Several months ago, I was intrigued by a post written by Terrapin Beer Company Co-Founder John Cochran. He wrote about the underlying meaning of the incredibly fast sell-out of Great American Beer Festival.

That led to my thinking about the growth of craft beer and the emergence of social media, and the possibility that they are linked. I sent John a few questions, which resulted in a series of emails and a great phone conversation about the topic of social media, marketing, and craft beer.

Below are some excerpts from his post, along with some additional thoughts of my own, based on John’s insight.

Craft Beer and One-to-One Interaction

Pat: Do you feel that craft brewers have evolved with their approach and use of marketing and communication tools?

John: As a group of mostly small business owners, we do not have the funds for traditional marketing. In fact, most brewers will tell you, “We don’t advertise. All of our promoting is one-on-one with the consumer.” Which is exactly why many brewers are using social media – it is a new way of having one-on-one communication – with lots of people at once.

A social media perfect storm. A product that people are passionate about, surrounded by interesting people, telling interesting stories using tools like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Beer + Great Stories + Great People = Pink Unicorns Riding Bicycles Pouring Snifters of IPA.

The power of the one-to-one relationship goes in both directions. It’s not just about brewers telling their stories, it is the interaction between craft brewers and those of us that love to drink their beers. The real-life examples at Great American Beer Festival are further proof of the power of interaction. Here is an open letter to the brewing community during the lead-up to GABF, from Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver.

Fellow Brewers,

“Wow, I can’t believe you’re actually here pouring your beer!” I hear that every year. This week will mark my 21st year judging the Great American Beer Festival. It will also be my 21st year pouring my beer at the GABF. After all this time, I know a few things about brewers and about GABF. Frankly, we go mostly to see each other and to taste each other’s beer. A lot of us see each other maybe twice a year, and that can make it hard to spend hours stuck behind your booth, saying the same thing over and over again. But let me tell you all something. Getting to be a craft brewer, today, at the most exciting time for beer that the world has ever seen, is a true privilege. The people who gave you that privilege are the people who come to GABF. They come to GABF not just for tiny sips of tasty beers – they are there to see YOU. Yes, you. They are there to ask you questions, to tell you, you things, to have their pictures taken with their favorite brewers, maybe even to tell you that you inspired them to get into brewing. When they come to see you, WILL YOU BE THERE?

In my 21 years, I have worked my booth for hours of every single session of GABF. I’m older than most of you, and I’ll be honest – this doesn’t get any easier. At the end of each session, I know that my knees are going to hurt and my voice is going to be shot, and I’m going to be starving. That’s the way it is. It’s once a year, people, for a few hours. It’s time for you to pay back the devotion that’s given you the opportunity to do the very best thing in the world, in the very best place, and at the very best time. SO PLEASE STAND YOUR GROUND AND POUR. I’m not saying that we all have to martyr ourselves. I want dinner too, I want to come by your booth and taste your beer, and I’ll see you later down at Falling Rock. The volunteers are wonderful, but if you walk away from your booth and leave it without a brewer all evening, it’s just plain wrong. So don’t be a wuss. Stand proud behind your beer and do what we came to do. And when your knees start to hurt, remember how damned lucky you are to be here.

Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster
The Brooklyn Brewery

Great American Beer Festival

Great American Beer Festival

Think about the connection created by being handed a beer and talking about how it is made with Garrett Oliver, Sam Calagione, John Cochrane, Scott Pyatt, Ricardo Norgrove or any the hundreds of other brewers at GABF.

The tools exists and are available to you to create this same experience digitally. A simple “thank you” tweet, or an Untappd “toast” and Instagram like or comment can go a long way.

Connecting Craft Beer and Millennials

Pat: Do you think there are any parallels between the growth of craft
beer and social media use?

John: Absolutely. The real growth in both craft beer and in social media seems to be coming from the Y Generation/Millennials.

A quick story to illustrate that point: Last year, on a flight to Denver, I was seated next to a 17 yr old, who upon seeing my Terrapin Beer t-shirt started raving about how much he loved Terrapin. (My first thought was to question whether I should even chat with him; had I somehow landed in an undercover sting operation?) Figuring he must have learned about Terrapin from his parents, I introduced myself to them. They had never heard of us.
This new generation is obviously growing up with social media, and craft beer is their beer of choice. They are not starting out drinking domestic light lagers and then waiting until college graduation and beyond to learn about craft beer the way my generation did. They are starting out with craft beer – and sticking with us.

Such an important point here for brewers to make note of: Unlike many of the brewers and brewery founders, those that have recently come of drinking age, have grown up in a world with widely-available craft beer.

In addition, this age group expects a deepened level of engagement. Simply sending a general Tweet, Facebook or G+ post is just not enough. You have to reach-out, reply and be available.

Using tools like Statigr.am to search Instagram photos by tag is a great way for craft brewers to interact with those that are not just drinking their beer, but think enough of it to post a photo! Holding informal talks using Google Hangouts provides another great opportunity to be accessible to and interact with the folks that enjoy drinking your beer.

Craft Beer Marketing is NOT Big Beer Advertising

Pat: It seems that many craft brewers have eschewed marketing and feel that the beer stands for itself. As we approach the predicted 2700 breweries in 2013, what are your thoughts on the importance of marketing for craft brewers, and digital marketing in particular, moving forward?

John: I don’t think most craft brewers have eschewed marketing. It’s more a case of what the old guard considers “marketing” is not the best way to reach our core audience. Remember, craft beer is still only 5% of the overall beer market. So buying a bill board or running a TV ad are not effective ways to reach the Millennial generation. Hence the connection between craft beer and social media.

John makes another very important point here: It is imperative for craft brewers, and any business, to have a fundamental understanding of the distinction between advertising and marketing.

It is my feeling that for years craft brewers thought of marketing as nothing more than advertising. Something only the BMC did with ridiculous Super Bowl commercials featuring talking frogs, skateboarding dogs, and celebrity endorsements.

Craft brewers knew they didn’t need, or want, that crap. Their beer was quality and spoke for itself.

While this is true, it does not take into account the growing number of craft brewers and the emergence of palate promiscuity.

Brewery Growth

 

Consider the brand loyalty that exists for many old-school beer drinkers. We all know folks that will ONLY drink one particular brand of beer. That thought process still exists in the craft world, however craft drinkers are always wanting to try new and interesting things (thus the explosion of seasonals).

How do they decide what to buy, when standing in front of so many different kinds of great beer? What are their friends drinking on Untappd? What pictures have they seen lately on Instagram? What beer is being talked about on Twitter?

It is important for craft brewers to not only be present in the digital landscape, but to participate and provide those drinking their beers with a reason, and an easy path, to share it with their digital social circles and respond to those that do.

What do you think about craft beer and marketing?