Had an interesting week that’s seen me on me feet three times telling people something about the selling of good beer: on Monday I was asked to do a short speech at the British Guild of Beer Writers Barley Wine seminar. On Wednesday I was asked to present the prizes for packaging and design at the International Beer Challenge, after chairing that part of the judging (the other tables got to drink the beers – we got to look at them!) And on Thursday I was asked to make a short speech and present the overall winner of the SIBA Business Awards.
This all represents a bit of a development for me – I haven’t been asked to present anything before and it was very nice to be asked now.
I thought it was interesting that all three were linked to the marketing and selling of beer – I suppose that’s my strong point, if I have one – and that all three fell in the same week.
At the SIBA awards I said that marketing has long been a dirty word in beer circles. Because global bland brands use a lot of marketing to sell beers that have very little character, marketing itself gets the blame. But what we’re seeing now is lots of brewers starting to engage with it.
On TV, megabrands spunk more in one commercial break than the vast majority of brewers will ever have to spend on marketing in a year. But the world is changing. If you bottle your beer, everyone has the same space on which to create an attractive label. Same with a standard handpull pumpclip. On Twitter and Facebook, everyone from AB-Inbev to that bloke down the road with a one barrel plant in his garage has the same space to play with. The playing field is level in many key respects. And the big brewers will tell you that TV is less effective these days – what you need to do is get in at a grassroots level and work closely with pubs and consumers to give them something they want in a more tightly defined target audience. Smaller brewers are at least as well, positioned, if not better positioned, to do community and grassroots stuff than big brewers are.
But as more people take an interest, the standard is improving. I’m not going to name names, but there were some truly horrible beers submitted to the IBC design and packaging awards – stuff that was meant to look premium and just looked cheap and tacky, and stuff where there had been no thought given whatsoever to how this bottle was meant to persuade someone to pick it up form the shelf. There’s nothing about being a great brewer that means you’re more likely to be a great graphic designer too. And small, independent designers are all over the place, looking for ways to prove themselves and not charging the earth to do it. Getting it done properly is a very worthwhile investment.
And at the SIBA awards, we saw an awful lot of entries where a brewer had created a one-off brew with a special pump clip to help celebrate an event, or to promote awareness of a charity and give a donation from every pint sold. This is sound business practice, solid promotional thinking and proves that small brewers are worthy members of their local communities. But it ain’t award-winning stuff. The winners went further and created big ideas, put marketing and/or entrepreneurialism at the heart of their thinking rather than a bolt-on at the end.
It’s a tough market out there – there’s no reason why any brewer can’t compete on equal terms. But it’s got to be done properly. And more and more brewers are realising that.