There is no doubt the craft beer movement is sweeping the world. Industry statistics worldwide show the number of craft breweries increasing year over year. It’s exciting to watch, but is this growth sustainable? What was an emerging industry is now a growth industry, and the “if we brew it they will come” strategy is longer an option.
Macro breweries are no longer the common enemy; the battle is now among local brands. So how does a small bootstrapping brewery compete against the ones with deep pockets? The answer is to build community. Every successful brand has one.
Building a community is the single most powerful defence against shift in the industry. If the Hazy IPA trend crashes tomorrow, a strong and loyal community will still be there to support a brewery, because they care.
It’s easy to see which breweries are already working at it and which aren’t. Those that have it sell out of special releases in a day (if not hours), their casks are done before many folks finish their workday, and the beer—regardless how good or bad it is—is posted as the “best in town”. People crave becoming part of this thing even if they don’t know what it is. Fans of a brewery dress in their branded clothing, advocate for their beer, and frequent the tasting room.
The breweries that aren’t working at it brew beers and sell them. Their customers like the product enough to buy them once and take them home to drink on the couch with their ugly cat.
Numerous studies back up the connection between community and increased sales. Approximately 80% of customers consider themselves “loyal” after three to five purchases. And even a 5% increase in customer retention can boost sales anywhere from 25% to 95%. No matter what the motivation, building community is worth the investment.
Community develops whether a brewery is actively building it or not. The clever ones become the community guide and foster real relationships within it. And it’s never too late to start. Strong community forms around a few core characteristics:
People like to be part of something that stands for something. When a brewery’s values and standards are loud and clear, even written on the wall, people can easily decide whether to take part. A brewery that builds a reputation for putting community first, making ethical decisions, and providing results that align with their core values makes it easy for the community to advocate for them.
Humans are creatures of habit and find comfort in things being the same as they were the last time. Consistent messaging and reliable core beers win more supporters than shifting values and priorities and IPA that tastes different every time.
It has never been easier to learn the desires and frustrations of a given group of people. A five-minute search on social media provides invaluable feedback about where a community stands. Paying attention to the customer base’s wants and needs makes it easier and more cost effective for the brewery to engage with that base.
People appreciate being appreciated. Leader participation in community is essential, and effort spent to build relationships pays off. Appreciating patrons, thanking them for their support, is a simple act that speaks volumes and creates goodwill. Community notices
Making great beer is no longer the only—or a guaranteed—route to success. To fight purely on marketing budgets alone will leave more breweries bankrupt than successful. The most effective tool any brewery can arm themselves with is a strong community to have their back through good times and bad. Those that spend the time now investing in their community will have a fighting chance to still be standing when the dust settles.