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There were 5,234 craft breweries in the United States in 2016 -- up 16.2 percent from the year before. It seems Americans, thirsty for craft beer, are swapping big-name brands for up-and-coming blends. Breweries with successful experiential marketing strategies are drinking every other company under the table. Here are some of the best activation techniques used by craft breweries, and ways that brands in other verticals can dominate their respective markets.
Los Angeles-based brewery Golden Road is driving brand engagement by sponsoring events in the alcoholic beverages sector. The company supplies kegs of beer to charity and sporting events to increase their profile and generate buzz. Marketers have also teamed up with HMSHost, a highway and airport food-service company that manages locations across the United States. Now, thirsty travelers can guzzle Golden Road at airports in Chicago, Seattle and Minneapolis. The company is also investing in other marketing strategies like product placement, and their beer has been featured in an episode of Comedy Central's Workaholics.
Golden Road has achieved all of this marketing success with a limited budget. Marketing the start-up was a gamble, says co-owner Meg Gill, but it was one that paid off. "If I knew a distributor was supplying beer for an event, I'd ask them if they could throw in a couple kegs of my beer with the delivery," she says. "That showed the distributor that I was willing to spend money to promote my beer, and it made them more willing to work with me in the future."
Brands in every vertical can replicate Golden Road's success, even with a small or non-existent marketing budget. It's all about getting the company's name out there.
Marketers should approach charitable foundations and sporting events and ask about sponsorship opportunities. Not only does this boost product visibility to a niche audience, but events can be a great way to collect valuable customer data. Names, addresses, birthdates -- marketers can gather all of this information and then some.
Securing a space at an event can be tough for a craft brewery -- especially when a company lacks clout -- but a few product samples might just land them a spot. This approach certainly worked for Golden Road: the craft beer operator is the largest in L.A. County, and they shifted 45,000 barrels of ale in 2015.
If companies can't sponsor an event, they should make an appearance at one. This is exactly what Auchentoshan did at Craft Beer Rising, a beer festival that took place in London in February 2017. Events like these are great brand activation opportunities because they attract target lucrative audience segments: beer drinkers, industry insiders, influencers, media representatives, etc. In fact, startups and scaleups might be able to secure new contracts and win over customers in just a few hours.
Auchentoshan went the extra mile at Craft Beer Rising. The company let visitors create their own beverage in a branded crowler -- an aluminum container that holds about two pints. Guests could select a base liquid and combinations of bitters, jams and syrups. This was a unique brand experience, and one that resonated with the crowd. The Auchentoshan area at Craft Beer Rising excited visitors and got everyone talking about the Scottish brand. Personalization drove the activation strategy -- guests received a bespoke blend they couldn't find anywhere else.
Companies in other industries should follow suit. Creating a unique brand experience at a special event might take a little time to plan, but it could provide marketers with a hefty return on their investment if they get it right. Events can be used to collect important information, which marketers can then use for future campaigns. It's no wonder, then, that 72 percent of companies appear at live events and trade shows to generate leads from buyers and prospects.
While trade shows and festivals are finite -- events like the Great American Beer Festival and Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America, for example, only run for a limited amount of time -- setting up shop in a permanent location can generate results all year around.
Take Goose Island Beer Company, for example. Although the brewery distributes its beers across the United States and the United Kingdom, locals can visit their tap room in Chicago and knock back a pint, or two. Situated next to the production brewery, the Goose Island Tap Room is open Thursday through Sunday and hosts brewery tours and special events.
Opening a tap room or beer lounge at a production facility can be a great way to generate some extra beer sales. Having a permanent brick-and-mortar location, as opposed to just managing an online presence, also makes sense for companies in other industries. Consumers still prefer brick-and-mortar over digital: only 7 percent of Americans say they exclusively shop online.
Not every craft brewery can penetrate the crowded alcoholic beverages market. Companies without a successful marketing strategy are drowning in their sorrows. That's why more breweries should invest in solid activation strategies that help them engage with their customers. Event sponsorships, unique brand experiences and tap rooms -- these are just three techniques that work. Companies in other industries should also experiment with experiential marketing to drive brand engagement.
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