At this point your craft beverage brand is facing tough business decisions on how to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to keep customers and employees safe. Some of these decisions are being made for us, such as state-to-state direction on large gatherings and public spaces. Other decisions, like how and when to message visitors about the current pandemic and the impact of “social distancing” on normal tasting room operations, remain a choice for owners and management. Read on for clear guidance on what to communicate via public relations, website and social on COVID-19’s direct impact on your business.
- CDC recommendations for craft beverage
- voluntary tasting room messaging
- business as usual: the new norm
CDC recommendations for craft beverage
Last week Market Your Craft was asked to speak at the License To Steal National Wine Marketing Conference in Pennsylvania. Wineries from across the U.S. gathered for an amazing three days of sharing (and stealing) ideas to help grow business in crowded markets. Since then, dozens of industry events have been cancelled or postponed, including the Craft Brewers Conference, WhiskyFest Chicago and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Convention and Expo. In that same timeframe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised its recommendation to cancel group gatherings from 250 or more to 50, as well as introducing guidelines for social distancing. Businesses large and small are scrambling to make sense of it all, followed by communicating the impact of COVID-19 to customers.
Broader-reaching than a website update and more factual than a social post, a press release gives craft beverage brands a structured way to distribute time-sensitive news quickly to industry publications. Journalists at the local level and beyond use the information in the press release to write an article for their subscribers, helping to cast a wider net for your timely update. We recommend using a press release to notify a select group of media contacts if COVID-19 has forced your business to 1) cancel a major event, 2) furlough or lay-off team members or 3) temporarily shut-down public spaces/tasting rooms or operations completely.
Updates on COVID-19 and resources for your craft beverage brand:
- World Health Organization
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Restaurant Association
- America’s Beer Distributors
- Brewers Association
Many state and regional/AVA associations are providing COVID-19 guidance to their craft wine, spirits or non-alcoholic beverage members.
voluntary tasting room messaging
Perhaps you, too, have been overwhelmed by coronavirus messaging. Worldwide spread and containment efforts. Travel bans and airline response. Sports seasons being delayed or cancelled. Major events postponed. Employment and financial impact. Our inboxes were full last Friday with notifications from brands inside and outside of craft beverage and their response to COVID-19. Over a hundred, in fact. And after reading a handful with the templated introduction, “The safety and well-being of our customers, guests and staff throughout our community remains our top priority,” it’s easy to see how communicating when you don’t have something different to say doesn’t add value to the conversation.
Were these brands just checking the box? Doing what they felt they had to do as a socially-responsible company? Perhaps. We’re not here to be critical of brands that are making very personal, business decisions about COVID-19 in real-time. There’s no playbook. But for tasting rooms that have yet to message around this pandemic, below are some recommendations for moving forward:
Your brand voice can still be used tastefully to communicate a serious message around COVID-19. For example, Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village, NV, on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, had this to say about changes to its normal operations:
It’s especially important to put yourself in your customer’s shoes during this time. Any communication on COVID-19 should add value to their understanding of the topic and empower them to make personal decisions on visiting your tasting room. Consider linking to a page on your website that outlines the extra steps for a safe and healthy customer experience, like this example from Odell Brewing Company. Otherwise, leave COVID-19 out of the conversation and continue to engage your customer as you would normally.
business as usual: the new norm
Regardless of your position on our country’s response to the pandemic, there’s no denying its impact on business operations for weeks and months to come (if not longer). If you’re like many craft beverage brands, you’re going to remain open until the health and safety of guests and employees is in question. Or until you’re asked to voluntarily close taprooms like the governors in at least five states – California, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington – did over the weekend. And customers will respect and appreciate you for that, because the sooner we return to some level of normalcy, the better.
How sensitive should businesses be to normal messaging via social and other channels? The team at Market Your Craft believes that brands can and should continue telling their stories during times like this. Now’s the time to double-down on video and other content to keep the [potentially remote] customer engaged. It’s just a matter of knowing what’s in- and out-of-bounds:
You want to remain consistent with communications during times of uncertainty, encouraging a visit to your tasting room when appropriate. Doing so appropriately will ensure you protect the value of your craft beverage brand while promoting industry goodwill for all. We appreciate the recent efforts of Daniel’s Family Vineyard & Winery to offer part-time employment opportunities, recognizing furloughs and layoffs affecting many Indiana businesses: