Happy New Year to you your team! At Market Your Craft, we’re thankful for the opportunity to provide a service to the beverage industry and the connections we’ve made as a result. This year we worked on projects in nearly every corner of craft, sharing actionable insights out in step-by-step, playbook form across 22 newsletters/articles. We were asked to speak at 4 conferences, guiding participants through a series of workshops on craft marketing fundamentals. We even leaned into the exploding categories of infused, functional and non-alcoholic beverages. Not surprisingly, the same proven techniques for driving traffic, building engagement and capturing new sales scale to any sized business or market opportunity. If you’re putting these strategies and tactics into practice in your state, prepare to leapfrog past your nearest competitors.
And then there’s COVID-19. Still here in ‘22. Still an X-factor to normal business operations. The industry has done its best to respond with grace, agility and resilience, but that doesn’t keep the lights on. Producers have pivoted from tasting room to take-away; went from being social to social-distancing; and danced between limited indoor capacity and exploding outdoor spaces. COVID cases among team members forced businesses to close, some permanently, unable to support a hesitant, local audience.
Yet there’s reason to look forward and remain optimistic about craft beverage. We’d like to share what we’ve learned firsthand from the industry and client experiences to help you and your team set your own course for conquering 2022.
video is [still] the most engaging
Generally speaking, video still beats static content (photos, text and links). Some brands/industries experience as high as a 12x engagement rate for video over static, especially on Facebook. Drilling down, our clients found photos AND video in Instagram Carousels similarly engaging to photos posted on their own. Not a new concept, Carousels allow for different angles, close-ups and the “magazine effect” of turning pages. In the craft beverage world, this could help tease a new product release or illustrate the steps in production. Actionable Insights: find efficiencies in your content creation process and leverage each of the social channels for their individual strengths: video on Facebook; video and photos on Instagram; and text and links on Twitter. Using a social media management tool like Sprout Social helps teams publish high-performing content specific to each channel while consolidating the tracking and reporting functions.
Average Engagement Rate Per Impression report of all Market Your Craft clients for content posted 1/1/2021-12/31/2021 using Sprout Social. This is calculated by dividing the sum of all a post’s engagements (like, shares, comments, views, etc.) by the number of times a post appears on people’s feed for that social platform.
customers expect [great] options
Remember five years ago when everyone was talking about “Rotation Nation,” or the revolving door of craft beverage at retail? On shelf, local brands were competing with regional and national labels for short windows of time, getting replaced just as quickly as they were added. The concept eventually took hold in the on-premise/restaurants as well. Beer was particularly victim to this, forcing brewers to turn out new styles and variants often on a weekly basis.
Don’t worry, we’re not headed back there in 2022. But the rise of Hard Seltzers and Ready-to-Drink Cocktails at retail have prompted tasting rooms to offer a wider selection of beverages, including Non-Alcoholic options. When someone visits for the first time, they’re expecting to find something they will enjoy drinking, not the default soda or flavored water options.
Actionable Insights: imagine your business replacing every current customer with three new ones. What would it take to draw that kind of traffic? A solid selection of core beverage offerings, executed flawlessly and true-to-style is a great place to start. A couple seasonal or limited release favorites shows you’re still innovating. Then consider a flavored Hard Seltzer and at least one Kombucha and/or Non-Alcoholic option (whether housemade or sourced locally). Extend that same approach to your calendar of events – give customers diverse entertainment options, promoted on a consistent schedule. The result is a mix of engaging content for social, digital and public relations channels to help you stay top of mind in a crowded market.
marketing is different during COVID
At the recognized start of COVID in March, 2020, the team made the conscious decision to turn all our efforts towards helping craft producers weather the pandemic storm. It was unimaginable that we would still be talking about it today, acknowledging the dramatic impact felt by every business, every industry, globally. Craft beverage has innovated new business models in response, then tweaked and evolved in step with ever-changing state and local guidance.
How we talk to drinkers has shifted radically as well, including heightened sensitivity around health and safety topics and the need for storytelling, or what makes your tasting room worth visiting in person. Combined with a renewed focus on racial injustice and a turbulent political environment, we’ve been right in the middle of the perfect storm for a couple years now. Below are the topics of most interest to our readers in 2021:
- How your craft beverage business responds to criticism
- Does having a TV make you a sports bar?
- Do this one thing for more holiday traffic
- Advertising craft beverage without super-sized budgets
- Creating a craft beverage Advent Calendar
Actionable Insights: keep finding creative ways to tell your story during and following COVID. Recognize and respond to customer needs in real time, whether via social media or in-person at the tasting room. Use a content calendar to communicate planned tasting room activity while allowing for real-time posts and updates from your team. If you haven’t already, now is the time to launch a mobile-responsive website (think WordPress or Shopify) and to use public relations to build [free] industry awareness of your efforts to engage your audience.
now is the time for community
After a year of social separation and overall uncertainty in 2020, craft beverage producers found strength and normalcy in collaboration last year. Whether on the production floor or out supporting the local community, team members worked hand-in-hand with peers to promote the spirit of craft and the “rising tide lifts all boats” approach. One area where the feeling of community was strongest was the day-to-day sharing that happened between craft beverage producers. How to respond to changing regulations; tips on outdoor seating; managing positive COVID tests and contact tracing among team members…these and hundreds of others were the topics of countless Zoom chats, texts, forum posts and late-night calls among industry professionals. And we all figured it out together.
Actionable Insights: we want to see more craft beverage professionals share their insights and experiences at-scale. If you haven’t already, consider presenting at a live or virtual industry event during 2022. Too late to register as a speaker? Attend as a participant and engage in discussions around pressing topics of interest to your team. Once you get past any anxiety of being on-camera or speaking in a large group setting, it can be a way to not only give back to the community but to build your authority and visibility among your peer group. Yours will be the brand others want to collaborate with in the future! The team at Market Your Craft thoroughly enjoyed the comradery and connections from our speaking engagements this past year.
sales is pulling away from marketing
Or is it pushing? If you’ve heard the terms “pull” and “push” marketing used to describe how a craft beverage brand engages customers on their pathway to purchase, then you can understand why we’re at a crucial inflection point. A disproportionate amount of time, money and resources has been spent in recent years (even prior to COVID) against pull marketing strategies, or broad awareness efforts to draw drinkers to new products. Remember when we talked earlier about Rotation Nation and the constant struggle to maintain shelf space? That combined with nearly limitless choice have led us here. Think about it: most small-to-mid-sized producers are stuck in the world of tactics (daily social media posts; food truck and trivia night schedules; and the next product release) and not strategies (thoughtful production calendars; increasing foot traffic or local distribution; and caring for/retaining team members). Perhaps the time is right for your business to find the sweet spot between the two extremes.
Actionable Insights: we have always been proponents of using paid advertising to amplify a successful message, sharing your story with a broader audience than would be exposed organically. However, it’s time to swing the pendulum towards strategic push marketing, or connecting with prospects closer to purchase. Problem is, the lines have been blurred during COVID, creating new sales channels and marketplaces at breakneck pace. Target is a traditional “big box” store, serviced by a sales rep. But what about Target’s ecommerce site? And Amazon.com? Where do online delivery platforms like Uber and Drizly fit in? While Business 101 may tell you Marketing and Sales should be working closely together (and ideally, they would), killer sales instinct points to a land-grab in the immediate term, clearly defining boundaries with respect to what are and aren’t marketing channels. And we’re not just speaking to those businesses with larger, dedicated teams on both sides of the field: taking more of a sales focus applies to producers of any size. Once clear lanes are established, it’s time to reconnect with the world outside your four walls, working closely with distributor reps, retailers and end consumers to promote more meaningful connection with the brand. This is where our team will be focusing our efforts this coming year: sharing insights and guidance closer to the point-of-sale.