Food Service & Agriculture, Marketing, PR & Advertising, and Retail

Marketing lessons from Grand Rapids' craft beer scene

May 31, 2017
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Marketing is no longer about sending out 600-page product catalogs in the mail, plastering your display ads everywhere you can or giving out fancy cups.

That stuff is for amateurs. Now, it’s about building relationships.

In today’s world, marketing is about spending countless time researching your audience, crafting surveys and focus groups, developing personas and executing strategies to connect with these personas on a personal level (if you’re not doing this, then you should be). This stuff isn’t exciting, nor is it glamorous, but you do it because it helps you deliver messaging, content and experiences that your audience can connect with. In turn, you start to build this fancy thing called “a relationship” with these people.

If you master the art of marketing, you develop ambassadors, and they do the marketing for you. That’s really when you know you’ve made it. This is what you should be aiming for.

Joining the local-beer-connoisseur bandwagon

Currently, there are over 75 breweries in the greater Grand Rapids area. This may seem like a lot of breweries (and a lot of beer), but it works because each brewer is giving the community what they want.

As an industry, these breweries are collectively delivering experiences that local beer connoisseurs can connect with. These experiences result in loyalty towards certain brewers and to the industry. We take this sense of loyalty and convince our friends of the many reasons why they should join the local-beer-connoisseur bandwagon too. This is the power of building relationships to achieve your marketing goals.

Lessons from the Grand Rapids craft beer scene

We’ll continue using Grand Rapids’ massive craft beer scene as an example of positive marketing techniques. Here’s how they (the breweries) do it:

  • The staff: There’s a certain vibe given off by the staff — everyone from the owners to the dishwashers. People enjoy their jobs. They’re proud of the products, and it shows.
  • The atmosphere: The pleasant staff, cool décor and chill music basically guarantee a good experience.
  • The mug clubs: Mug clubs are great, and the half-price beers are only part of the reason. The limited availability and exclusive nature do wonders for building loyalty and for getting us back in the door.
  • The events and entertainment: Knowing full well that their audience is looking for a more engaging experience, they set up yard games, host live music and put on special events.
  • The passion: They’re not in it for the money. They’re in it because they truly enjoy a good beer. That’s something their audiences picks up on and respects.
  • The quality: The beer is seriously good, and the brewers strive for continuous improvement.
  • The community involvement: They’re involved with local organizations, and they’ve created this sub-community within the community itself. The scene has fostered this culture of craft-beer enthusiasts that transcends any individual brewery. The brewers themselves are part of this community too, and they actually like each other. This friendly competition helps to set the tone for their audience.
  • The simplicity: Give us too many choices, and we’ll stress out. Give us a beer menu with a select number of brews and a food menu that’s pretty particular. Make it easy for us. When I walk into a brewery, I know I’m ordering a beer, and I know it’s going to be the one that most closely resembles a brown or an amber. When I walk into a bar, I have to deal with the first-world problem of whether to order a Captain and Coke, Coors light, Bell’s Brown, sauvignon blanc or a shot of honey whiskey. While that was a bit dramatic, you get the point — think like Steve Jobs and minimize our choices

These tactics all contribute to relationship building with target markets. Each pint-sized detail contributes to the overall picture of creating brand loyalty. Local beer connoisseurs respect individual breweries for their dedication to sticking to their brand, no matter how unique it may be. Whether it’s Creston Brewery’s infographic beer menus, Founders Brewing Co.’s Founders Fest, Elk Brewing’s dog-friendly patio or Harmony Hall’s unique murals, these personalized touches are contributing to each brewer’s unique marketing strategy.

How can you apply these concepts to your organization’s strategy to generate brand loyalty?

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