How Craft Breweries Can Use Technology to Drive Channel Incentive Programs

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By: Nichole Gunn, Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services, Incentive Solutions

In order to stay competitive in today’s distribution channel, craft beer producers must be able to digitally engage their supply chain trading partners and effectively communicate across channels. However, this can seem like a tall order! Between the need for integrated technology, gaps in partner data, and interorganizational goals that might not always be aligned, craft beer producers often struggle to utilize technology to sell through and with their partners.

  When facing these challenges, a channel incentive program might not be the first solution that springs to mind. After all, most people associate incentive programs with rewards rather than considering how that program fits in as part of an effective channel management tech stack. However, today’s channel incentive programs are software-driven, offering craft beer producers a platform to provide connected, omnichannel partner experiences, improve communication, and collect important partner data to inform their sales and marketing strategies.

Creating Engagement Before and After the Reward

  While offering incentive rewards can be an exciting way to differentiate the brand and drum up initial engagement, the real value proposition for craft beer producers occurs in the opportunities for growth and improved communication that the program creates.

  Motivating and facilitating digital engagement is a major focus of today’s channel incentive programs. Depending on their scope, these programs can provide:

●    An integrated digital hub where channel partners can learn more about the brand, while exploring the latest incentive promotions;

●    Automated communication touchpoints, such as email, SMS, push notifications, monthly statements, and website announcements;

●    Custom enrollment forms and survey tools to round out partner profiles and fill in missing gaps in data;

●    A branded mobile app where partners can easily upload sales invoices and other documents in order to earn reward points;

●    Gamification- and education-based platforms to increase engagement and help supply chain trading partners become better representatives of the brand; and

●    Streamlined administrative tools and reporting dashboards that enable craft beer producers to easily manage their programs and monitor success.

  These components help make the brand more accessible to supply chain trading partners, while giving craft beer producers tools to consistently engage partners across digital channels. Better yet, all of these platforms exist in a space where supply chain trading partners have the opportunity to earn rewards. This means that supply chain trading partners will be more likely to engage with the brand interactions they experience through the channel incentive program, whether via email, SMS, apps or other digital platforms

Integrating Incentive Programs with a Website

  Providing a seamless user experience is an integral element of effective digital engagement. Modern channel incentive programs allow craft beer producers to integrate their rewards program with their existing website or partner portal.

  This helps craft beer producers accomplish several goals. First, it drives supply chain trading partners to the website, where they can gain additional exposure to the brand and its product lines. Secondly, creating a single sign-on reduces the need for partners to keep track of additional URLs or login information, making them more likely to engage with the brand. Finally, offering channel partners the ability to redeem for rewards directly from a company website provides positive reinforcement that partners will associate with your brand in the future.

Leveraging Automation for More Efficient Communication

  When it comes to channel partnerships, communication is key. While smaller craft beer producers can be accustomed to operating exclusively with manual processes and analog customer experiences, what happens when it’s time to scale a go-to-market strategy?

  Channel incentive programs give craft beer producers the ability to automate a large portion of their channel marketing. With triggered emails, SMS, push notifications, and website announcements, incentive program software allow craft beer producers to efficiently communicate with members of their channel based on specific parameters. Additionally, if craft beer producers are pressed for time, some incentive companies even provide the option to outsource entire custom, end-to-end incentive marketing campaigns.

Collecting Data to Provide a Connected Customer Experience

  For craft beer producers, a channel incentive program is a valuable opportunity to learn more about the distributor and wholesaler sales reps who make up their channel. Reward-earning opportunities motivate supply chain trading partners to share information that craft beer producers would otherwise struggle to obtain. From firmographic data, to contact information, engagement metrics, and buying habits, craft beer producers can use this data to inform their sales and marketing strategies and further personalize their sales and marketing strategies.

  By integrating this data with their existing CRM or ERP, craft beer producers can maintain a more accurate picture of the buyer experience. For instance, craft beer producers can see which distributor and wholesaler sales reps are engaging with a certain promotion in order to create relevant cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. They can view which accounts (or even regions) need to be nurtured or reengaged. Having this visibility into the sales channel helps craft beer producers anticipate the needs of their supply chain trading partners and allocate their marketing spend more intelligently.

  Additionally, sales claim submission and verification tools make it easier for distributor and wholesaler sales reps to exchange data at the point of sale. Some craft beer producers use this as an opportunity to gain information about customers further down the supply chain in order to glean insight about the retailers and restaurants that sell their beer to end-users. Survey tools allow supply chain trading members to offer feedback, which can be used to further personalize sales and marketing strategies.

Using Gamification to Make Programs More Engaging

  Elements of gamification, such as trivia, leaderboards and spin-to-wins, can be incorporated into incentive program websites to drive more regular engagement in between reward-earning opportunities. These make the programs more interesting for participants, while offering additional tools to shape the behavior of supply chain trading partners. For instance, daily trivia can be utilized to keep channel partners coming back to the website, while assigning limited-time bonus points for selling specific products or completing other CTAs (calls to action) are another great incentive. This makes for a more rewarding channel partner experience – even before partners ever redeem a reward!

  In addition, interactive quizzes and training modules make your supply chain trading partners more knowledgeable and effective representatives of the brand. Sales reps sell what they know and providing sales enablement is a great way to build brand preference with an indirect salesforce. Plus, these educational modules give sales reps the chance to earn rewards, further increasing the value proposition of an incentive program.

Streamlining the Administrative Experience  

In addition to the benefits of incentive program technology for channel sales and marketing, another important consideration for craft beer producers is ease-of-use from an administrative standpoint. How complicated is implementation? What are the time-costs of managing the program? How much flexibility is there for adjusting the program website or setting new promotions? Will there be ongoing strategic support from the incentive company?

  Today, cloud-based, modular incentive software has streamlined the admin experience. Programs can be launched in as little as eight weeks. With easy-to-use administrator dashboards and drag-and-drop editors, sales and marketing managers at craft beer producers can quickly make changes to their program. Plus, custom reports help them monitor their program and measure ROI.

  Additionally, some companies offer teams of incentive specialists to manage the program. According to a 2019 survey of our clients, many of whom are in the beverage manufacturing industry, more than 70 percent spent less than two hours a week performing administrative responsibility for their incentive program.

Sustaining a Competitive Advantage

  In short, a channel incentive program acts as an entire digital ecosystem for partner engagement, an important competitive advantage for craft beer producers who rely on supply chain trading partners in order to go to market. Compared to other industries, the craft beer production industry is still in the early stages of adopting channel incentive strategies, giving those who jump on board soon a major competitive edge. Being among the first to roll out a channel incentive program for distributor and wholesaler sales reps represents a major opportunity to capture mindshare and share-of-wallet.

  However, it’s important for craft beer producers to keep an eye on the future. Technology is evolving at a rapid rate and the craft beer distribution channel is notoriously competitive. When shopping for incentive program providers, make sure to choose one that fully supports their software and has definite outlines for future development. Moreover, look for a provider that offers the ability to quickly enhance and expand a program in response to competition. That way, it’s easier to capitalize on the present opportunity, while planning ahead for the future, and staying one step ahead of industry competitors.

  Nichole Gunn is the VP of Marketing and Creative Services at Incentive Solutions (, an Atlanta-based incentive company that specializes in helping B2B companies improve their channel sales, build customer loyalty, and motivate their employees. Nichole Gunn can be reached at

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