29 Apr 2010 @ 1:51 PM 

A little while back, I ran across a fascinating article over on Ad Age.

What first drew my attention was, unsurprisingly, the beer. Colorado Native is made by AC Golden Brewing Company, a small 30 bbl subsidiary of MillerCoors. Much like Blue Moon, they are relying on “craft”-style marketing: word of mouth/viral marketing. Part of me really likes the idea of Colorado Native – it is made with almost 100% Colorado ingredients. I mean, we’re talking barley, hops, water, packaging, and even the social marketing they’re using on each bottle.

And that’s what kept my eye on this article. Social Marketing? What what? The article kind of blows through the Snap Tag reference, which is a little crazy considering it’s Ad Age magazine and not a beer-related media. I, on the other hand, was fascinated, so I did a little reading because this is something that I think that craft brewers can learn from.

MillerCoors/AC Golden is using this interesting new type of barcode technology called a Snap Tag. Snap Tags are, for all intents and purposes, pretty barcodes. Here’s an example, from SpyderLynk‘s website.

See the dots in the circle? That’s what defines the code. I’m not exactly sure, but my guess is that the location of the dots in the circle, probably in degrees based on the orientation of the logo, can denote specific information. I speculate that they’re probably a numerical format that can be translated further by an algorithm held at SpyderLynk. Since the particular product we’re talking about is Colorado Native, it’s probably a small code that changes per batch of beer manufactured so that you can track exactly which batch this came out of, who it was distributed by and, very likely (if you have that kind of tracking technology – and why wouldn’t MillerCoors?), what retailer it was bought from.

“Okay,” I can year you saying, “What’s the big deal? People put tracking codes on their products all the time. It’s really helpful for figuring out defects in batches, it helps with customer support, etc., etc.”

Yeah, I totally agree. But what you have here isn’t just a tracking program, it’s a program in which consumers are encouraged to interact with you. The amount of information you’re getting off the Snap Tag and the bottle is small. The information you’re getting from the consumer is enormous. It starts with their phone number and/or e-mail address and then, when you send something back, it continues with their birth date (you have to verify age, right?) and then continues further on with a nice questionnaire asking about their lifestyle preferences, etc. Okay, are you on Facebook? Twitter? Yeah? Awesome. Hi! You are my target market, for you have bought my product. Now I know pretty much everything about you and you have given it to my freely.

It’s a ridiculously good use of modern technology and I’m a little shocked that I don’t see any craft breweries going in this direction.

Snap Tags? No. I’m still not convinced of the merit of Snap Tags, themselves. Each of the case studies that SpyderLynk has listed on their website doesn’t actually use the information listed on the snap tag so much as it uses the Snap Tag to get people to willingly send in their contact information to a company — which is, as far as I’m concerned, the magic.

Allow me to introduce you to something called a QR Code. It’s a bar code many people (those with Androids, maybe even with iPhones, now, I’m not sure) can actually read them with their cell phones, and I’m sure that as time goes on this will become more prevalent. Here’s an example of a QR Code:

Now here’s your Snap Tag replacement, with apologies to SpyderLynk for stealing their format:

Yeah, that’s right. Take a picture of that and send it to me and I’ll get back to you and find out about you, the consumer of said QR code. In many ways the QR code itself is completely inconsequential. In this case, however, not only am I getting information from the consumer, I am also giving information back to the consumer. You can do anything with this – contests, event information, business card info, whatever. And you can make your own QR Code for free. But it doesn’t matter! The code isn’t important! The customer contact is.

Craft breweries, it’s not often that I will tell you to take a an idea from the macros, but… take this one. The most valuable marketing tool you have is a personal relationship between your business and your customer. Take this idea! Use your packaging to do more than just signify what’s inside, it is your easiest customer contact – use it! Take this awesome idea and run with it!

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 29 Apr 2010 @ 01 51 PM

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 13 Apr 2010 @ 10:53 PM 

My original plan, like last year, was to give a full blow-by-blow of the whole conference as I went through it. Sadly, it didn’t happen. Various things conspired against me, not the least of which was the atrocious wireless and cell coverage in the conference center, but it also happened that I just know a lot more people this year and so spent a lot more time actually connecting with people and socializing. It was a refreshing change, even if it meant that I was out late and up early every day. It was a fantastic time. So what follows is my brief wrapup:

The first thing that I want to note is just how many people I’ve run into that are starting up their own breweries, or are trying to figure out how to enter the industry. Surprisingly (to me), I’ve also met more than 1 mother/son team working on a startup which, frankly, I find astonishing. No offense, mom, but there is pretty much no way in hell that I’d want to run a business with you.

Tuesday through Wednesday events, for me, were all about brewery tours and beer. I got the chance to hit Goose Island Clybourne, Revolution, Rock Bottom, Ram, Mickey Finn’s, Emmet’s Pub and Brewery, and the Lucky Monk. And that was all before the Welcome Reception at the Field Museum, which is worth mention because of this:

It’s just not every day that you get to have a beer with a dinosaur. There was table after table of brilliant local beer, local food, and even a local fromagerie. Just to give you an idea of the size of this conference this year, here’s a view of the Welcome Reception from above.

If I understand correctly, we’re looking at something like a 40% attendance jump from last year, and there could have been more if the Sheraton would have had more space. There are approximately 3500 people present.

The actual bulk of the newsworthy items in the conference happened at the Keynote on Wednesday morning. I didn’t take notes, so you’re stuck with gross generalizations, but the gist is this: Beer sales overall took a nosedive, but within that, craft beer gained sales. I took away that the macros are losing market share faster than craft is gaining it.

Where’s it going? I’m not entirely sure. Wine? Spirits? My guess would be spirits – if money is tight, people will buy value, and a $6 bottle of Popov vodka will get you drink quicker than anything else. Now THAT is efficient.

The general goal seems to be to get craft to a 10% market share, though whether that’s by sales (which we currently have about 7% of) or by volume (which were at 4.5%), I don’t know. We heard a lot about the initiative going through Congress right now to reduce taxes for small brewers, which would be a great boon for the industry. We also heard about the formation of the small brewers caucus in Congress – which is currently at 60 members, with a goal to reach 100 members by the end of the year this year, and 200 members by the end of 2011.

The panel that I went to at the end of that day proved to be interesting: Michael Lewis’s panel on Drinkability. Drinkability can be kind of a politically charged word for craft brewers, since we most closely associate it with Bud Light’s ad campaign.

Drinkability, said Lewis, is the quality of a beer in which, when one reaches the end of their glass of beer, they think to themselves, “I could drink another one of those” and then does. I’ve got to say, he’s a really compelling speaker. He had me chuckling, and, for the most part going along with him. He lamented the apparent demise of session beer, calling his perfect beer “a good pint of English wallop.” Where he ended I think really surprised a lot of people, though. The panel kind of wound around Lewis’s dislike for sour or Brett beers, which he called “infected” and landed squarely on his distaste for ‘extreme’ beers before moving onto a call for America’s craft brewers to work on making craft pale lagers, such as he found on his recent trip through Europe and the Baltic states. His opinion seemed to be: If you want to see craft brewers take off, then make pale lagers better than the macros do.

I think he has a point, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to make it. Far from energizing his audience toward his goal, I think he kind of ruffled the feathers of a lot of people there. For my point of view, I think that he’s probably right – at least a little – but is overlooking the fact that the market for these extreme beers actually exists – and it is many of the same people who will go buy a craft lager as well. If there’s anything consistent in the market, it’s that people like variety. Remember that old Craft Drinker survey in 2001? The that showed that people who feel loyal to their favorite brand of beer buy it once per month? Yeah – variety is king. Sure – craft pale lagers are probably a great thing put into the market, but it is the future growth vehicle of craft beer? I’m unconvinced.

That evening there was a brilliant, wonderful, stupendous event at Goose Island’s Fullerton brewery with a plethora of their barrel-aged beers and food from some of Chicago’s best chefs. I could go on and on, but Chris at DRAFT has already done that for me.

I won’t summarize the trade show floor, or ever panel I went to. I will say a couple of things about Vinnie Cilurzo’s panel Toothpicks, Garlic and Chalk: Three Key Ingredients to Any Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Sour Beer Program.

1) If there’s a technical pre-conference seminar about barrel-aged sours in 2011, I am so there.

2) Here’s what the title is about, partly because if you weren’t there you’ll never get it, partly so that I remember: If you have a leak in your barrel – meaning a little hole, not like a cracked stave – you jam a toothpick in the hole and break it off even with the outside of the barrel. Then you rub garlic over the hole/toothpick, and then chalk over the garlic. The garlic and chalk mix to make a little cement-type thing, and – voila – you have patched your hole.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about my own panel on Saturday morning. Storytelling 2.0: Social Media is a Conversation. Mainly, I want to say thanks to everybody who came. It was great to have a packed house, and fantastic to have such good feedback afterward. It was also an absolute pleasure to work alongside Sean Lily Wilson, Dean Browell and, of course, Charlie Papazian. I cannot thank them enough for their terrific insights.

If you made it to the panel, and want more, or have questions, feel free to post here – or hit me on Twitter or Facebook. If you didn’t make it to the panel, and want the 15 minute version from me sometime… well.. let’s get a beer sometime, and I’ll happily ramble at you.

I need to put in a plug for Jay Brooks’s writeup of the World Beer Cup Gala Dinner. It’s fantastic, and has lovely pictures, and info about the menu and everything.

Finally, I gotta say that it was great to actually meet a bunch of people in person, many of which I still only know via their Twitter handle. It’s always nice to turn contacts into real faces. Looking forward to seeing all of you again at another event.

Cheers.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Apr 2010 @ 10 53 PM

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The challenge: To not be a total freakin’ douchebag.

The prize: I send you my two Dark Lord tickets, and you get beer.

The catch: You also use one of the tickets for me, and send me the beer.

What? Exactly. So what happened was this: Dark Lord tickets went on sale. “Awesome!”, thought I, “I’ll check that out!” And then I looked at the cost of the tickets and thought, “That’s reasonable – all I have to do is get to Indiana on Dark Lord Day.. how hard could that be?”

Well, as it turns out, I’m already committed that weekend, so no overnight roadtrip to Indiana will be made. That means that you, my friend, can profit. I will give you one of my tickets, if you send me some Dark Lord. I will even cover the cost of shipping.

Edited to note: I’ll pay for my portion of the Dark Lord. All I need from you is pickup and (safe) mailing.

How do I participate? You write, in the comments here, a good reason why I should trust you to not be a total asshat and keep all the beer – or worse – turn around and sell my tickets for money. I’ll pick a winner and contact you individually about how to work out the transaction.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Apr 2010 @ 06 04 PM

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Sure, you might have been expecting a nice wrapup from the Craft Brewers Conference and trust me, it’s coming. I need a little more time to work on it so that it can be in proper overly verbose form. However, I just returned to my computer and saw a little news item and had to share.

The article is this: Washington House OKs tax plan. That’s the state, not D.C., by the way.

In it, I found this gem, emphasis mine:

The proposal would raise taxes on candy and gum, soda, bottled water and mass-production beer.

[…]

Republicans were united against the bill, contending it wouldn’t treat people equally. Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, noted that beer from large out-of-state breweries is taxed an extra 50 cents a gallon, or about a nickel for a 12-ounce can, but more expensive beer from microbreweries is exempt from the tax.

Hey – that sounds pretty awesome for small brewers, right? Woo! That’s great! Go Washington State! Now check out what followed it up:

“This Legislature couldn’t even be fair on how it raises the tax on beer,” he said. “You stick it to the working man and give the high-fallutin’, high-paid guy in Seattle a break.”

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

Dear Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale,

Please spend some time with the people who run both types of these businesses and then come back and tell me who is the working man and who is the high-fallutin’, high-paid guy.

Oh, I know you’re talking about the consumer, but these beers – along with gum, soda, etc – are luxury items, not necessities. Nobody needs to buy beer. The consumer can choose to not buy a luxury item that they deem too expensive, that means by raising taxes on these items the person that you are ultimately sticking it to is the producer, not the consumer.

Go back to my first sentence, wash, rinse, repeat.

Sincerely,
Me

P.S. – Asshat.

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Categories: op-ed, taxation
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 11 Apr 2010 @ 12 18 PM

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This year – this week in fact – Chicago is playing host to the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference.

I’m heading up to it again this year and will be primarily be wearing my “brewery” hat rather than my “blogger” hat. But, like last year, I’ll be posting a round up of interesting tidbits each night before I pass out from exhaustion. Can I promise coherence and sobriety? No! But off-the-cuff speculation, commentary, and a healthy dose of fanboy foolishness? Hell’s yes.

This year, I’m also happy to be presenting a panel entitled Storytelling 2.0: Social Media is a Conversation on Saturday morning of the conference. If you’re there, swing by and listen in. It’ll be a hoot and I promise that you’ll learn something.

If you won’t be there, keep an eye on Twitter on Saturday morning. I expect a fair amount of traffic, especially on the #alewhale hash tag.

And finally, if you’re in Chicago this week, make sure you grab me and say hi, and let’s drink a beer. It’s sure to be a great week.

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Categories: Brewers Association, industry, travel
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 06 Apr 2010 @ 07 01 AM

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