10 Key Ingredients for Craft Beer Success

I’m working on a project that has me thinking back on my time in the Craft Beer segment.  I took some time this past weekend to crystalize my thoughts on what it takes to build a successful craft beer brands and here’s what I came up with.

After looking at this a few times, it seems like a lot of these concepts apply to start-up brands in a variety of categories and industries.

I’ll be elaborating on these ideas, one at a time in the coming weeks.


Promotional Packaging is for the Weak and Desperate

I was in the Portland (OR) market earlier this week when I saw a stack of green and yellow Bud Light-ish product.  It made sense to me since I just saw a commercial promoting Bud Light Lime in cans.  When I got a little closer, I noticed that it wasn’t Bud Light Lime, it was regular old Bud LIGHT.  And then there was a stack of product next to it that had orange and black Bud Light cans.


Oh, I get it… these are for College Football season and it’s for the University of Oregon Ducks (green and yellow) and Oregon State Beavers (orange and black).  Here is a photo of the LSU version (purple and yellow) can.

This is wrong on so many levels:

First, it is marketing to college consumers.  I’m personally not so worried about can designs leading to over-consumption as mentioned in this AJC piece, but it is marketing to a demographic that is largely under legal drinking age.

Second, this seems like a sign of a desperate brand.  Is Bud and Bud Light really at the point where they need to change their packaging every quarter to get consumer attention?  Even worse, they’re changing their packaging in multiple markets around the country.  Talk about bastardizing the brand for a short-term lift!

Finally, changing the colors of their cans regionally is a huge sell out.  If I’m an Oregon State Beavers fan, the Ducks are my enemy!  So am I going to have an allegiance to a brand that is sitting there saying “we love both teams!” No! I’m going to think it’s a brand with no conviction and is a total sell-out.

Which is why Bud and Bud Light are slowly dying before our eyes.

Promotional packaging is a sign of a weak and desperate brand.  Don’t be a weak and desperate brand.  Don’t be lazy, sell out and rely on short-term promotional packaging to make your brand appear to be “with it.”  It backfires every time.

Collaboration Part 1

Here’s a dirty little secret: Brand Managers don’t always know what’s best for their brand.  For the most part, Brand Managers are sitting behind desks, combing through research and telling themselves how smart they are.  They’re not out there in the trenches and experiencing the daily challenges their brand encounters on the street.

Here’s another dirty little secret: just because promotion agencies get paid to come up with awesome ideas, they don’t always deliver.

The point here is that a lot of the time, the ideas that actually increase sales come via collaboration with the people who don’t get paid to come up with awesome ideas that actually move product or increase sales.  It might be a sales person out in the trenches.  It might be the a retailer who sees a golden opportunity.  It might be a consumer that is passionate about the brand and sees an emotional connection that others don’t.

Most great ideas just can’t bubble up to the top from a consumer research deck or creative brief.  The best ones come via the true collaboration with the people that are out there actually making things happen and out there truly interacting with the brand.

How much time do you spend collaborating with these people?

You Gotta Live in the NOW

At the risk of looking like a total kiss-ass to my boss, I’m going to quote him: “Without the short-term there is no long-term.”

This principle is amplified about 1000% in a weak economy and has become my mantra for each and every day.

As a marketer, adopting the “live in the now” philosophy has been challenging, educational and rewarding.   I prioritize 100% of every single day what is important NOW.  What will move volume NOW?  What will produce revenue NOW?  This shift has resulted in me understanding and appreciating what happens at the point of purchase: on the shelf  and out relationship with key stakeholders in the trade.

Yes, consumer pull and long-term branding still matters – but when cash is tight for brands, retailers and consumers, you gotta live in the now.

Experiment Your Ass Off

John Bell has a great post on his blog talking about Office Max’s “Elf Yourself” campaign. The important thing here is not how the campaign was viral and got passed around every office holiday party or email from Thanksgiving to Christmas. The important thing is that Office Max experimented with several campaigns KNOWING that not all would stick. They planned for some to fail. But once they found one that worked – they stuck with it and ramped it up.

This is a great example of how it’s done these ways and in the new economy.

Six month test marketing? No way! Who has time that stuff. We need results now! I don’t know about you, but I can sleep much better at night knowing that I have a bunch of things in the works and that if something fails, I can plug something in right away.

No matter how much research you do or how well thought out it is, if you put all of your chips on one campaign, it’s a big risk.

clipped from johnbell.typepad.com
The days of researching adn “cathedral-building” a campaign must die. No one, no expert of any kind, knows exactly what will work especially when it comes to this narrow world of “viral campaigns.’ The best professional advice is to poise yourself for experiments and be ready to dial up the effective ones. And time, ‘she’s-a-wastin.’ Do a few things at once or in a short period of time. No one has the stamina for 6 months of testing what might work.

This is a big shift. Many ad agencies have either a creative or planner-dominated culture. Both can be ‘cathedral-builders.’ And the best of them are great salespeople on the brand value of cathedral building. They can really suck you in.

blog it

Brand Audit: The Gap

Let’s face it: you can’t swing a dead cat in Anytown, USA without hitting someone who learned how to fold sweaters, er, I mean, worked at The Gap.  In fact, I’m willing to bet a Turkey Sandwich that even YOU worked at The Gap for at least a day.

For whatever reason, The Gap seems to be a bit of a lightning rod when it comes to retailer holiday ad campaigns.  So you might have noticed that The Gap really didn’t have a holiday ad campaign this year.  But what they did do is launch a variety of celebrity filled YouTube videos featuring popular holiday songs.  You can check them out here, here and here.

I totally applaud them for ditching the TV ads and it probably didn’t affect their sales this holiday season one bit.  And I applaud them for embracing social media and trying to do something on YouTube.

Gap Videos Holiday 2008

But here’s the problem: I don’t think it worked.  As far as I can tell from looking at the videos as I write this blog, none of them had over 100,000 views.  Shouldn’t a brand like The Gap have videos that get over 100,000 views?  Good idea, poor execution:

  • Where is the Facebook page? (I couldn’t find it)
  • Where is the integration with these videos in store?
  • Where is the bag stuffer referring consumers to the vids online?
  • Where’s the Twitter support?
  • Most importantly, where is the motivation for consumers to share the videos?

It’s not necessarily all about the number of eyeballs that see the ad, but there really isn’t anything all that viral about this campaign and I think that comes out in the number of views.

But let’s put all of that aside.  I was at The Gap today and it was totally boring and that’s my real issue with them.  If you’re going to whack all of your advertising, then you better improve the actual brand experience, which for The Gap, is in the store itself.

Since you and I both worked at The Gap, we know that every customer that comes in MUST be greeted, right?  Big deal.  What does that do?  How about getting your employees truly excited about the merchandise?  Instead of the boring, “How are you?” how about, “Hi, have you seen these awesome sweaters?”  It’s nothing that some good training couldn’t solve.

Look, I know keeping the jeans and sweatshirts folded is uber important.  But is it the ONLY thing?  And is it more important than interacting with your customers?  And I realize that some people don’t want to be bothered when they shop, but I know there’s a way to talk to people without being annoying.

Instead of boring canned music piped in, how about a DJ spinning records on the busy days?  I’ve seen other stores do this and it’s pretty cool.  You don’t even need to hire someone to do it, just train your employees to do it.

Instead of eroding the perceived quality of your merchandise and training consumers to wait for sales by taking 30% off of everything, what about doing bounce back gift cards?

I know that there are some really smart people that manage The Gap brand, and I think they’ve made some moves in the right direction.  But I think there’s still some work to be done.

For a look at the photos I took at The Gap today, click here.

A Call for Brand-Side Bloggers

Is it me or almost all “Marketing Bloggers” from the agency/consulting side?  Maybe I’m wrong.

This is a call for client/brand side bloggers:

1. Are you out there?

2. Start a blog! As a client-side blogger, I want to hear what you have to say.