5 Valuable Marketing Insights from Craft Beer Writing Conference

This weekend’s Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture conference provided great insights for marketers in the craft beer industry.

The symposium in Lexington, Ky, catered to many audiences at once: aspiring freelancers, bloggers, authors, and brewery marketers. Here are 5 important points marketing writers can take away from the sessions:

1. Digital contact is powerful

“Creating a Community Out of Thin Air” stressed the power of digital contact including blogs, email lists, community forums. Teri Fahrendorf used these tools to share her journey traveling from brewery to brewery, wearing her signature pink boots.

On her trip, she found that several women she met were curious about other women in the industry. Using the digital channels she had built, she began a list of female brewers, dubbing them the Pink Boots Society, which grew into its own organization for professional women in brewing.

The story highlights the power of communication in the digital age. Fahrendorf was able to connect people meaningfully through digital communication to create a cause that extended beyond the trip itself.

2. Listen to your Audience

Even with the tech-savviness of the Pink Boots Society’s movement, its biggest strength was in the idea. Fahrendorf noticed a need in the industry, and sought to fill that gap. Because of that, she gave women brewers a new way to communicate.

Content, similarly, works best when it caters to the audience’s existing needs. If people are already seeking information, it’s easy and helpful to simply provide it than to think up a new concept. And you’ll spend less effort explaining or convincing your audience, because they’re already interested.

3. Balance your focus & style

A session titled “So You Want to be a Beer Writer” from accomplished author Stan Hieronymus discussed a lot about the landscape of publishing for craft beer books. No surprise to content strategists and bloggers: several of the top-selling books focus on some “how to” information.

This is a trend in blogging, too. People want a direct benefit from what they read or consume.

But all of the presenters also expressed the desire to see more great storytelling about beer. People do, of course, love a good story.

Craft writers in marketing should be finding that balance between informing and storytelling, because they serve 2 different functions:

  • “How to” is one way (of many possible) to add value for your readers, and will be the first thing to attract them to your piece.
  • Telling a story appeals to emotion, which maintains attention, and makes the work memorable. As Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, noted succinctly, “beer is people.” His compelling keynote provided ample examples, from cultural analyses to standout stories.

A great craft beer piece should provide both value and human interest to be truly effective.

4. Don’t shy away from negatives

One very interesting point touched on a few times at the conference was being a craft beer advocate, without necessarily providing soft “cheerleader” pieces.

If you’re seeking earned media or guest articles, be conscious of what journalistic outlets are looking for. Julie Johnson provided a look into the long-standing history and values that built All About Beer magazine, very telling of what the publication looks for in an article.

And it’s not one-dimensional praise pieces.

While it might be a marketing writer’s job to promote a brewery, consider these benefits to providing more well-rounded coverage:

  • Novelty: It’s going to get lost in the onslaught of similar content. When a room full of pros tells you they’re tired of these stories, it’s because it’s repetitive and overdone. Stand out.
  • Relatability: Adding complexity is more compelling to the audience, too. Everyone has experienced failure or conflict, so audiences can relate to it.
  • Growth: If you publicly acknowledge your challenges, you can publicly overcome those challenges. (It’s not “spin” if you really do learn and adapt from the experience.) Everybody loves an underdog.

And, back to basics: a foundation of PR is openness. You’re not going to foster real relationships with the media, or consumers, by hiding information. And if you don’t build relationships, you can’t benefit from them.

5. Writing is key to success

To promote any business takes intense dedication, and many, many hats. Like writing. Especially writing.

Almost all of the brewers who spoke said they also do the brewery’s writing.

Examples: Roger Baylor, owner of New Albanian Brewing, is an avid blogger, maintaining the The Potable Curmudgeon and championing his craft brewing values. Jeremy Cowan, owner of Shmaltz Brewing, detailed his active role in promoting the brand. He not only wrote a book about his experiences, Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah, he also writes the news releases and labels for the beers.

Content marketing, news releases, newsletters, amusing or shocking label text, novelty campaigns, blogs, web content— each brewer mentioned several aspects of their promotion where good copy was key.

Just a little copywriting can build the basis for a very diverse and effective marketing strategy.

How can these tips shape (and expand) your marketing plan?