Despite the pandemic's disruptions in the food and beverage industry, this is a good time to own a brewery. Craft breweries exploded onto the scene in the mid-2000s, and that scene has since taken on a life of its own. Some of today's most recognizable beer brands started as home brewers or microbreweries, as brewmasters have elevated this hobby to an art form.
There are now over 10,000 craft brewers in the U.S. and Canada, with many of them using local ingredients to produce unique and delicious brews. But when you're a brewery with a special product to sell, how do you get the word out?
That's where this guide comes in. If you need a craft beer marketing strategy that will get your lagers and IPAs in the hands of distributors and restaurants (not to mention craft beer drinkers!), you've come to the right place. Read on for the ultimate guide to creating and executing a brewery marketing plan.
What to Consider When Building Your Craft Beer Marketing Strategy
Your beer company's marketing strategy is how you will showcase your products to distributors and the public to increase sales and attract potential new customers. It's a crucial part of your business's growth, so before you start marketing, ask yourself the following questions to refine your strategy and goals.
Who Is Your Target Audience?
Not every beer is made for every person. While the craft beer industry is constantly growing, it can help your marketing efforts be more successful if you think about your "target audience," or the potential customers who are most likely to buy and enjoy your products.
There are a few ways you can go about this. The best way is to go straight to the source — loyal customers you already have. Ask them what they like and dislike about your beer, and when, where, and why they drink it. Think about their demographics — are they young, salaried professionals without kids? Are they parents with families? Are they older and retired?
These are all questions that will help you pinpoint the types of people who you should try to reach with your marketing efforts. It can also help you choose distributors and restaurant partners who might have the most success carrying your products, because they'll reach the right customers.
Does Your Branding Tell the Right Story?
Branding is how you tell a story with your business — how your target audience thinks of your business and products. Branding includes design, positioning, and messaging elements, and can be one of the most exciting — albeit challenging — parts of creating a marketing strategy.
Visual branding and storytelling should include elements of the things that attract your target audience to you. Branding is a way for you to connect your business to its customers — to bridge the gap between them with common interests and shared values.
Here's an example from Salt Lake City-based Slackwater Brewing
The owners of the brewery share a love of fly fishing and other outdoor activities. That passion for the outdoors is a value they share with their target audience, which tends to be young people with a keen sense of adventure. Slackwater's social media often features photos and videos from fly fishing trips and other adventures, which helps the owners connect with their target audience online.
What's Your Budget for Marketing?
A typical marketing budget for a restaurant will be 3-10% of total sales. But there's plenty of opportunity for breweries to lower that number by taking advantage of smart digital marketing tactics — and some good, old fashioned bootstrapping.
If you're working with a limited budget, you can always start with low-cost marketing initiatives like social media and word-of-mouth marketing. Never forget to leverage your community, including family, friends, and community partners who can help you spread the word about your products.
How Will You Measure Success?
Finally, consider what successful marketing would look like to your brewing company. Some goals are easy to track and see progress toward; for example, if you want to sell your beer at five new restaurants in the next year, it's easy to see whether you're making progress toward that goal over time.
But it's not always easy to see the direct results of a marketing campaign. It may also take time to see success from your marketing efforts.
To determine whether the work is paying off, it's a good idea to have some key performance indicators (KPIs) in mind whenever you start a new marketing campaign. For example, if you want to increase brand awareness through social media platforms, track your likes, comments, and shares. If you want to increase beer sales through digital marketing, track conversion rates, direct sales from certain campaigns, and your most profitable channels.
7 Craft Beer Marketing Strategies to Choose From
With those considerations in mind, here are some common brewery marketing strategies that tend to be successful for beer companies of all sizes. Your brewery can start with just one or two of these strategies, or implement more of them if you have the budget and bandwidth to do so.
Be Active in Your Community
Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools there is, especially for small businesses. The first marketing strategy any brewery should execute is being active in their community.
This can include acting as a vendor or sponsor for community events, participating in local fundraisers and charities, or creating a brand ambassador program that utilizes your most loyal customers to help spread the word about your business and products. Community involvement is also a great way to do some guerilla marketing — for example, handing out coozies to customers at an event where you're serving your beer can be an easy (and cost-effective) way to increase brand awareness.
Chicago-based Goose Island Brewing is a great example of this. Goose Island is present at almost any community event in Chicago, from neighborhood-centric street fairs to the Chicago Marathon. They also host events in their own space, and support local charities. As a result, their brand awareness and name recognition is very high — you'd be hard pressed to find a Chicagoan who hasn't heard of Goose Island.
Partner with Local Businesses
Partnering with local businesses is another great way to spread the word about your craft brews — and build connections that could turn into valuable business partnerships.
Even if a business doesn't carry your beer, you can offer to donate a few kegs to an event they're hosting. Or, if your brewery has the space for it, you can host events with restaurant or distributor partners who can offer food. Some breweries have found success with unconventional partnerships — like when Athletic Brewing Company partnered with natural peanut butter brand Justin's to create a special brew to jointly raise funds for Earth Day. Once you've worked with a local business partner, consider asking them about starting (or joining) a preferred vendor program, where you can each refer business to the other.
And, of course, in the beer world, tap takeovers are a popular way to reach new customers. By partnering with another brewery, taproom, or bar, you can cross-promote your products. This works especially well if you have target audiences that are similar or overlap.
Create a Memorable Social Media Presence
Craft brewing isn't the most serious business —you can have fun with your social media presence, and you should use that to your advantage!
A brewery should be active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at a minimum, just to make sure potential customers can find them on their preferred platform. But consider making Instagram Reels, a Snapchat or TikTok account to widen your reach — these platforms are great for sharing behind-the-scenes videos or participating in fun viral trends.
Use your social media to share new releases, behind-the-scenes glimpses of your brewery's culture, tours of the brewery, and things that you and your target audience are passionate about. You can even turn high performing posts into targeted ads to increase their reach even more, if you have the budget for it.
Another great way to amp up your brewery's social media presence is to take advantage of user-generated content — that is, repost photos and videos from customers that feature your products. People love to photograph their drinks, which can be turned into great marketing for your brand.
Focus on What Sets You Apart
Many craft beers have something that makes them unique. Do you use a special local ingredient? An unusual brewing process? Are your cans designed by local artists?
Try to pinpoint what sets your business and your products apart, and then incorporate that into your branding and messaging to make your products truly unforgettable. For example, if you use a special, local product to flavour your brews, feature that prominently on the can design and on your website, social media, and other marketing materials. Then, hometown customers can be proud that drinking your beer means supporting the local economy in multiple ways.
Create (and Promote) Seasonal Offerings
FOMO is a great sales driver, which is why seasonal and short-run products have artificial scarcity as a built-in marketing strategy.
There's also huge demand for seasonal products — this is a major trend in the food and beverage industry in the last few years, and it doesn't show any signs of slowing down as we head into 2023. By offering seasonal products, you can meet a need for distributors and restaurant partners whose customers are looking for the newest and most unique products (and doesn't a pumpkin spiced ale sound pretty good?).
This is a marketing strategy that you can even combine with one of the other strategies on this list to maximize its impact: partner with another local brewery or business to create a new beer that you can both cross-promote. It'll be a win-win for both of your businesses as you gain customers from each other and boost sales with a limited, short-run product.
Find (and Use) Industry Publications
Industry publications are an old-school way to market a business, but they still work. This time-tested strategy has remained effective even in the digital age, so it's well worth your time.
Many publications specifically cover the beer industry (Bar Business Magazine and Good Beer Hunting, just to name a few). Reach out to these and similar publications to let them know about your business and your beer. Even better if you have a timely news hook that will encourage them to give your brand some editorial coverage. Or, if you have the budget for it, you can inquire about advertising in print or online.
Industry publications sometimes also keep directories of distributors and restaurant partners. If you're looking to increase sales by offering your beer in more locations, this can be a great way to find more distribution partners.
Use the Right Technology
You don't have to be particularly tech-savvy to take advantage of technology that can bolster your craft beer marketing strategy.
First, you need a website. Use a website builder that delivers a sleek, professional look without a lot of work behind the scenes. A business website builder with templates, like Wordpress or Squarespace, can work great for this.
Consider whether there's any digital marketing that could benefit from some added technology tools. A tool like Hootsuite, for example, can help you keep tabs on all your social media accounts from one dashboard. An email marketing software like Mailchimp can help automate your email marketing and keep track of important metrics and KPIs.
And, of course, never discount the power of building relationships with distributors and restaurant partners as a marketing strategy. The food and beverage industry is tight-knit. If you're a great partner, word will get around — and that's why you need notch.
notch is a hospitality management app that connects with all of your systems to make it incredibly easy to manage orders, invoices, and payments — all in one platform. notch replaces hours of data entry and eliminates errors, making accounts receivable processes seamless and painless for you and all your restaurant and distribution partners.
See what notch can do for you. Schedule a demo today.