How does a craft producer measure awareness? Is it impressions? Mentions? Followers? Or daylights, sunsets, midnights and cups of coffee like the Hollywood musical Rent would suggest 😉 However your beverage brand measures awareness, many businesses are feeling pressure to attract new drinkers this summer. But why is this so difficult, and what makes this summer different from others?
Supply chain issues, a highly-contagious Omicron B.5 variant, politics, the looming threat of recession…consumer confidence is at a low right now. Not to mention closures and consolidations in the industry, deep discounting by the big brands at retail and a culture shift pointing to reduced consumption of alcoholic beverages. All issues keeping owners and managers awake at night. And prompting back-office conversations like this one:
Owner: we need more traffic to the tasting room. What can you do about it?
Social Media Manager: we can create more video content and increase our budget for boosting posts to engage new customers.
Public Relations Manager: let’s create a series of marquee events with food and entertainment options and I’ll notify local and regional journalists who will write about it.
Sales Rep: we’ll get our product in more stores with more facings if we offer a dollars-off or other rebate.
Production Team: what about a collaboration with one of our peers or a local business?
Owner: we just don’t have the money for it. Any of it.
Sound familiar? First of all, consider yourself fortunate if each one of those voices is a different, full-time team member, because many craft producers don’t have the luxury of headcount for dedicated Marketing and Sales roles. Whether they officially hold the title or wear a lot of different hats, your team likely cares about the business and wants it to succeed. Rarely is there a deficit of good ideas: more often it’s a lack of resources and willingness to execute.
You will not generate significant traffic and sales gains talking to your existing customers.
We see it with clients everyday – loyalty in craft beverage is the exception rather than the rule. Drinkers have too many options to ONLY spend money with your business. It’s not an insult or a criticism, more just the reality of today’s environment. So, the sooner we collectively come to grips with the idea, the sooner we can focus on those strategies and tactics that will produce tangible traffic and sales increase for your business. Which leads us to suggest a new definition of awareness:
Awareness: the point at which a drinker considers your craft beverage as an option.
This isn’t a sponsored post in a social feed or a billboard along the highway. These are expensive examples of making your brand more recognizable and memorable for drinkers. Not a bad thing, just a little more superficial than we’re after. Our measure of awareness goes a little deeper to the point of connection with a potential customer – one that edges you in front of your peer group towards interest in the sales funnel. Here’s how traditional awareness works: if you were to ask drinkers in your area to list the craft producers near them, would you be on the list? This is called unaided awareness, and businesses historically have surveyed customers in markets where they’re advertising to measure the effectiveness of their spend. Aided awareness, as you might expect, measures how many drinkers recognize your brand when presented to them with others in a list. Consumer packaged goods (CPG) and big alcohol brands have in the past spent millions to generate awareness through ad repetition and far-reaching sponsorships. But competition, new media and a general distrust of advertising (drinkers don’t want to be “marketed to”) have changed how and where brands try to connect with customers. Anheuser-Busch dropping its long-time exclusive sponsorship of the NFL’s Super Bowl is a prime example.
We’re not suggesting that attracting new customers will necessarily break the bank: for example, public relations/press releases cost time, but not money (though time is often more valuable). But if it was easy and free, everyone would be doing it. And we see very few craft producers taking advantage of some of the awareness-building ideas we outline below. Here’s a way to approach the following list to see if these are right for you: does the tactic help you strike a chord, meet a need or engage a new drinker? If the answer is no, you may just need to speak to your existing drinkers differently in order to connect. Otherwise, if you’re not reaching new drinkers using the existing methods, time to try new channels. Consider:
- Partner with local, relevant businesses on social posting around a topic, calling out each other’s @handle. Promote specials and events while celebrating your synergies.
- Ask your best customers to take over the page for a week. Give them parameters for what’s in- and out-of-bounds for your business and ask them to post from their perspective. This is scary by can result in great engagement with existing and new drinkers!
- Conduct employee posting contests, rewarding based on engagements with their posts. Think of a one-time bonus or an extra hourly bump for the month following.
- Train employees on the difference between posting personally and professionally. For those who are actively social on their personal account, it’s important to understand the difference.
- Highlight your favorite customers (with permission): what they drink, part of their story, etc. Once a drinker has connected with you, they’re often an ambassador for your brand outside the tasting room.
On the production floor:
- Organize a day with the Production Team for customers and enthusiasts. This gives people a behind-the-scenes look at how their favorite beverage is made, as well as the personalities responsible.
- Interview major suppliers involved in your business. Not only is this a nod to the process of making beverages – the transparency of which is appreciated by customers – but it shares the spotlight with partners and their audience members.
- Livestream the art and science behind production. You may think it’s the minutia, but hobbyists and enthusiasts alike find a lot of edutainment in a typical production day!
- Donate to a local, reputable charity that aligns with your brand. Not only is the goodwill gesture appreciated, but the relationship could blossom into something bigger, including collaborations, co-sponsored events and building affinity with new drinkers.
From a sales perspective:
- Offer free delivery within a radius of the tasting room. If feasible for your business (and legal in your state), this gives customers the chance to choose local before retail. You win with convenience over price in most cases, while exposing your brand to a new audience.
- Offer local liquor stores posters, bag inserts or other promotional items for your tasting room. You don’t have to be sold in retail to be promoted by friendly, private establishments. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
- Participate early and often in local craft beverage trails and collectives. Your business gets promoted as a local destination in the company of others, and many try to get stamped at every location!
- Volunteer to pour at a professional mixer, community event or apartment social. If local to your tasting room, these events could be an untapped market of drinkers who have yet to be introduced to your business.
Marketing your tasting room:
- Use refer-a-friend tactics to gain fans and followers. Don’t be shy – there’s no shame in asking current customers to help. But make it worth their while: think in terms of BOGOs and other incentives to encourage ambassadorship among the already-converted.
- Sponsor an event, community meeting, enthusiast group or club. For the cost of product (and maybe time if you volunteer to pour), consider the upside of introducing your craft beverage to attendees of a [relevant] gathering of local residents.
- Adopt a river, road or venue – something that aligns with your brand. Often this includes a small investment of money and time, mainly keeping the area free of debris. But it’s one way to show your ongoing commitment to both the community and the environment.
- Show up to marquee community activities in a relevant, albeit tangential way. For example, sponsoring the water stations at a 5k race/walk. Or providing dog biscuits at an adopt-a-pet event if your tasting room is pet-friendly.
- Consider traditional radio, magazine, local tv and newspaper advertising. Probably the most expensive option, it’s still a valuable way to reach both broad and targeted audiences. Consider small tests promoting a specific event, like an anniversary party or special activation.
Non-alcoholic beverages have an expanded set of options with product sampling, delivery, online sale and fulfillment, co-op promotion, collaborations, events and value-added partnerships. Businesses in that space face their own challenges, however, with respect to category as well as brand awareness. Convincing a craft beverage drinker that non-alc offers just as flavorful an option, without the negative effects, is harder than it seems. And while the runway for low- and no-alcohol options is long, it’s still a small percentage of the overall beverage market.