The Power of Persuasion: Why Your Craft Brand Needs Social Media Influencer’s NOW!

By: Chris Mulvaney, President, CMDS Marketing Agency

In the past, reviewers and critics were the ones who determined what foods you wanted to eat and what movies you liked to watch. Then, when you turned on the TV, you would see a product-endorsing celebrity tell you what you wanted to buy.

  Now, not so much. You still have celebrity endorsements, sure, but you are much more likely to see them on social media than on prime time. With online technology far surpassing any printed newspaper, tv commercial or critic comes the birth of a new legion of opinion-swayers  – the social media influencer.  And, when it comes to craft beverages, there is no better place to be for brand promotion than having your product in one of their hands – and selfies – on social media.

  This new breed of influencer is not necessarily a celebrity. In fact, most aren’t. They are bloggers, cell phone photographers, Yelp reviewers. All someone needs is an online platform to post. Take that platform, add a determination for a large following, sprinkle in an enigmatic personality and the right “look” and viola! The new ”influencer” can take a brand like yours to an insane level of success.

  This proven method is exactly why the craft beverage industry is utilizing the social media influencer to further their reach and skyrocket their sales. On the internet’s various platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, lives a world of craft beer influencers, liquor afficianos and self-promoting humans commanding attention in the space.

  Whether they are self-proclaimed writers, brewers, distillery fans, liquor conoissors, beer sommeliers, beer-tenders, models, advocates, happy hour fans, or just plain-old well-respected craft beverage lovers, they are, in short, people we deem influential in this world.

  And, as of December 2020, there were 2.3 billion of them on Instagram.

  By strategic use of tagging, sharing links, posting photos of what and where they are drinking, sharing videos, stories and reels of new releases, encapsulating the crowd ambiance and engaging your audience with filtered selfies – they will make sure your product gets the ultimate endorsement advantage in hand and puts your online following on speed-dial.

So Why Are Influencers So Important?

  Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram were built with connection and humanity as its purpose and are primarily meant for person to person relations.

  And, those people will typically buy for two reasons:

1. Recommendations from someone they trust, and

2. Price.

  Influencers have an established credibility and can persuade others by virtue of their trustworthiness and authenticity. Your brand’s target influencers are users that employ your brand hashtag and who have the largest number of followers. What they like, buy, share and post will sway their followers to do the same.

  Influencers can be useful in three main ways for craft beverage businesses:

●   They can create content

●   Their audience can associate themselves with them, and

●   They can provide exponential revenue growth.

  In addition, this past year alone shows the skyrocketing success of the craft beverage hashtag. The following hashtags were used over and over by influencers all over Instagram:

●   #craftbeer: $29million

●   #cocktails: $28.9 million

●   #supportlocal: $26.6 million

  Influencers are also a great way to achieve a great engagement rate for your brand.

  As of July 2020, 35% of online adults in the US used Instagram. The average engagement rate of a video post on Instagram was 1.45 percent, which is considered a good engagement rate. Additionally, image posts on the photo-sharing social site had an average engagement rate of 1.74 percent. Carousel posts (multiple photos on one post in succession) had a higher average engagement rate than single slide posts.

How to Choose An Influencer that is a Good Fit for Your Business:

  Before hiring an influencer, it is very important to make sure that they fit in with your business model and ethical strategy.

Ask yourself these questions:

●   Are They a Natural Fit for Your Products or Services?

●   Does Their Performance Data Align with Your Campaign Goals?

●   How Engaged is Their Community?

●   Do They Align with Your Budget?

●   How Are They Working with Brands Already?

●   How Do They Disclose Sponsored Posts?

  Keep in mind, an influencer can become synonymous with your brand, so if it doesn’t feel like quite the right fit, always err on the side of caution.

Micro vs. Macro Influencer’s

  Here is where a marketing agency can be of huge assistance. Once you decide to use an influencer for your brand, then you have to decide what type of influencer will work best.

  Surprisingly, the most successful influencers are not always obvious celebrities. In fact, in a report by mediakix listing the 30 most influential influencers in 2021, an Instagram personality by the name of Mr. Pokee (@mr.pokee) made it to #18. Why is this newsworthy? Mr. Pokee, with over 1.3 million followers to date and whose page is run by Litha Girnus, is a world-traveling … hedgehog.

  So, it’s best to use the focus of your brand and test that out with various influencers because you never know what will hit best with your audience.

You also have to decide whether or not to use a “micro” or “macro” influencer.

  Micro influencers cost about $1,000 for a one-feed post, two IG stories and an audience reach of 50K-100k.  A Macro influencer costs an average of $50K with an average audience reach of 500K to one million. After doing math, the micro-influencer in many cases makes more sense. However, performing your own metrics or having a qualified marketing agency do this on your behalf will assist with what type is better for your business, brand, size and goals. 

  Marketing agencies can also help with locating the influencers using sites like, or, and taking on the evaluation and decision-making process on your behalf.

The “Taste-Test”

  Testing out various influencers is the best way to see which one is most effective for your brand. It is always best to have around five to start with.

A great process for you to use is the following:

●   Find one influencer for each focus in your brand strategy, run them, and test to see what is most effective.

●   Use unique UTM tags for each influencer

●   Offer to pay to advertise the post to their lookalike audiences (this can only benefit your brand so is a win-win)

●   Have them post on the weekends when engagement will most likely be higher

●   Identify winners, then put money into the influencers that are bringing returns.

●   Share metrics with influencer and work with influencer to optimize videos, etc.

  An additional option is to let the influencer in on a revenue share, in which they provide more content but you pay the ad spend.

The Law

  Once you find an influencer who meets all of your criteria, you must be aware of the laws governing their posts.

  In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission published its Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising and followed by a 2015 FTC Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertising. These regulations state that consumers must be aware that the influencer is compensated by a marketer and that an influencer does not hide any connection with the brand or marketer.

  FTC guidelines also state that an influencer’s sponsored posts (even on their own website or under their own social media account) must be considered advertisements as well as noting a “material connection” between the influencer and the brand.

  Recently, the FTC has also taken an interest in controlling influencer-based marketing. Any Influencer must be aware of four points the Federal Trade Commission issued in its “Updated Guidance”:

1.  Clearly disclose when you have a financial or family relationship with the brand.

2.  Don’t assume that using a platform’s disclosu tool is sufficient.

3.  Avoid ambiguous disclosures like #thanks, #collab, #sp, #spon or #ambassador.

4.  Don’t rely on a disclosure placed after a CLICK MORE link or in another easy-to-miss location.

  The FTC has also given guidance to brands who use influencers. In a 2017 Consent Order, the FTC required a brand to:

1.  Provide influencers with a clear statement of his/her responsibility to make clear disclosures of material connections to the brand.

2.  Establish and maintain a system to monitor and review influencers.

3.  Terminate influencers who don’t comply.

  Being aware of these regulations will save you and your business from any potential (and hefty!) lawsuits in the long run.

The Last Gulp

To Recap: In simple terms, influencers provide:

•    Content creation

•    Brand elevation/Product validation

•    Revenue Growth

In turn, your craft beverage brand can use that for:

•   Paid social content

•   Organic content

•   Amplification/association

  In order to be successful in your craft business, you need social media. It’s the absolute best way to grow your brand, engage with your customers and achieve tremendous sales growth. And, using an influencer is critical to this business strategy and can help you reach an insane amount of success.

  Finding the perfect influencer partner for your brand can take some time, but with careful consideration and a strong strategy, you can avoid having any big setbacks that can cost you money or put your reputation at risk.

  And, allowing your customers to associate a trusted influencer with your brand, in addition to having all of the above factors work together on social media, will increase your craft beverage sales exponentially. And that’s a notion that goes down real smooth.

What’s In a Name?

The Craft Beer Industry’s Obsession with Styles

By: Erik Myers

When Kevin Davey, the brewer at Wayfinder Brewing Company in Portland, OR spoke on record about what his new style of “Cold IPA” meant from a process and ingredients standpoint, the craft beer industry erupted with contention. Soon, like Brut IPA before it, it was the buzz of online brewer forums. Some brewers were eager to make their own version, some ranted in angry indignation about a new sullying of a classic style, already much maligned.

  If you’re unfamiliar with the “style”, I’ll catch you up now. A Cold IPA is made with lager yeast and fermented at around 65F – much like a Steam Beer. It is dry-hopped during active fermentation to take advantage of yeast’s ability to biotransform hop oils. One could almost consider it a cross between an Italian Pilsner and a Hazy IPA. Almost.

  Somewhere on the Internet, the debate still rages. If it’s made with lager yeast, how can you possibly call it an IPA? After all A stands for “Ale.” And if you’re fermenting with lager yeast at a warm temperature, doesn’t that stylistically make it a California Common? If you’re hopping during active fermentation, it’ll certainly pick up some haze. Does that make it New England Style? We may never know.

  It’s not an unfamiliar debate. A decade or more ago, beer industry veterans will remember a similar debate around Black IPA. How could you possibly call it an IPA? After all the P stands for “Pale.” We’ve had Brown IPAs, Red IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Brut IPAs, Session IPAs, Hazy IPAs, Juicy IPAs, and even IPLs. “India” is one of the most over-used meaningless words found in beer styles, yet the industry is happy to pedantically argue about every word that happens to land anywhere near it.

  The industry is both obsessed with style classifications and their definitions and crippled by its hyper-focus on them. At the largest beer competitions in the world – The Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup – beers are judged as “best” by how closely they adhere to style guidelines written and maintained by the all-holy gatekeepers of beer, the Brewers Association. The US-based organization essentially functions as the worldwide arbiter of what makes a beer “authentic”.

  Here’s the problem. Brewing “to style” is not a measure of quality, and customers would rarely recognize it if it were.

  The arcane and specific definition of beer styles emerged at around the same time as the country’s first craft breweries with the 1985 founding of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) by Pat Baker of the Home and Beer Trade Association along with support from the author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, and veritable Godfather of Craft Beer, Charlie Papazian. From its originators, it seems quite clear that the purpose of defining beer styles was to further interest in homebrewing.

  Using styles as an educational tool created a common language for homebrewers to learn how beer differed around the world. It created a framework for writing about historic origins and context. It gave homebrewers a language for their dreams of recreating that beer they had when they were traveling right in their own kitchen. It gave them the ability to share recipes with other homebrewing enthusiasts in a shorthand that they could all recognize, to save the countless hours that would otherwise be needed to explain over and again the nuanced differences between an American Brown Ale and a Robust Porter.

  The vast majority of the craft breweries in this country were built by homebrewers which amplifies these definitions on a commercial level and gives them an outsized importance, particularly to the people within the industry itself.

  According to the Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), there are 5 classifications allowed on a label: beer, ale, lager, porter, and stout. Well-style-versed brewers scoff at this list for the same reason that they roll their eyes at Cold IPA. Porter and stout are both ales, and both ales and lagers are beers. It’s not so much a list of styles as it is a Venn diagram.

  By contrast, the 2020 GABF Style Guidelines listed 91 different styles, with 127 subcategories. The style guideline document itself I     s 61 pages long and is updated every year. Somehow, though, brewers still think that when they put the words “Czech Pilsener” on the can, that their customers can accurately determine that, of course this isn’t a “German Pilsener” and obviously it’s not an “American Pilsener” or an “International Pilsener.”

  Styles are great tools. They’re good communicators. In a short description, they can communicate to the drinker exactly what they should be able to expect inside the package, assuming, that is, that they know what the words in that description are referring to.

  Unfortunately, craft beer consumers don’t have this level of education. Their knowledge of beer styles has been imparted to them through one reality television show hosted by the irreverent Scottish founders of Brew Dog and another focused on the weird antics of the country’s “extreme” brewery, Dogfish Head. They’ve learned styles from airport menus and that one brewery tour they went on a few years back when they got a Groupon, and they’re pretty sure they learned something at that beer festival that they went to on their birthday when they tried to have one of every single beer there and passed out in the parking lot.

  The fact is that styles are industry jargon. They are not marketing materials, or a meaningful form of communication to customers. They don’t really describe what’s inside a glass, so much as they describe what’s inside a recipe. Every brewer in the country has a story about a customer walking into their bar, looking blankly at the list of beers and asking, “Do you have any ales or lagers?” That’s because the meaningful differences between an ale vs. a lager can be summed up by describing what a beer tastes like, rather than referencing the species of the fungus that digested the barley sugar.

  Sure, because of the growing popularity of the industry, some of those terms have made it into modern beer-drinking vernacular, but only on a limited basis. In fact, the reason IPA has worked so well as a moniker for craft beer is that it is short, easy to remember, and is attached to a bold flavor profile. Consider, though, that the term IPA has been on a centuries long journey. What currently constitutes an IPA today would be completely unrecognizable to the people who originally made them. Consider, too, that many customers do not know that IPA is an acronym. Nor do they associate it with a particular color or the species of yeast, and they would be hard pressed to tell you why the word “India” is involved at all. It probably involves boats.

  Calling Davey’s iteration of a style a “Cold IPA” is fine, even though it’s not really cold, nor an ale, nor Indian, because it’s created a term in which industry members can communicate the techniques he’s using in order to iterate upon the idea at another brewery. Like the homebrewers that created this classification system, he’s using familiar points of the naming system to communicate to others how they should take a stab at their own version of this creation – and that, ultimately, is the soul of what the craft brewing industry is about – and what will insure it moves on into the future: experimentation, innovation, and creativity, and then, iteration. Style guidelines are merely the framework with which that is communicated, and nothing more. They are not a holy book of information and to most of the rest of the world, the words used within them are largely meaningless.

  Style guidelines are excellent tools for internal communication. They’re great for recipe development. They’re even okay when used to classify beer for competition. But that’s where they stop being useful. When you’re selling beer in packaging or across a bar, it’s important to meet people where they are. Communicate with your customers in their vernacular, not your jargon.

Mixology Mishaps:

How To Turn Negative Online Reviews into Successful Sales

By: Chris Mulvaney, President (CMDS)

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never …hurt us? Wait, never mind.  In the craft beverage industry, words can do damage, especially online where your reputation is always one Google search away.

  Facebook, Yelp, and Google are the three most-trusted review sources for local searches.  Reviews on these sites matter.  The way that your business treats a negative review can tell your customers a lot about you.  So, if you do happen to receive one, you need to act fast.

And while you are no doubt used to handling the difficult customer in person, social review channels are open for all to see, and negative comments can reflect poorly on your craft brand and, ultimately, cost you sales — right?  Well, yes and no.

  Yes, if you don’t manage your negative comments properly, then it could be bad news for your revenue stream. However, there are ways to offset negative reviews. And, if you respond the right way, you can turn those negative comments around and avoid having a damaging social media mishap.

  In fact, you can leverage them to actually improve your conversion rates, “boost” your sales, and ultimately create success for your craft beverage brand.

Create a Game Plan

  Before you take any action on a review, you should always have a game plan in place. That way, your social media presence remains consistent across all review platforms.

  Look at it this way: think of each negative review as an opportunity to show your customers that you care.

  Here are some game plan directives to put into place:

1.  Don’t Ignore Them or Be Defensive:  Hearing someone criticize your business hurts. It can be tempting to close your browser every time you read a bad review, or, even worse, to respond with a cutting retort, but burying your head in the sand or exhibiting online “road rage” isn’t going to solve anything. Instead, come up with the right response. Address them by name. Humanizing your approach will demonstrate your brand ethics. Make sure that you remain genuine. Don’t answer with an auto-reply. Take the time to actually investigate each issue. Don’t debate the validity of their statements, argue, or respond in an aggressive or combative way, even if you don’t agree. Arguing with a dissatisfied client online makes their original complaint seem more valid, and worse, it never makes you look good.

       Instead, thank the reviewer for their feedback and offer a sincere apology for their experience. You don’t have to take responsibility, but do show empathy.

2.  Respond as Quickly as Possible: It is vital to respond to negative comments as quickly as you can.  Doing this will give you a better chance to salvage those bad reviews. Each minute matters on social media because everyone has real-time access to it.

       To help you manage your social media responses in a timely manner, it’s best to hire an agency. They can assist with implementing tools so you are alerted in real-time whenever you receive a comment on one of your channels. You can quickly resolve any issues and prevent significant customer loss.

3.  Really Make the Effort to Solve the Problem: Making something right will also show potential customers that you are completely committed to ensuring satisfaction.

       In addition, many reviewers will go back and post their experience if it turns into a positive one, and every positive review takes the sting out of a negative one. Highlight these experiences so customers see that you care about the outcome.

4. Keep it Real:  An imperfect, but pretty strong rating appears much more believable to customers than having a perfect record. Unblemished reviews can look “fake” and more untrustworthy than their blemished counterparts. In a nutshell, negative reviews provide some honest feedback on your craft beverage product or service and can mix in nicely with the positive commentary.

Leverage Other Business’s Negative Experiences

  As the saying goes, a person who learns from other people’s mistakes is a wise person. And leveraging other people’s negative experiences can offer many benefits.

  Learning from others by doing your research helps you avoid the same obstacles.

  For instance, here are some top online customer complaints about various craft beverage establishments swirling around social media right now:

●    Place not open as advertised/Website not updated/Hours not listed.

●    Want a bigger pour for the price.

●    Employees are rude/non-compliant with safety.

●    Tour was longer than it stated.

●    Not clear about rules (kids, food, etc).

●    Not enough offerings/limited selection.

●    No Flight Layout (for breweries).

  All of these comments boil down to the same two issues: Online presence and customer communication.

  You know what takes to manage your business and your inventory. And, with the popularity of craft beverage businesses, there is a steady stream of new customers. Some patrons, used to a different type of establishment, or ones who are simply impatient when it comes to being served at a busy place, offer a different level of frustration.

  To counteract this, make sure you take notice of negative reviews from similar businesses to limit having the same thing happen to you.

  Here are some counter-acting responses to the above examples:

●   Always keep your website and hours of operation updated. Do you require reservations or are you first come, first serve? Do your hours change with the seasons? Close for private parties? Planning these updates in advance and keeping your business information up to date ensures you do not get disgruntled customers who are more likely to chalk up their “bad” experience through a negative review.

●   Be CLEAR with your pricing, online and in person. Be transparent about promotions and their start/end dates. State whether sales tax is or is not included. Be open about the size of your pour. Being transparent can avoid any unwelcome surprises.

●   Train your employees in the art of customer service. While you know there will be times when it will get busy and your staff may get pulled in different directions, the customer should always be treated in kind.  Consider security cameras to give peace of mind to both the customer and the staff so that any situation can have an objective eye.

●   Be aware of the most up-to-date safety and cleanliness measures. Make sure your business adheres to them to keep everyone as safe as possible all round.

●   If you provide tours, state when your tours begin and finish. If they can be more lax, state that too. Make sure this is stated online and in person.

●   Let your customer be prepared before they come to your business on what your rules are by posting them and in your place of business. Do you have a food menu or do you use a trusted vendor? Are kids allowed? Is there an “Adults-Only” area? Tasting rules? Your menu and offerings should be clearly stated online and in person. Make sure to keep this updated. Are you a brewery with a flight menu? Let them know either way. Some things cannot be avoided (such as running out of a flavor or not being able to offer growlers) … try to keep up on this as much as possible. Mention it on social or display it on a board at your business.

  You will always have to take the good with the bad, but the more you know, the more you can prepare for.

  It’s True: Those Bad reviews Can Actually Improve Your Sales. Believe it or not, bad reviews have the power to improve your sales and conversion rates, too.

  As previously mentioned, if your business gets only positive reviews, consumers might question whether those reviews are legitimate.

  Since nobody is perfect, having a healthy mix of both positive and negative reviews will help customers view your business as more trustworthy. Most customers actually expect negative reviews on your site, and if they don’t see them, they think your reviews are fabricated.

  And, when there are negative reviews mixed in with the positive ones, that reduced skepticism will add to your brand’s authenticity.

  For that reason, it’s important not to delete your negative comments on your social channels because they can actually work in your favor by making the positive comments that much more credible.

The Last Gulp

To recap:

●   Create a uniformed GAMEPLAN.

●   Use other competitors’ negative review experiences to improve your brand strategy.

●   Leverage negative comments to drive beverage sales and conversion rates.

  That’s why it’s important to hire the right agency to manage your online presence with these initiatives and more. Doing so ensures that you uphold a valuable asset – your business’s reputation, without taking away from your valuable time.

  All in all, your social media strategy in how you respond to negative comments can flip the unsatisfactory customer experience on its head, turning them into positive sentiments and increased sales, resulting in the happy sound of clinking glasses.

  Chris Mulvaney is a business developer, entrepreneur, and an award-winning creative marketing strategist. His extensive professional background includes working with some of the world’s leading brands – and personally helping clients refine their corporate vision and generate the kind of eye-popping results that too many companies only dream about. Visit…

2021 Beverage Trends

By: Tracey L. Kelley

No producer wants to feel like their business is simply dictated by trends and not backed by individual vision and a solid plan. However, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s to be strategic, targeted and, most of all, flexible.

  To understand what consumers want in 2021 and beyond, Beverage Master Magazine gathered some trend data and talked with Holly McHugh, marketing associate for Imbibe, a beverage development company focused on the formulation, customization and commercialization of cutting-edge beverage products that provide a “bolt-on R&D function” for companies without R&D or that need to expand in this area.

So—What’s New?

  Taking stock of the past year and establishing aspects of revision is still a personal and professional journey. Still, maybe some of these indicators will resonate as either extensions of current practices or sparks of innovation.

People are Eager for To-go and Online Options

  “The pandemic changed the way we shop, socialize, entertain and more,” McHugh said. “This created a need for CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands to offer products that provide an escape from the mundane but can be enjoyed at home.”

  In December 2020, Forbes reported that “total eCommerce penetration experienced 10 years of growth March through May 2020.” It cited research from IWSR that stressed “online sales of alcohol in the U.S. alone are expected to grow by more than 80%” in 2021. The IWSR analysis indicated that “beverage alcohol eCommerce value grew by 42% in 2020,” and the forecast is that the U.S. will overtake China “as the world’s largest beverage alcohol e-Commerce market by the end of 2021.”

  Quite simply, customers are fond of the convenience and expanse of options online ordering provides. In major and secondary market areas, consumers use platforms like Drizly to browse various selections and receive their purchases within 60 minutes. Many local producers also have access to DoorDash and other delivery services, regulations permitting. “Ghost bars” — extensions of virtual or cloud bars or restaurants often accessed only through third-party delivery services — also saw an increase in consumer interest as producers found new ways to lower overhead but expand product offerings and brand awareness.

  Do-it-yourself kits, mixology classes, premium bar selections, unusual or over-the-top experimental selections and other experienced-based offerings continue to drive consumer interest in 2021. They also still desire personal connections with makers.

Non-standard Products Continue to Rise

  Hard seltzer, cider, tea, kombucha and beer tap into consumers’ desire to balance healthy libations with beverage-driven exploration.

  For example, pandemic purchases of hard seltzer, in particular, rose significantly in 2020, moving beyond previous limitations of seasonality, and there’s no stopping point yet. Nielsen reported that “Hard seltzer-correlated ready-to-drink cocktails drove $120 million in U.S. off-premise sales in the 52-week period ending June 2020, while growing at a 127% rate compared with the previous year.” That growth, Nielsen states, “opened the doors to an even broader array of new and bolder flavor options accompanying the base liquid, and it’s allowing manufacturers to expand the limits of what ‘hard seltzer’ means.”

  Zero-proof spirits, especially those enhanced with adaptogens – herbal substances that promote wellness – botanicals and CBD also have growth potential.

  As regulations shift, CBD- and even THC-infused products are positioned for a meteoric rise, according to a 2020 report by Grant View Research. “The global cannabis beverages market size is expected to reach USD 2.8 Billion by 2025 at a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 17.8 percent.” While some consumers might opt for THC’s “therapeutic effects along with the euphoria it provides,” Grant View Research indicated, people consider CBD products differently.

  “Lack of psychoactive effect in the CBD drinks is widening its scope for usage of the drinks in medical purposes. Many consumers are considering CBD drinks as a wellness and anti-inflammatory products, such as kombucha, a probiotic drink. This drink can potentially be used for treating chronic pain, anxiety, substance use disorders and central nervous system diseases. These factors are expected to boost the adoption of the product, resulting in the growth of the segment,” the report outlined.

Health is Front and Center

  “Since the onset of the pandemic, improving physical and mental health has become a top priority for consumers,” McHugh said. Imbibe’s trendspotting indicated a sharp uptick in non-alcoholic wellness beverages and other forms of “permissible indulgence.” While this doesn’t seem to align with alcohol initially, it presents opportunities to consider communications and branding that acknowledge aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

  Spirit-forward classics, which celebrated resurgence in 2020, aren’t slowing down in the new year and might provide another way to acknowledge the balance of responsible consumption that focuses on taste and experience.

  Combating stress with beverages, otherwise known as mood boosters, that allow for clarity, relaxation and sleep is another trend for 2021, similarly to non-traditional offerings.

There’s a Greater Awareness of Ethical Practices and Cultural Appropriation

  In addition to a greater interest in immunity and mood-boosting beverages, McHugh said there’s an increased demand for global products and flavors — with a caveat.

  While culinary tourism is at a high, panelists at Bar Convent Brooklyn last fall stressed that consumers would continue to share dollars and social media influence with businesses that are more progressive when addressing workplace inequalities, sexism, racism and other societal concerns. They want inclusion and diversity, but from the originators. For example, tiki bars are replaced with nautical or tropical themes; an introduction to popular new tequila includes cultural history from someone in the Latinx community; and a closer examination of whether the producers’ table includes people of color and women, especially when it involves other rising spirit trends such as sake, soju, South American spirits and Japanese whiskey.

Value and Safety Still Prevail

  While this really isn’t a surprise, it’s simply a reminder that we can’t move into what was once normal just yet.

  “Economic uncertainty created demand for value, which we anticipate will be evident through increased sales in multi-use and multi-pack products and private label innovation,” McHugh said. “Safety is something we always think about in the industry in the sense that we don’t want to sell a product that could be dangerous to the consumer, but concern about safety has been heightened by the pandemic. Consumers are purchasing groceries online now more than ever, paying closer attention to product packaging and checking what safety precautions food service establishments are taking before eating out or ordering in.”

Brewing Social Media Success:

How to Use the ‘Gram to Maximize Your Craft Beverage Brand  

By: Chris Mulvaney, President (CMDS)

What three things do Tito’s, Blue Chair Bay Rum and Trillium Brewing Company have in common?  All three have mastered the ‘gram game and have boosted their brand success by putting out a consistent cross-formula of brand content, brand awareness and maximizing audience engagement across the ever-growing social media platform.

  Whether you are a craft brewer, startup spirit producer or global drinks company, your social media presence should be at the top of your priority list. But how exactly can crafters use Instagram to grow their business?

  Instagram is a visually appealing social media platform. In recent years, it has started to dominate Facebook in that it is not as overcrowded and expensive. The beauty of Instagram is that brands can still establish an organic relationship with their followers and can develop brand personas, becoming known for a certain tone, content and style. They can build their brand immensely just by being an active user. Also, the influencer market has never been so powerful for brand awareness.

Instagram Strategy

  Once you get a grasp of the platform, then you must define your social media strategy to gain the right followers and maximize engagement.

   This should include:

•   Increasing brand awareness.

•   Driving website traffic.

•   Increasing website engagement to generate leads and drive sales.

•   Increasing customer retention, engagement, and followers.

  How can a brand stand out in an increasingly competitive market?

•   Quality products, first and foremost.

•   Great marketing.

  After that, tell your brand story through photos, partnerships, video and human interaction. Think about what separates your product from others in the market. This isn’t something that’s achieved by one post, but over time, and means connecting your product to something much wider than the drink itself.

  For example, Mexican brand, Corona, understands the appeal of their beverage isn’t just the beer itself. A Corona and lime brings to mind vacations, beaches, relaxation and sun.

  They’ve fully embraced this as their brand, tying the image of plunging a fresh lime into a cold Corona to diving headfirst into the waters of a clear blue ocean.

Organic Media vs. Paid Media

  In the past, the goal of most marketers on Instagram tended towards growing a big following, then continuously publishing content that’s relevant to their brand and audience. One important point to realize, however, is that just because you have 1000 followers doesn’t mean every time you post all 1000 of them will see that post.

  In fact, the reality is a much smaller percentage of them will ever see your post and that’s where the term “organic reach” comes in.


  One of the most important things to understand about social media marketing is that the way companies can succeed on social media will be entirely dependent on whether they can create an organic experience for users.

  Organic reach determines how many of your followers will see your post without you paying.

This concept of organic reach is prevalent on Instagram since the algorithms used to determine who will see your content at any given time are based primarily on engagement.

  Tips to Get More Organic Reach:

•    Feed your audience with more value.

•    Upload at least two posts a day.

•    Make use of all the features (posts, stories, comments, hashtags).

•    Use attention-grabbing headlines.

•    Use paid sites like Sprout Social to understand the industry atmosphere and create an ongoing dialogue with your audience.

Paid Distribution

  Due to changes in organic reach over the years, companies have been forced to rethink their social media strategies, and in many cases begin exploring other avenues to reach their users on social media, specifically through paid distribution.

  Utilizing paid channels has a number of benefits because it can target users based on demographic information, behavior and interests. Because of this, marketers are able to drill down to specific audiences.

Seven Steps to Success

  Gaining followers and engagement isn’t about simply posting once a week and hoping for the best. In fact, a successful strategy on Instagram should include concrete goals, an ongoing content calendar, a scientific approach to who you’re trying to reach and how many people you expect to interact with.

  The following are seven important steps to grow your brand on Instagram.

1.  Be consistent:   It’s important to define a core strategy for your brand. It should be consistent across all channels and the narrative should be easy to follow. You’ll need to balance product content, campaign content and brand content to be most effective.

       How to maximize consistency on the Instagram platform:

•   Post stories often.

•   Like and comment on posts.

•   Run a contest.

•   Post engaging captions.

•   Offer free advice or information.

•   Post during active hours.

•   Use Instagram ads (paid distribution).

•   Have a strong visual brand strategy.

2.  Use clever alcohol hashtags:  Using clever alcohol-related hashtags can help get your brand trending online or inspire a sense of community with your customers.

        Studies have shown the optimal number of hashtags to use in Instagram consistently is seven. However, even more important is to define your hashtags, include them on packaging and don’t change them too often to make sure fans can refer to you easily.

3.  Use Influencers:   The influencer market has never been so powerful. There are hiring sites for influencers that will allow you to enhance your brand and vision through them. It’s a great way to promote engagement because it boosts brand awareness fast and increases your potential to go viral.

4.  Keep the “social” in social media:  A great way to inspire your fans is to use social media to inspire real world engagement. Your brand will get the most out of social media by catering to the interactive experience. It’s important to be part of the conversation around social events which will resonate with your market – both in terms of pre-planned campaigns and via reactive content.

       Just having a social media account is not enough. Successful brewing and spirit brands actively encourage their fans to engage with their accounts. Many have received some serious engagement by re-posting user generated photos.

       Whether you’re sponsoring a national event, or you can be reactive in a more local way, providing up-to-date content and being part of the conversation will help to keep your brand relevant.

5.  Offer a Backstage Pass:  Take your followers behind the scenes. Let your audience peek behind the curtain and see how their favorite drinks are made. Post photos of the start-up days, of the staff living life and having real experiences.

6.  Connect to a Cause:  Just as social media users don’t only care about likes and clicks, drinkers don’t care solely about their alcohol. More and more, consumers care about the ethics behind the products they’re buying. Remember, they are buying a brand.

       For example, New Belgium Brewing Company put meaning behind their message with their #FindingCommonGround campaign, which not only connects their outdoorsy aesthetic brand to a public land cause, but raised over $250,000 for charity.

        It’s worth the investment, on multiple levels, to put some of your efforts into giving back.

7.  Partner with other brands:   A drink is better with friends. Likewise, a brand is better in a partnership.

       Consider doubling up your power for promotions with a complimentary brand. Partnerships are especially good on Instagram for giveaways, allowing you to expand your offer and reach two different audiences.

       Make sure to find a brand aligned with your goals, and of similar size to get maximum value from a partnership.

Don’t Make These Common Instagram Mistakes

  Common mistakes brands can make on Instagram can hurt them exponentially. Here are some important ones to avoid:

•    Sharing more reposts than original content.

•    Taking too long to respond to comments.

•    Favoring quantity over quality.

•    Misusing hashtags.

•    Buying likes and fake followers.

•    Not paying attention to analytics.


Craft beverage companies have a product that is in demand, but they are working in an increasingly competitive market. Digital marketing allows them to stay ahead of the game through creative branding and audience engagement.

As a recap, here are some main social media tips as discussed above:

•    Get to know how the Instagram platform works.

•    Define your social media strategy.

•    Tell your brand story.

•    Utilize organic search and paid distribution.

•    Be consistent.

•    Use hashtags.

•    Use influencers.

•    Inspire real world engagement.

•    Take your followers behind the scenes.

•    Connect to a cause.

•    Partner with other brands.

•    Keep it going; don’t stop!

The Last Gulp

  If craft beverage companies hope to engage consumers and boost their sales in this competitive market, they have to adopt a social media strategy that ensures success. While there is no cookie-cutter formula to success on Instagram, there is a pattern that works across the platform if utilized properly.

  The realness is in the engagement and knowing how to maximize your followers and their engagement. So keep thinking: just how can you brew up a social media campaign as unique as your beverage?

Chris Mulvaney is a business developer, entrepreneur, and an award-winning creative marketing strategist. His extensive professional background includes working with some of the world’s leading brands – and personally helping clients refine their corporate vision and generate the kind of eye-popping results that too many companies only dream about. Visit…

Continuously Improving Your Incentive Program

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

The first years after launching an incentive program are an exciting time for craft beer producers: supply chain trading partners, drawn by the excitement of new promotions and an improved channel partner experience, are more responsive, more motivated and more likely to recommend the brand’s products to restaurants and retailers. During this time, craft beer producers often experience a period of rapid sales growth or improvement in other KPIs the program was designed to target, such as improved partner data profiles or increased referral business. The incentive program’s ROI grows exponentially.

  However, often after 12-30 months, growth begins to stagnate and the ROI curve starts to flatten. If left unaddressed once an incentive program’s novelty starts wearing off and supply chain trading partners become habituated to the program’s value proposition, the incentive program’s ROI may start to decline, leaving craft beer producers scrambling to find ways to replicate the program’s success.

  The good news is that by planning ahead, craft beer producers can anticipate this drop off in interest level and continuously improve their incentive program in order to sustain a competitive advantage in their channel.

Keeping Incentive Programs Fresh

(and Profitable!)

  In order to stay relevant, a channel incentive program has to be able to evolve with the interests of its participants, scale its value proposition over time and respond rapidly to the tactics of the competition. Below are several factors that craft beer producers can focus on in order to continue to drive ROI once program growth begins to stagnate:

•  Evolving incentive program technology.

•  Incorporating elements of gamification.

•  Adding new, richer reward-earning opportunities.

•  Personalizing brand interactions to build loyalty.

•  Re-launching the program with updated features and branding.

  Ideally¬, these are all elements that craft beer producers will consider from the inception of the program, with plans for program expansion at certain intervals. However, these factors can also be incorporated to bring new life to existing programs.

Evolving Incentive Program Technology

  Today, incentive programs are a technology platform, and craft beer producers should be as mindful in selecting incentive program technology as they are in selecting any B2B software platform. From an administrative standpoint, this means choosing an incentive platform that integrates with existing CRMs and other business software and provides streamlined admin tools and generates detailed reports on engagement and ROI.

  However, perhaps more importantly, craft beer producers should focus on selecting incentive software that is fully supported and will be continuously updated to improve the user experience for their supply chain trading partners. More and more, B2B customers expect a seamless B2C-style user experience. Partners will be less likely to engage with a rewards program that uses stale, outdated software, no matter how exciting the reward offering.

  Additionally, agility is key. Craft beer producers should look for incentive software that allows them to quickly go to market, adapt to the tactics of the competition and launch new promotions. These factors will offer an edge when it comes to maintaining engagement throughout the lifetime of their program.

Incorporating Elements of Gamification

  Gamification is the use of game-like elements – such as points-scoring, interactive leaderboards and other competitive components – to increase engagement with a web-based application, such as an incentive program. Gamification is a powerful tool that supply chain trading partners already seek out in their day-to-day lives, from collecting likes on their Facebook page to scoring achievements on Peloton bikes.

  When interest in the program begins to stagnate several years after launch, adding gamification features can give the program new life. Interactive trivia, spin-to-wins, badges and achievements, personalized leaderboards and limited-time point bonuses make the program more compelling and can give a sustainable boost to the program’s effectiveness over time. Additionally, by not relying strictly on reward value to drive engagement, craft beer producers can help lower program costs to increase their ROI.

Adding New, Richer

Reward-Earning Opportunities

  As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons an incentive program can lose its effectiveness overtime is that participants become habituated to the program’s value proposition. Top performing supply chain trading partners may have already redeemed for their most coveted rewards and find themselves with more points than they know what to do with. The competition may have launched their own reward program with comparable, or even more compelling, rewards.

  It’s up to craft beer producers to constantly up the ante with their program’s value proposition. For instance, launching a points-based merchandise reward program alongside an existing debit or gift card program will offer new value for participants. Elevate a points-based program by offering top performers a concierge service to redeem for custom rewards – using their points to buy a new truck, renovate their home or pay for their child’s college tuition will personalize the reward experience and boost the program’s value proposition in a way the competition will struggle to match.

  Additionally, incentive travel promotions can be added onto any program type, giving craft beer producers an opportunity to connect with their supply chain trading partners on a deeply personal level. Given recent restrictions, the demand for incentive travel is projected to be particularly high once it is deemed safer.

  If minimizing rewards cost is a concern, try setting higher qualification thresholds for these more exclusive reward opportunities. Doing so can also help tap into supply chain trading partners’ competitive drive, keeping them more engaged as they compete for a limited number of higher tier rewards.

Personalizing Brand Interactions

to Build Loyalty

  In their early stages, incentive programs are typically geared toward growth. However, if well designed, the program will be able to convert that initial interest and motivation into brand loyalty over time. Loyalty is about more than rewards; rewards appeal to self-interest while loyalty is rooted in creating mutual interest. Craft beer producers can create this loyalty by using their incentive program to provide a highly personalized experience and to help their channel partners become more effective salespeople.

  This personalization should extend through every phase of the incentive program, from designing program communication to be relevant to each segment of their channel partners to basing reward selection on participant lifestyle and interests. Craft beer producer can use engagement metrics from their incentive program to identify which of their supply chain trading partners have a high level of buy-in and which of their partners might need a little more help. They can provide enablement to their partners by providing online courses and certifications and using their incentive program as a platform to educate partners on their brand and product lines, equipping them to more effectively sell their products.

  By using personalization and focusing on partner experience, craft beer producers can build loyalty with their supply chain trading partners in ways that make extrinsic rewards less important. This makes trading partners drastically less likely to lose interest in the program.

Re-Launching the Program with Updated Features and Branding

  Finally, when the growth of an incentive program begins to stagnate, it might be a sign that it’s time to re-launch the program. A program re-launch gives craft beer producers the opportunity to step back and figure out what their prior program did effectively, as well as what they can do better. During this time, craft beer producers should also explore other pain points they would like their new program to target.

  A pause between programs can help build anticipation, as supply chain trading partners realize the value proposition of the previous program that they had begun to take for granted. Once the new program launches, with updated branding and new features, supply chain trading partners will enthusiastically re-enroll and craft beer producers will experience a renewed period of growth. Better yet, by using the knowledge gained from the previous program, craft beer producers can make their re-launched program even more effective than the first.

Planning Ahead for Program Management

  Additionally, craft beer producers can enlist the help of incentive companies to design and manage their programs. Just like crafting an excellent brew requires years of experience, so too does managing an effective incentive program. Working alongside an incentive company with a proven track record can help craft beer producers avoid potential pitfalls and take advantage of decades of experience in managing successful programs.

  Whether a craft beer producer is looking to launch their first program or improve a program that is currently underperforming, the initial investment of partnering with an incentive company can pay dividends down the road.

  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

Choosing Effective Incentive Rewards for the Craft Beer Distribution Channel

America’s Beer Distributors: Fueling Jobs, Generating Economic Growth & Delivering Value to Local Communities. (PRNewsFoto/National Beer Wholesalers Association)

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

From improving market penetration to increasing sales volume for a specific product, craft beer producers rely on their indirect salesforce to accomplish their strategic goals. Incentive rewards can help craft beer producers create win-win scenarios for their indirect salesforce and influence their selling behaviors in ways that benefit the brand. However, not all rewards are created equal. The effectiveness of an incentive reward program depends on choosing rewards that capture the attention of wholesale and distributor sales reps and provide sufficient motivation for them to go the extra mile.

  When choosing rewards that appeal to their target audience, it’s important for craft beer producers to focus on the following factors:

•    Value Proposition: Will these rewards provide sufficient value to your indirect sales reps to justify their efforts and maintain their interest?

•    Personalization: Will these rewards feel meaningful to participants on a personal level, creating an emotional impact?

•    Scalability: Will your reward selection give you the ability to tailor your value proposition to different segments of your audience, from easily attainable rewards for new participants to exclusive rewards for top performers?

•    Memorability: How long will this reward keep your brand top-of-mind with participants? 

•    Participant Lifestyle: Which types of rewards appeal to your participants’ interests and align with their lifestyles?

•    Competition: If your competitors are running a rewards program, how will your program provide a more compelling value to your participants?

  Additionally, craft beer producers need to consider how their reward selection ties into their overarching goals, as well as their budget. Will it be more profitable to focus on providing more attainable, less personalized rewards to drive short-term growth or to develop high value, highly personalized rewards to solidify long-term loyalty? Or, perhaps, some craft beer producers will be interested in a mix of both. Either way, it’s important for craft beer producers to view their incentive reward program as an investment rather than a cost and concentrate on choosing rewards that help them achieve their goals in a profitable, cost-effective manner.

Types of Incentive Rewards

  Today’s incentive reward programs provide a variety of different reward types that craft beer producers can offer to their participants. These include gift card and debit card rewards, points-based merchandise rewards and group incentive travel. Each of these reward types has various strengths and weaknesses, depending on the goals of a craft beer producer and the makeup of their target audience.

  For instance, gift card and debit card rewards are highly scalable and provide an easy to understand value proposition. However, this comes at the expense of personalization. While a branded, reloadable debit card will keep your brand top-of-mind longer than cash commission, it doesn’t provide much in the way of social value and will not necessarily make a distributor sales rep feel warm and fuzzy about your brand. With e-delivery options and reloadable cards, gift card and debit card rewards can be awarded almost instantly, making them best-suited for SPIFFs (short-term incentive promotions) or for sales promotions for a wide audience. 

  Merchandise rewards, on the other hand, have trophy value and provide tangible rewards that indirect sales reps will associate with your brand for much longer. With an online rewards catalog that’s chock full of millions of exciting rewards, from digital movie rentals and Netflix subscriptions to home theaters, a points-based merchandise program is highly scalable and allows participants to choose personalized rewards that fit into their lifestyle and match their level of performance. Online merchandise rewards allow craft beer producers to incentivize sales growth across each segment of their salesforce, while also inspiring loyalty in top accounts with higher value, more personalized rewards.

  Of the different reward types, group incentive travel is the most memorable and emotionally impactful. By rewarding top-performing indirect sales reps with a trip to an exclusive locale like Tahiti or Venice, craft beer producers will have the opportunity to really personalize their relationship with their wholesale and distributor sales reps and create memories they won’t soon forget. However, incentive travel isn’t very scalable. Typically reserved for top accounts, incentive travel is better suited for building loyalty and solidifying long-term relationships. Additionally, it’s worth noting that while the effects of Covid-19 have put a damper on incentive travel events, demand for these trips will be through the roof when travel resumes, and many vendors will be motivated to provide great deals for craft beer producers who plan ahead. 

Setting Reward Parameters

  An important component of reward program strategy is determining how participants will be rewarded. Craft beer producers should consider which specific actions participants must take in order to accumulate reward points and whether different actions have different strategic values in helping them achieve their goals.

  For instance, if a craft beer producer’s goal is to increase overall sales, then it might make sense to assign reward points to distributor sales reps based on overall sales volume. But it also might be beneficial to provide point bonuses for first time sales, sales on a new or underperforming product line, completing online educational courses or providing referrals. All of these actions can help facilitate sales growth in the long-term and provide distributor sales reps with a clear path toward maximizing the value they receive from the program.

  Additionally, setting qualification thresholds and offering tiered rewards can help craft beer producers make their program more cost-effective. For instance, it might make sense to require distributor sales reps to sell a certain amount of beverages before they qualify for the program or to offer a group incentive travel trip for the top 25 performers each quarter, in addition to a card or points-based merchandise program for the other sales reps. Doing so allows craft beer producers to allocate their reward spend toward their most valuable supply chain trading partners, while limiting expenditure on sales reps who may not offer as much long-term value.

  In addition to tiering rewards based on performance, craft beer producers can leverage this strategy to target different hierarchical segments of their indirect salesforce, offering higher value rewards like incentive travel to sales managers while running a points-based merchandise or card program for the individual reps who work under them. This allows craft beer producers to incentivize from the top-up or the bottom-down, maximizing their influence within their sales channel.

  Online incentive technology offers craft beer producers the ability to easily segment their audience, change parameters, automatically allocate points and track the impact of these decisions on their ROI through dashboards and custom reports. For craft beer producers, it’s important to have the flexibility to quickly adjust elements of their reward program strategy, while minimizing the man hours necessary to manage their program.

Expanding on the Reward Experience

  Rewards are exciting and provide an easily understood value proposition, making them an effective tool for marketing an incentive program; but rewards are only a small component of the value an incentive program creates for craft beer producers, as well as their supply chain trading partners. An incentive reward program provides new touchpoints to improve the partner experience, such as:

•   An integrated digital hub, where indirect sales reps can connect to learn more about the brand, explore the latest incentive promotions, track their progress and redeem for rewards;

•   A communication platform that craft beer producers can use to send customized communication and automated alerts via email, SMS, push notifications and direct mail;

•   Customizable enrollment forms that craft beer producers can use to capture data about their indirect sales reps in order to personalize their sales and marketing;

•   Data collection tools that make it easy for indirect sales reps to upload sales invoices or scan QR codes in order to verify their sales claims and earn points;

•   Elements of gamification such as leaderboards, spin-to-wins and limited time bonuses to keep sales reps more consistently engaged;

•   Online surveys and analytics tools that help craft beer producers better understand the members of their channel and provide a more rewarding partner experience; and

•   Interactive quizzes and online training platforms to help indirect sales reps become more informed, effective advocates of the brand.

  The appeal of earning a reward channels indirect sales reps into this funnel and keeps them invested in the communication they receive through the program. But, more importantly, the reward program itself provides an entire ecosystem for more personalized communication and engaging brand interactions between craft beer producers and members of their channels. By focusing on the partner experience, both before and after earning a reward, craft beer producers have the opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of their reward program, solidify brand preference among their supply chain trading partners, differentiate their brand and target long-term strategic initiatives.

  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

Growing Your Brewery’s Brand

By: Lewis Barbera – Vice President, Sales

There are currently more than 7300 regional breweries, brewpubs and microbreweries in the United States. Even during difficult times, the popularity of the craft brewery continues to grow. For many home brewers and beer aficionados, the prospect of owning and operating their own brewery is a dream come true. It’s an opportunity to expand their personal recipes that they have refined over the years as a hobbyist and share them with a wider audience.

  Making your mark within the industry is not an easy task to accomplish. Perfecting your craft is an important start in staying relevant. But satisfying your regulars and marketing through word of mouth is just the beginning. It’s the additional, day-to-day business details that become so incredibly important. Maintaining your brand and ensuring that it reaches the widest audience possible will help you to stand out in a crowded market.  

Brand Identity

  One of the benefits of owning and operating your business is the freedom associated with developing its brand. From the name to the logo, this is an opportunity for you to work closely with your business partners to establish something catchy and unique, while also cutting through the clutter and staying top of mind with your customers. But once you’ve picked out your colors and have come up with a memorable catch phrase that highlights your craft, what’s next?

  In today’s market it’s not uncommon to promote your brand through a variety of related products. Whether that’s pint glasses and coasters, umbrellas, signage or an oversized Jenga set reserved for outdoor events, merchandising your business in creative and unique ways is critical. But there are numerous moving parts that inevitably get in the way. Working with your local Kinkos and your cousin (twice removed) to help with the graphical design will only get you so far.

  Properly sourcing your merchandise is an indispensable asset to your overall brand marketing initiatives. Working closely with a partner capable of assisting with the delivery of your products can make an immense difference in your day-to-day operation.

  Understanding the ins-and-outs of product sourcing often includes first-hand experience in knowing what works and what does not. These conversations can help steer you in the right direction, while also shielding you from potential missteps. Promoting your brand with a Point of Sale (POS) system capable of delivering the best return on investment (ROI) in a growing market will help you to realize even greater success.

Off-Premise Initiatives

  Traditionally, craft beer has primarily been sold on-premise. The experience of enjoying a freshly tapped beer while socializing at your local brewery is one of the reasons the craft beer industry has stayed consistently strong. When combined with ongoing marketing and merchandising efforts, off-premise sales has the strong potential to develop into an additional sales and distribution plan.

  Some beer aficionados might argue that traditional retail sales takes away from the uniqueness of the craft beer experience and no longer differentiates itself from large national brands. However, retailers are very much in tune with consumer preferences and will always be looking for opportunities to emulate the success of on-premise craft breweries through off-premise sales.

  It’s important for every craft brewery to take the steps necessary to continue promoting their name and their brand. As such, there are several opportunities worth considering for an off-premise strategy:

•   Stand Out in a Crowded Space: Whether you’re positioned within a local liquor store or the corner grocer, make sure your branding is prominently displayed and catches the eye of every customer. Proudly present your most popular beer or newest recipe on shelves, stackers and corrugated risers that clearly exhibit your branding. Make sure the colors are bold and vibrant, and that the wording can be read from across the aisle. Take pride in your craft and give it the attention it deserves.

•   Small Idea, Big Impact: Even the smallest idea can have the biggest impact when it comes to branding and product marketing. Sticky shelf talkers, ceiling danglers, window clings and floor placements. Make it so that no matter where the customer is looking, your brand is sure to grab their attention. And it’s not always about how big of an impression you make or how much real estate your branding utilizes. A strategically placed logo can help even the most undecisive beer drinkers make the right choice.

•   Your Fans are Your Biggest Advocates: Don’t overthink it. The practicality of the idea often becomes the biggest win for off-premise business. Let your fans do the “heavy lifting”. Selling a variety of tote, lunch coolers and brown paper bags, each with your branding clearly identified for everyone to see, is a great way to continue getting your name out there. Used at work, on vacation or attending any number of social events, your biggest fans will be promoting their favorite beer without ever saying a word.

•   The Signs Are Everywhere: Chalk-based A-frame menu boards. LED light boxes. Laser cut, digitally printed hardboard wood. What do all these different types of signage have in common? They’re the most classic form of beer advertising you can think of. People of all ages collect them and prominently display them in their homes, garages and on the walls of the businesses they own. They catch your eye, make a statement and get you thinking about one thing, and one thing only – BEER!

Product Management

  Having access to your own, business-specific e-commerce website is an opportunity to more effectively manage your growing list of products. When conveniently organized by category, a robust e-commerce solution is more likely to yield an increase in the number of merchandising orders placed. By providing your sales group, wholesalers and consumers 24/7 virtual access to your products, you’re removing yourself from the time-consuming difficulties and headaches of manual maintenance and upkeep.

  An effective e-commerce portal is not only a reliable source for managing your inventory in an organized fashion, it can also be seamlessly updated to accommodate for new products and inventive promotional efforts. Including pre-order windows and making them available to your distributors will help to better gauge the potential success of your latest product promotions before taking the plunge and jumping head first into a new initiative.

  Planning for the upcoming year’s promotions, brand launches and seasonal programs is an important function critical to the ongoing success of your business. Having access to online ordering is a great resource to take advantage of when working toward upcoming events. Providing your distributors access to your ecommerce site makes the process of managing and expanding your brand a seamless activity.

  However, maintaining your inventory and shipment data can often be challenging. Working from a comprehensive and reliable report – one that details the data needed to drive a successful program – saves time and increases productivity, allowing you to focus more on your craft. Accessing these reports, whenever needed, makes the process of future inventory planning and promotional efforts even easier and more sustainable.

Inventory Optimization

  Space is a commodity. You’ll never have enough and will always be needing more. When owning and operating your craft brewery, you’ll quickly realize that as more of your space is consumed by branded merchandise, less will be available for that essential, behind-the-scenes equipment – brewing systems, canning lines, tanks, fermenters and more. Working with a total fulfillment partner opens up the possibility of maintaining and safely storing your merchandise stock.

  At its core, inventory optimization and supply planning answers the question about how much merchandising inventory should be carried. Working with your fulfillment partner, you’ll be able to better understand the complexities of supply and demand and more accurately identify inventory targets. By maintaining appropriate levels of merchandising stock you’ll greatly reduce the chances of inventory obsolescence, thereby freeing up capital that can be applied elsewhere throughout your business.

  Fulfillment partners often include consignment opportunities, giving you the option to store your products offsite while still retaining ownership. As the products begin to ship, you’ll be able to track how much inventory sold and work closely with your fulfillment provider on the transactional details.

  When tied directly with your unique e-commerce platform you’ll have even greater flexibility and control over the number of products sold, understand when and how they have shipped and be able to effectively report – from week-to-week and month-to-month – for better management of your business’s overall expenses and profits.

  Pre-orders are also designed to increase profitability. Utilizing your fulfillment partner’s expertise in identifying products that are best suited to both order windows and the make-and-ship process, you’ll capitalize on an effective solution to the POS puzzle. This pre-order option provides greater overall flexibility when planning for upcoming events and seasonal placement.

Dedicated Support

  Whether it’s the account manager, sourcing, logistics or warehouse, the various touchpoints of a fulfillment team provide the support needed to effectively operate your business. Their focus is helping you maintain yours. In doing so, you’ll have greater opportunities to further pursue your passion.

  A committed support team should be analyzing your POS operations on a quarterly, bi-annual and annual basis, and provide feedback to assist with any changes that may be needed. Their long-standing relationships within the industry are designed to support your needs and ensure that your business realizes continued success.

  Your merchandising efforts are directly connected to establishing your brand and helping your business thrive in an increasingly competitive market. Aligning yourself with a reputable fulfillment program will assist you in meeting the goals you have established for your business. When done well, your brand will realize the greatest potential to reach more customers and leave lasting impressions.

How Craft Breweries Can Use Technology to Drive Channel Incentive Programs

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

Social Media in the Time of COVID-19:

Social Distancing Doesn’t Apply to Your Social Media Efforts

By: Tracey L. Kelley

It’s no surprise that time spent online during the height of the pandemic increased exponentially. Data from Nielsen specifically tracking social media usage indicates that on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, there was a 25% spike in mobile engagement, and a soaring 75% of ad content placed by influencers. While usage is expected to flatten a bit by the end of the year, there’s still a slight uptick of average minutes per day people peruse social networks: 82 minutes now, compared to a 2019 forecast of 76 minutes.

  How does this data impact social connection with your audience? Now more than ever, refine your brand and your community presence to cultivate content people are willing to notice.

Share the Story of Your Community

  Craft beverage producers repeatedly demonstrated these past few months how quickly they could pivot to accommodate not only the needs of their business but also those of their employees and the community as a whole. Many of these efforts were the feel-good stories major news agencies were eager to feature in bleak times.

  Ruby Benoit is Head of Craftiness and Founder of Craft Good Business, a company in Southern California specializing in helping craft beverage companies create and implement marketing plans and events. She told Beverage Master Magazine that storytelling holds considerable clout in social media messaging.

  “Since consumers are turning to social media to evaluate brands even more so now, storytelling creates a connection and helps keep you top of mind,” she said. “Your audience wants to see what your brand is all about: What do you stand for? What is your purpose? And it’s critical to show your community efforts: decide on how you have a unique, positive impact on society. Whatever your stance is, communicate with your customers and all stakeholders in an authentic way.”

  Brands should stick to providing great experiences, as well as dedicate energy to remaining consistent and genuine in their messaging to win customer support, according to the media team of Happy Medium, a full-service digital creative agency in Des Moines, Iowa.

  “Overall, audiences tend to react well to community involvement because it’s inspirational and aspirational. If your team is volunteering, share a photo of employees at the volunteer event. If you made a charitable donation, ask the recipient to share digital assets that align with the cause you’re helping them support,” the Happy Medium team said. “This demonstrates how your brand builds and supports communities in a way that’s relatable and impactful. Write a brief caption about why the cause you’re supporting is relevant to the brand. Always tag the organization!”

  Chad Richards is vice president of Firebelly, a “social media marketing agency on a mission since 2007” based in Indianapolis. Firebelly has worked with 450 North Brewing Company, Gnarly Grove Hard Cider and Upland Brewing Company, as well as wineries and restaurants. Richards also recommended taking a less self-serving approach. “Whatever you do, make sure the hero is the charity or community you’re supporting. Nothing elicits eye rolls faster than ‘Look at us—we’re so charitable!’”

  The continuing flux of the pandemic’s ongoing impact creates many levels of marketing uncertainty. Managing social media right now might feel more like a scattershot than a targeted approach. Richards said storytelling will pull you through.

  “Humans like stories, and we’re storytellers by nature. It’s how we connect to one another, and right now, people are seeking connection more than ever,” Richards said. “Don’t worry about trying to be creative or clever—just be honest.”

Marry Content to Audience

  Some producers believe they must extend concerted effort across all platforms to reach all people, all the time. Realistically, it’s more effective to shorten the funnel to one or two channels that hit the sweet spot of your consumer base. Benoit offered a collective summary aggregated in early 2020 by Hootsuite, the social media management platform, which you can find here:

  You may have favorite channels based on your preferences, but where is your audience? As a brief but interesting example, here are just a few statistics from the Hootsuite summary—focusing on the U.S. for simplicity—such as:

•    75% of adults who identify as Hispanic use Facebook more than Black and White adults. Most users of this platform “live in urban areas, followed by suburban and rural.”

•    83% of women age 25–54 use Pinterest—more than Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Also, “one out of every two millennials use Pinterest,” and 59% discover products there.

•    28% of Black Americans use LinkedIn, compared to 26% of White Americans. This platform is “most popular among 25- to 49-year-olds.”

•    43% of Black Americans use Instagram, “followed by 38% Hispanic and 32% White Americans.” Users also mostly live in urban communities, then suburban and rural areas.

•    44% of young adults age 18 to 24 use Twitter, compared to 26% of people age 30 to 49.

•    78% of Hispanic internet users watch YouTube, followed by 76% and 71% of Black and White users, respectively. This channel “reaches more 18- to 34-year-olds and 18- to 49-year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.”

  The key for the next few months is to strategize with social media professionals to develop messages that not only communicate with individuals of your loyal base but also others who might not know who you are and what you provide.

  Happy Medium advised using interactive content whenever possible to build confidence and trust. “Customers are more likely to engage with content that entertains, educates and tells an authentic story. Engaging customers with your content makes your brand more memorable and creates a deeper connection,” the media team said. “Try incorporating polls [or] question and answer stickers. Feature the people who make your brand what it is in Instagram stories or by hosting a live stream—both of these are growing social trends that bolster higher engagement and should be a staple to any social media strategy.”

  Don’t feel you have to do all the heavy lifting of brand awareness and connection alone. Once again, Richards said, think about potential alliances. “Get your product into the hands of influencers—allowing people to learn about your product via someone they already trust or admire. And think outside the box. These don’t have to be craft beverage or foodie influencers. A travel, fashion or beauty influencer could easily weave your brand and product into their story.”

  If the budget allows, boost your social media ad views. “I realize they may be a luxury in times like these, but ads really are the fastest way to get the right message to the right people in the right places,” he said. “Many brands have cut their ad spends, so the marketplace is less competitive right now. You’ll get more for your money if you’re able to participate.”

  Here are some other content considerations:

•   Promote your best practices for safety and cleanliness to reassure and comfort people who want to visit the taproom but express concern about contagions.

•   Develop clear, concise messaging both on your site and through social media regarding all procedures, special events, advance registration practices, bottle shop services, state-sanctioned curbside sales and other issues. These continual and timely updates speak when you can’t, so it’s worth the time investment to update them daily.

•   Take a tip from wineries by boosting virtual hospitality efforts. Live streaming, which experienced quite a boost during the height of the pandemic, continues to grow in popularity across all platforms.

  Additionally, ask your followers what they might be interested in, and listen carefully. Their suggestions might differ from what you’ve tried before, but now is the time to take advantage of fresh ideas.

Social Media Ideas for the 12–18 Months

  “Flexible consistency” is the action plan for your social media efforts now—and the foreseeable future. Maybe your marketing manager is temporarily furloughed. Or your state allowed gradual reopening, but a summer resurgence in COVID cases forced closure or hour limitations again, and you’re not sure how to engage with purpose. It’s still an essential business practice to like and respond to all posts your establishment is tagged in—that’s the basic approach.

  The media team at Happy Medium suggested three other areas of focus:

•   Post consistently. While so much consumer activity has slowed during this period, it’s especially important for brands to stay top-of-mind with their consumers. Even if operations are currently paused, still send at least a couple of posts per week.

•   Stay positive. Audiences overloaded with COVID-19 messaging over the past few months are starting to become jaded to overused marketing verbiage. Send positive messages while still being respectful to the current situation.

•   Don’t post content exclusively directed at sales: share photos and stories about your team, industry news or fun facts about your operations.

  A 2017 study from the American Express Customer Service Barometer reported that Americans are “more likely to post about good experiences (53%) than poor experiences (35%).” So reaffirming authentic engagement is what Benoit advised.

•    If you haven’t already, create a give-back campaign that helps people in the community such as frontline workers, teachers and others in need. For example, a distillery might do a canned food drive and invite customers to participate.

•    Engage with customers through a social media sweepstakes: they post a creative picture or video of themselves enjoying your beer, spirit, cider or mead. Then, the individual’s photo or video with the most likes wins a day with the craft producer when social distancing is over.

•    Host a virtual ‘Meet the Brewer’ event where the master brewer leads participants through a curated beer and food pairing and interacts with participants. This creates connection and promotes valuable partnerships with local restaurants also in need of exposure.

  Finally, be realistic, Richards told Beverage Master Magazine. He provided these points:

•    Be flexible. These are unique times, and we’re not sure what will happen next. That’s okay. Nobody does. Be prepared to update your plan and approach as needed.

•    Think short term. Take it month-by-month or maybe even week-by-week. Any really long-term campaign planning will likely be disrupted.

•    Show vulnerability. If you’re struggling, say so. It makes you relatable, and people will want to support you and come to your rescue.

  “Know that it’s okay to ‘not know.’” Uncertainty is uncomfortable—especially when it comes to business and finances—but we’re all in the same boat right now. A ‘best guess’ is sometimes the best you can do.”

Ruby Benoit, Founder, Craft Good Business
Social Media Handles on Facebook/Linkedin:

The Media Team at Happy Medium
Social Media Handles on Facebook/Linkedin:

Chad Richards, Vice President, Firebelly
Social Media Handles on Facebook/Linkedin:
Chad Richards: @chadrichards
Firebelly Marketing: @wearefirebelly