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Seven steps of brand building

by Tom McCormick

Successful beer brands require a balance of 'push' and 'pull' in the marketplace. Push is the term used for getting the brand placed on the retail shelf. This involves the many complexities of distribution and distributor management (see Distribution 101). But once the product is placed on the shelf, it must sell - or 'pull'. If either push or pull are out of balance, you are not achieving optimum potential sales for your brand. For instance, if you have good distribution and many placements, but the product does not sell; those placements will quickly be substituted by the retailer for another brand, and your distributor will quickly become discouraged from placing your brand further. On the other hand, if you have built good brand awareness, but the consumer can't find the product at retail, you are losing sales opportunity.

Brand building is creating pull for your brand. It is focusing on the "fourth tier" - the consumer. The foundation of good brand building is to provide a sufficient reason for the consumer to buy your product. Most craft beer consumers have a range of 5-10 beer brands that they buy on a consistent and repetitive basis. Two or three of these brands are favorites, which typically capture about 50-60% of their beer purchases. The typical consumer tends to buy beer brands that they know, recognize and are familiar with. Price and positioning also come into play. Very few craft beer consumers today buy a six pack of a beer they have never tried. Most first time sampling is done at on-premise retail or events.

The following are seven basic brand building steps to consider in the sales and marketing campaign of your beer brand. Answering the question provided at the end of each step is a good exercise to honing your marketing plan.

1) Identify your consumer
We all have a pretty good idea of the demographics of the craft beer consumer. But it is prudent to break down further, within this broad category, who you are specifically targeting for your brand. If you are simply targeting 'all people who drink good beer,' your range is probably much too broad. If you are counting on consumers to buy your beer because it is local, then what will carry your brand if you decide to expand beyond your local market? Most successful beer brands target and develop a niche within the 'good beer' demographics, use that as a loyal base, and then expand from there. Once you have identified this niche, you are more able to better focus your marketing.
Q. Who is my consumer?

2) Brand message
You must have a clear, concise and genuine message. It should be defined in just a few words or a short sentence, and be the mantra of your brand. Your message helps create your image, which should then be conveyed to your distributors, retailers, and communicated to your consumers through your marketing and packaging. Examples of successful brands image:

Sierra Nevada: Quality, originality, consistently. A bench mark in craft beer.
New Belgium: Hip company, environmental, outdoor enthusiast, fun.
Magic Hat: Quirky, cool, hip, fun.
Rogue: Be different, break barriers, unique.
Boulevard: Local, classic, quality.

Quality is of course a common denominator (see below). Another is location. Most consumers know where each of their favorite beers is brewed. Where your brewery is located should be a part of your message. But different messages work for different brands. Boulevard works great in the Midwwest, portraying itself as a regional beer, but would probably not do nearly as well on either coast. Some brand messages like Rogue, seem to work in any region. But you can not contrive your message - remember, it must be genuine.
Q. What is my brand message?

3) Imagery
Your message must be conveyed consistently through your brands visuals - point-of-sale material, wearbles, advertising, promotions, web site and all other elements of your marketing. It is important that your graphics and message be consistent throughout. The graphics on your six-pack carrier should match the look and image on your web site, which should match all of your POS, etc.
Q. Is my message consistent on all elements of my marketing material?

4) Quality
Quality can be conveyed in many ways - but most importantly your product must be consistently good. All craft breweries, large or small must have at least a basic level of quality control. QC programs within a brewery can be extremely costly - but every brewery, regardless of size and budget should have at least the following:

  • A program that in some way measures the quality of each batch of beer before it leave the brewery
  • A known and defined shelf life for each style and a way to identify the age of your product at retail
  • A consistent means of sampling product from the retail trade. In distant markets where you might not have sales representation, a way to have samples sent to the brewery for sampling.
  • A budget to remove "out-of-code" product from your distributor's warehouse or the retailer.
    Q. Do I have at least a basic QC program in place that is implemented consistently?

    5) Name Recognition
    Making your products name recognizable is paramount. The major breweries know this and dominate as much space at retail as they can grab. It may seem simple to hang a sign with your name and logo on it, but the more a person sees your products name and image, the more comfortable, and therefore more likely, they will be to make the purchase. POS, decals, bumper stickers, T-shirts and other wearables are all excellent means to spread your products name. Make every effort you can to display your products name whenever and wherever - but especially at the point-of-purchase.
    Q. Do I have a strategy in place to promote our brands name and image?

    6) Consumer ownership
    Why do consumers buy a particular brand? There are many reasons of course, but one significant motivation is if the consumer feels an affinity or "ownership" in the brand. Letting someone feel a part of your brand can be developed in many ways. If the consumer has been to your brewery and had a good experience, it provides ownership. If they tried it for the first time at a music concert and really enjoyed the show (and the beer), it provides ownership. Good distribution and placement in resort and vacation areas has always been a focus of major beverage brands. Music venues and sporting events as well. At beer tastings, be sure to give the person who tries your beer the proper attention. That alone can make a consumer feel good enough about a brand (assuming they like the taste) to become a loyal buyer. A good web site also instills a sense of ownership if the content is stimulating and attractive to the proper demographics. Becoming community oriented is another way to make your brand feel 'local' and offer a 'reason' for people to buy your beer. There will always be a less expensive beer, and there are many good quality beers right next to yoiur on the shelf. Why should they buy yours? It's up to you to provide a reason.
    Q. Besides quality and price, why should people buy my beer?

    7) Packaging
    Packaging communicates everything to your customer. It should relate your message, your image and what your beer is. It should stand out, but fit in. It should be compelling, interesting and comfortable. And it must evolve with your customer and with your company. Many breweries re-evaluate their packaging every time they make a new printing run and make subtle changes to rejuvenate their look. Over time this allow their packaging to evolve with their customer. If you look at Sierra Nevada or Budweiser labels from 20 years ago, you will notice a pretty significant change over that time.
    Q. Does my packaging tell my story and communicate my message?

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