Webinar: Stand Out in a Crowded MarketJune 21, 2018
How to Stand Out in a Crowded Market
Recorded: Wednesday, July 11th, 12:00 - 1:00 pm
For this webinar, we've invited Long Trail Brewing Company and 14th Star Brewing Company to talk about how they think about positioning their beers. These same strategies and techniques can be utilized by any other business, with perhaps a few tweaks depending on your market.
During this webinar we covered:
Branding and positioning
Messaging & Communication channels
Recorded on Wednesday, July 11, 2018, Noon - 1 pm.
We’ll begin by saying that it’s awesome that Vermont has a thriving local food scene that is known around the country and, dare we say, the world.
We also can’t deny that it may feel a wee bit crowded from time to time - especially in the fast growth world of craft beer where we’ve got 56 brewers in the VT Brewers Association and that puts us (no surprise) first in the nation for breweries per capita producing 23.8 gallons each year for every 21+ adult in the state. So, we asked two well known Vermont breweries to talk about their approach to standing out in the crowd: Drew Vetere from Long Trail Brewing Company and Andrea Gagner from 14th Star Brewing Company.
Long Trail: Began in 1989, when the market wasn’t at all crowded. . . not quite empty but close. They later acquired Otter Creek and Shed. These brands that were radical in the early 1990’s are now middle of the road craft beers - solid quality, not particularly wild, as Drew put it “like your grandfather’s beer” (on behalf of everyone who drank those brands in the early years - ouch). The primary risk is being perceived as too boring - especially with a demographic seeking out new & exciting and/or hard to get (which LT is not).
Also, while Vermont was ahead in the growth of craft breweries on the East Coast, other places have since caught up, so “drink Local” is advice people can follow in their own hometowns, they don’t need to seek out a Vermont “local” option.
Ways Long Trail addresses these challenges:
Limited can releases available only in Vermont - and they’ve recently started to focus on limited releases having intriguing local ingredient tie-ins such as CDB with Luce Farm, an upcoming fruit series.
Marketing the experience available only in Vermont - both with small project beers, but also lifestyle. Long Trail is on Rte 4 to Killington, Otter Creek is in Middlebury, they are building experience options both in their social media image and in simply having a nice place to stop and eat / listen to music at the breweries. They’ve been working on steadily improving their pub fare, pub space (ie outdoor patios) and activities like summer concert series.
Emphasizing a connection to community through sponsorships & events - for example the century ride to support Vermont adaptive sports - and staying close to the community with local projects such as the specialty beers with local ingredients. This is true to who they are as breweries, keeps a hometown crowd for supporting their product, and demonstrates to people from elsewhere that this is beer “from a place”.
In terms of tools - Facebook and Instagram for one demographic, E-mail marketing for another and they take time to craft good messages. They have not had the staff capacity or efficient return from going out toevents, they prefer to bring people to the brewery.
Translating the value of the Vermont experience to regions beyond Vermont (eg Green Mountain hiking in Ohio?) has sometimes been a challenge. They’ve pulled back from a staffed presence in some states because of that.
14th Star: 14th Star is not a nano-brewery but also not the scale of Long Trail. They have a very strong origin story, conceived in Afghanistan by two deployed Vermonters planning to turn their homebrew hobby into brewery business when they returned home. They’ve kept the connection to service, and also connection to the hometown, St. Albans. They’ve recently rebranded with a focus on their central purpose of “creating award winning beer in a community we care about, stemming from service to country” which has led to the tagline “Brewed with a Mission.”
14th Star literally brews with a mission: each beer is connected to a nonprofit / charity that receives some of the profits, often with a military connection. A list of supported nonprofits is here.
From a marketing sense, 14th Star is similar to other breweries engaged in the local community and also on being a destination. St. Albans in general is making that “destination investment, building on the assets of being on the Lake and a grand (or, potentially grand) historic city and on the route from Boston to Montreal. As with Long Trail, they’ve expanded their in-brewery experience, including with food - previously BBQ and as of June, Grazers has a location there. Andrea tries to stay connected to the visitors, they can put their names, home location, and email into a bowl for monthly prize drawings.
Largest Overall Challenge: It hasn’t been difficult for either brewery to get a “first taste” chance across the threshold. For a newer brewery like 14th Star, the cache of the Vermont craft beer name means buyers will say “I’ll try anything from Vermont”, for Long Trail they have existing distribution agreements. The problem is getting people to keep drinking. Even if you’re LT and don’t lose the shelf space, if the product doesn’t turn over the quality goes down and it’s bad for the business. Both beers have the problem of not being “shiny and new”. They have a standard line that drinkers expect will always be available to them (oh weren’t the devotees of Otter Creek Copper Ale surprised to discover that isn’t true. . . but we’re over it, really we are). For sales reps at distributors, there’s first blush of enthusiasm and then there’s something new to be enthusiastic about. Both beers have very different businesses, but both are continually fighting against being taken for granted or (worse) forgotten.
General Theme of Strategies: Start with person-to-person connections. That includes being a gathering place for locals as well as visitors, being out in the community as a business that cares about the community. That keeps an authenticity to the beer and its connection to a real place. Connecting also means craft beer businesses connecting with each other - for example through the Brewers’ Association. These collegial, professional networks help ensure the reputation of Vermont’s craft beer is a rising tide that lifts all boats.
More on these Breweries: From a recent post, you may recall that It's the Beer Talking recommends interviews with both businesses from their archives (Long Trail for its recreation tie-ins). Here they are: 14th Star Brewing Company and Long Trail Brewing Company.
You can find recordings and notes from our past webinars in the "Webinar Resources" category of this blog. These webinars are free for everyone, but we sure don't mind if folks become VFN Members to help support this and other programming designed to strengthen our local food businesses.