With summer in full swing, what’s the temperature of your event calendar? Is it hot, with engaging activities scheduled every week? Lukewarm with a recurring trivia night and the occasional food truck? Or clammy and cold with barely more than new taproom releases to draw customers in?
What we’re asking is…are your craft beverage events tired?
This past week we supported our non-alcoholic client, Partake Brewing, at a festival organized by one of their leading on-premise accounts in the country. Which just happens to be in our backyard outside Denver, Colorado 😉 Local and national brands were invited to participate in this 3-day celebration of artisan food, crafts and music. Sounds like every other festival sponsorship? Maybe. But from an insider’s perspective, there were three things that made this event special:
- The Sales Rep cared. A lot. He created a 10×20 space for people to sit and relax with friends or try their hand at the Ring Toss game. All while sipping a refreshing non-alc beverage.
- The Event Organizer noticed. We were there early and stayed late. Plus, we were available to help other brands and the event staff execute. The Rep made a huge impression on the account.
- The brand stood out. We didn’t just show up with a tent, table and tablecloth. The activation caused passersby to stop and take notice, building awareness for the brand.
Did we move a lot of cans that weekend? Not really. The weather was awful, drenching festival goers and forcing them indoors (fortunately the account could handle hundreds of people). But the Sales Rep broke free of the traditional 10×10 tent to create an engaging experience, shattering non-alc stereotypes and introducing the brand to new drinkers. Team members (there were 150 staffing the event) spent time at the booth, learning more about the styles and personality of one of their top-selling brands. And the relationship with the buyer was further solidified because we showed up in a big way and were present the entire weekend (side note: if you care enough to sponsor a booth, the least you can do is send your own people to staff it!).
We believe events are some of the most underutilized tools for bringing your brand story and personality to life.
This got the team thinking about what it means to “show up” at an event in the brand-right way – whether hosted or a sponsored activation like this one. Where did the Sales Rep come up with the idea of creating a relaxing area for festival goers to sit and chill? How did that align with the brand personality and intersect with the request for creating something engaging for attendees? And how can your craft beverage business use these learnings to help craft a high-performing event strategy for this summer?
Let’s deconstruct this event to create a blueprint for successful event strategy and promotion. That doesn’t include the operational side of things: budgeting, staffing, execution, etc. We’ll assume this isn’t your first rodeo 🤠 We’re here if you want to get down to basics!
step 1: what type of event is it?
In its “State of the Beverage Alcohol Industry” report, IRi discusses consumer trends, category sales and retailer insights across all areas of beverage. One area of particular interest is how on-premise (bars and restaurants) have yet to fully rebound to pre-pandemic traffic and sales, in addition to being challenged by labor shortages. With consumers increasingly drinking at home, there’s no better way to drive traffic to your business than to host or sponsor an event! If you have the time, team and resources to pull it off, it’s time to get creative about how to engage your customers in-person. Typically, events are going to occur onsite at the tasting room or you’re taking craft beverages offsite to another [licensed] location. Here are examples of each:
- Onsite: weekly/recurring, festival, anniversary, collaboration, charitable event, loyalty/customer appreciation
- Offsite: sampling, industry event, press opportunity, sponsorship
How do you road test the idea before committing to it? Start by asking your current customers informally if your event idea interests them. Bounce it off another craft beverage business to see if they’ve had success with a similar activation in the past. Or perhaps they’d like to participate or collaborate on the idea!
What worked for us: after agreeing to sponsor the 3-day festival at the on-premise account, we had an introductory meeting with the Event Organizer to get the specifics for participation, walk the event space and discuss logistics. From there we brainstormed ideas internally about how to engage festival goers in an interactive and brand-right way. We landed on the idea of creating a space for drinkers to sit and relax, sample our beer or try their luck at our branded Ring Toss games. In a second meeting with the account, the Event Organizer loved the idea and thought it fit perfectly with the other participating beverage, food and craft vendors.
step 2: how is the community involved?
One of the most effective ways to drive traffic to an event is to activate your community around it. Who has a vested interest in the success of your craft beverage business? What connections can you make to add value to the occasion? Are there voices and personalities who could serve as megaphones for your messaging? It’s important to identify upfront the various stakeholders and clarify roles and expectations. Consider the following:
- What role do team members play?
- Is there a charitable/give-back element?
- Will the event nod to the industry, a collaboration or partnership?
- Is it share-worthy (will attendees tell others)?
- Does the event add value to the brand experience (beyond the typical Taproom Tuesday)?
- Is there a new release or rare product opportunity?
- Does it allow fans/new customers to go behind-the-scenes (feed the homebrewer-in-training)?
When you start looking more broadly at your event, it’s easier to see that you’re not just hosting a festival, for example, but an opportunity for the community to gather around you. Then you’re able layer multiple dimensions into the experience for guests, like a donation to a favorite charity or support for local business. Additional stakeholders will also expose you to new audiences, helping drive traffic to the event.
What worked for us: the Event Organizer mobilized nearly 150 team members to support every aspect of the event, from check-in to running ice to sampling product and everything in-between. Local restaurants, artisans and other vendors were invited to participate in the 3-day festival, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the local Humane Society. The experience was certainly share-worthy (when it was dry enough to enjoy) and it took the normal experience for guests to the next level. Solid community involvement on every front!
step 3: how is the event promoted?
Team members may have heart for activating two or more of the above communities in support of your event. And that’s great! Invite participation from your circle as it’s practical and relevant to your business. Once you’ve started generating buzz with your partners it’s time to think about promotion and how much time and money you invest to cast a wider net. How would you spend $500 to build awareness and drive ticket sales/traffic? This forces team members to identify and prioritize marketing tactics to maximize participation. Available tools include:
- Onsite: receipts/POS, posters, coasters, announcements
- Digital: website, events calendar, email newsletter, SMS/Text
- Social: organic, paid/boosted, influencer, co-op, teaser
- Public Relations: press release, industry discount, media assets, interviews, on-site amenities for journalists
- Ecommerce: ticket sales, merchandise, packages/promotions, new products
- Partnership: local chamber of commerce, community groups, retail friendlies
Does every craft beverage producer have to spend $500 to pull off a successful event? Not necessarily. You could spend more or less. The point is look at all the available tools and prioritize where you spend your resources. Remember not all events are created equal: a weekly food truck schedule benefits from organic social posts whereas a marquee event like an anniversary celebration could use a press release, on-site promotion and even community partnerships. Level-up your marketing efforts to help deliver 20% more traffic than is needed to break-even on your investment. And sponsored events may have additional resources and budgets available for the event organizer to help promote participating brands.
What worked for us: the Event Organizer leaned heavily into onsite promotion with posters, digital display and other customer-facing announcements. Tickets were made available via Eventbrite a month prior to the festival. Local, participating vendors amplified those marketing messages with their own customers and channels. Social posts and stories helped generate engagement and interest. Take care to follow the beverage alcohol advertising guidelines to promote sponsorship of the event versus providing a single retailer with something of value (not sure, ask us!).
step 4: what’s your contingency plan?
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Robert Burns, Scottish author and poet, wrote that in 1785 in his famous poem, “To a Mouse.” You may also know Burns for his love of Scotch Whisky (drinkers celebrate Robert Burns Day every January 25) or for the perennial “Auld Lang Syne” at New Years. The point is you can only control the controllables when it comes to your event. And sometimes things are going to go sideways. Here are some of the watch-outs that could throw a wrench into your plans:
- No shows for staffing, entertainment
- Exposure, including not enough beverages to sell/sample
- Incidents involving attendees or overconsumption
- Weather (not much you can do about this one)
- Brand haters who will use the event as a stage for their issues
We of course want our events (and our investments) to execute without issue. Having a contingency plan helps you prepare for the worst and plan for the best. While attendees often give you a pass for those things you can’t control, like the weather, they can be a little less forgiving when it’s something that could have been avoided. Brainstorm your own list of the 20 ways your event could fail, then come up with a solution to each based on likelihood of happening.
What worked for us: the weather definitely didn’t help us ☹ However, the Sales Rep planned ahead by brining two 10×10 tents to completely cover the space. So those braving the weather could sit and relax, play games and drink non-alcoholic beer in our area between raindrops and downpours. The account moved craft vendors’ booths indoors so guests could browse their wares. And live music continued to entertain all three days, with customer tickets being honored indoors.
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