There hasn’t been a better time to start a microbrewery than the last few years, and no it has nothing to do with changing palates of the drinkers, a strong economy or a reduction in excise fees for smaller breweries, although all of these help.
The real reason is that marketing has never been easier for small breweries. In fact the marketing that really succeeds nowadays is the stuff that breweries are already good at.
The two key trends in marketing and media that play into the small brewer’s hands are fragmentation and personalisation.
The first trend is obvious to anyone with even a passing interest in media. Big media is in decline (not unlike big brewing), newspaper readership is falling dramatically, television audiences are falling and, along with that, comes the death of big advertising. The days of the needing little more than a catchy jingle and a few million dollars to run it a few thousand times on television are gone.
Nope now you’ll need to embrace the digital world. Websites are replacing newspapers as the trusted sources of information. A person looking for a new restaurant is more likely to check the reviews on Urbanspoon, or their friend’s blog than read the review by a newspaper food critic. I’ll check BeerAdvocate before a beer magazine.
And old school mass media is not immune either. Increasingly newspaper and magazine content is coming from bloggers and the general public rather than those with a journalism degree, even television stations are taking their programming cues from YouTube and Twitter wars.
This is a fantastic situation for any small business, breweries included. At no point in the recent past has the establishment been less relevant and had less influence. You no longer need huge media budgets or pull with the traditional media to be successful, you can bypass them all and talk directly to the consumer.
And this is the second trend – one to one communication. One of the amazing aspects of the craft beer scene is the access you have with brewers, whether that is as simple as a chat in your local pub, at the brewery bar, or through social media like Twitter or Facebook.
This personal connection with the people making the beer is invaluable to the breweries firstly for the customer feedback it gives them. (And, let’s face it, drinkers in pubs are not backwards in coming forward if they think there is something wrong with the beer.) But the benefit of the personal connection that is possible is the loyalty it builds with the customer. When you have met the brewer, his dad and his dog, how heartless would you be not to buy their latest beer when you see it on the shelves?
The big brewers would kill for this type of loyalty. Sure they have some loyalty built through history, but this is quickly dying. They will try to build loyalty with reward points, loyalty cards and giving weekends away on their very own island/ski chalet but this will cost millions and will not be as effective as simply sitting down and having a conversation with the beer drinker.
The media and marketing worlds are playing into the hands of the small brewer. There is a sizeable and growing niche in the people who are rejecting mainstream media the same way that they are rejecting mass produced, generic and impersonal products.
A wise man once explained marketing to me as the story of the mountaintop and the village. The big brewers are still standing on the mountaintop above the village, shouting. Whilst the craft brewers are in the village whispering to their friends.
I know who I will be listening to.