pints for consumers eager to experience a new craft beer. If you find you’re struggling to manage it yourself, we’re happy to offer our services to help you tell your story!

Enjoyed this post? Read more by Harvin!

Harvin BedenbaughContent Writer/Editor

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