Stone Brewing’s Transparency

For those of you not intimately familiar with the Craft Beer industry, Southern California’s Stone Brewing is kind of big deal. They’re one of the hottest brands in the Craft segment and their Founder and CEO Greg Koch has become quite the celeb in beer geek circles.

Stone recently posted this video on their blog where they announced plans to explore brewing options in Europe.  From a pure business perspective, this is a big deal and makes some sense.  Contrary to 10 years ago, it is now the Europeans who are interested in American beer – not the other way around.  So building a brewery in Europe could open a lot of doors and present some substantial volume opportunities.

From a marketing perspective, I love the transparency that Greg is showing here.  He’s not making any promises or saying that it’s a done deal, but he’s floating the idea out there to consumers and letting them share in the excitement of the plans.  If they play it right, the entire RFP and brewery building process is something that consumers will get to participate in and follow.  It will also give them something to talk about the next time they recommend a Stone IPA.

I wish more companies would operate like this.  It’s easy to say you do, but not many pull it off quite like this.

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Naragannsett Really Wants to be Your Neighbor

Narragansett is a beer brand that has been around since 1888 and seen it’s highs and lows.  Most recently, Mark Hellendrung, who was one of the key players in building the Nantucket Nectars brand has brought ‘Gansett back.  He relaunched the brand in 2005 and has been doing things the right way.

Their website alone is a great example of building a strong brand on word of mouth and transparency.  In fact Mark isn’t building a brand, he’s on a mission.  He’s taken one of Naragannsett’s weaknesses of not owning a brewery and made it a strength by creating a cause for New Englanders to support so that they can grow the business, build a brewery and help the economy.  Brilliant.  My favorite part is the powerpoint they share on the “Support the Cause” (not website) home page. 100% transparency on numbers and vision.  If only employees of all companies could be so lucky!

The best part is that all of this is 100% real.  It’s not some phony “support the cause” that will go away when the campaign is over.  Mark and the rest of the folks at Gansett seriously want to be “your neighbor.”

Mark and I traded a couple emails and I asked him some questions on how he is positioning the brand and building it from scratch.

Neal: What are your thoughts on brands having a home base from an operational and marketing standpoint? How do you bring that local positioning to life without the use of big advertising campaigns?

Mark: I think localness is a differentiating idea, and the concept has been building for a while and has only accelerated in the last 18 months. You could see it starting a while ago with the re-emergence of things like local farmers markets and the backlash of corporate sell-outs and jobs going overseas. Then when the economy when south, I think you had people realizing that this model doesn’t work, and now the thought leaders are saying how can I create local jobs, support local businesses, etc.

I actually think the use of big advertising campaigns risks undermining your local authenticity in that you start to look like a big company, and consumers are pretty cynical right now. So you’re left with a path build on relationships (selling one account at a time), a lot of sampling, word of mouth marketing and use of social media.

Neal: How have you found your brand influencers or loyal consumers for Nantucket Nectars and for Gansett?

Mark: The thing about Narragansett Beer is that it’s built on 120 years of heritage, so while we work to contemporize our story it’s still fairly well-defined, i.e., there are only so many different ways it can go. Given that, we try to look at the beer drinking community and try to identify who would be most interested in our story and most likely to carry it on.

Neal: What was the best use of your limited marketing dollars since you relaunched Gansett a few years ago?

Mark: Investing in our street team (sales and marketing) is the best use of our dollars. It builds availability and distribution. The team does a lot of sampling, which is critical in that we’ve got a great beer, we just need people to try it. And the relationships that we create cement us into the community.

Neal: I assume you don’t spend a ton of money on consumer research to uncover opportunities or validate marketing campaigns, so can you give me a couple examples of how your gut instincts have worked or not worked?

Mark: One thought we had going into this that didn’t play out was that there were a whole lot of older guys who grew up on Gansett that would be interested in our comeback and switch back. What we learned though is that many (not all) of these guys were just too far gone and settled into their routine of current brand choice. We thought we could switch them because when we talked to them that weren’t overly excited about their brand. However, they weren’t necessarily dissatisfied either, so there was no real motivation to switch.

On the flip side, we had a feeling that the craft community would appreciate our beer, and it’s played out pretty well. For a lot of the craft guys, I find that they love their craft choices but when they find themselves in a higher usage occasion or are just looking for something a little lighter, they really didn’t enjoy settling for one of the mainstream domestics. Our beers have a little more flavor and our brand has a little more character and you can see us selling some Gansett in “craft bars” whereas the mainstream beers aren’t even on the menu.

Neal: Thanks Mark. Keep up the good work.

Big Companies Freak Out Way Too Much

Last week when I participated in a panel discussion in Chicago at the KMG Marketing Symposium, the subject of big companies participating in social media came up.  One of my fellow panel members brought up a story about his client Frito-Lay freaking out when a person they hired to manage a activate social media mentioned Coke on Twitter.

No big deal right?

No, it’s apparently a HUGE deal because Frito-Lay is owned by Pepsi.

Here’s the deal with social media: it works best for brands when it’s a free-flowing conversation built on trust.  It’s inevitable for these conversations to occasionally mention your competition.  Or your holding company’s competition.  Or the competition of your CEO’s spouse’s company.  It’s gonna happen, and it’s totally ok, people.  One mention or acknowledgement of the competition is not going to affect sales.  In fact, acknowleging the competition will grow trust between you and your consumers.

It you don’t believe me, go back to believing in the mass media model that says that impressions = sales.  We don’t want you in the Social Media neighborhood.

Another Point for Authenticity

Today I was reading Peter Bregman’s piece on Harvard Business Publishing called Why Small Businesses With Win in This Economy.

The crux of the article is that people no longer trust big companies. Duh.  But the new insight is that people no longer trust the big companies they work for, which is leading to a trickle-down effect of mistrust and corporate suspicion.

As I read this piece, I realized that the word “small” could be interchanged with “authentic”.  Authentic companies will win in this economy because:

  • People want to have REAL conversations with REAL people.
  • Employees who are authentically excited about their job/employer/company sell their brand or service without even knowing it.
  • An authentic brand creates sustainable word-of-mouth recommendations

Small companies have an advantage in that it’s just easier to be authentic.  But even the biggest of companies can authentic – they just need to think and act small.

Bill Belichick on Organizing People

Bill Belichick and Chris Hanson, originally uploaded by wbutler49.

I was watching the NFL Playoffs today and noticed how many players are filling in and playing positions that aren’t their normal specialty. This is a trend that Bill Belichick started a few years ago. He built the Patriots with a few core players that were all versatile enough to play several positions. Belichick realized that the NFL season were a grind. The Playoffs are even tougher, and to survive, you need to adapt.

Troy Brown was a wide receiver. He extended his career by a few years because Belichick trusted him so much that he brought him back to return punts, play Cornerback… and a little wide receiver when the team sustained some injuries.

Belichick brought Junior Seau back out of retirement… again.. because he trusted him and Seau can fill the needs of several defensive packages.

The point here is that people that are trustworthy and can play different positions are hard to come by and extremely valuable.

Does it make sense to cross train people? Yes. Does it make sense to look for people that fill in for other positions in a pinch. Hell yes. I think if you asked Belichick if he would want Troy Brown or Terell Owens on his team, he’d pick Troy Brown every day of the week.

And yes, I realize the Patriots aren’t in the playoffs this year. But if you look at the injuries they sustained this year, you would agree that this was one of his best coaching/managing jobs ever.

Subtract a Day

Ever notice how getting a small raise doesn’t really change your lifestyle all that much?  Sure, it’s nice to get some extra cash on the 15th and 30th of every month, but it isn’t a “game changer” unless you get a really big raise.  People tend to find a way to live within their means.

I believe the same principle applies to how people manage their work week.  People tend to work within their means.  If you only had four days to get everything done, you probably would if you have the right commitment.  Would some thing suffer?  Sure.  Would it really matter if you prioritize correctly?  Probably not.

So what can you do with an extra day?  Think of it this way? What would you assign to you, if you had another you on the team?

I’m challenging myself to do this every week.  My choice is to get out of the office, away from email, away from my comfy chair and away from meetings.  I’m getting out in the market to talk to people and make friends with the the people who sell and buy our product.