As the days get warmer and longer, we reach that magical time of year: beer festival season. It’s when beer nerds flock to open fields and town plazas to queue up and sample tiny glasses of the latest and greatest the industry has to offer. For breweries, this creates an ideal situation.
A beer festival is one of the most cost-effective ways to engage with a new audience and receive instant feedback about beer, branding, and trends. Where else, other than their tasting room, can a brewery get a massive group of their target market in one place, ready and willing to give their uninhibited feedback? Festival goers are often happy to offer their opinion, especially after a few little glasses of beer. Unfortunately, many breweries don’t seem to realize how much more there is to serve at a festival than a four-ounce sample.
At many festivals, a beat-up beer pouring cooler (aka “jockey box”) and beer-stained menus are a common sight. So are unenthusiastic staff pouring something that’s on tap in their tasting room or already out on shelves. The age-old service statement, “people won’t remember your beer, they won’t remember your booth, but they will remember how you made them feel” is as true at a beer festival as in a tasting room. Consider these two different experiences:
Festival Attendee: “Hey! What are you pouring today?”
Beer Pourer Joe: “We’ve got our IPA and a Saison.”
Festival Attendee: “Hey! What are you pouring today?
Beer Pourer Joanne: “Hey! We’ve got two for you today: our head brewer’s pride and joy, the Whatchamacallit IPA, plus a new experimental brew we’re testing out, the Sandalwood Saison. Give us your opinion on Instagram using this hashtag, because after the fest, we’re awarding a lucky winner a free tour and tasting with one of our owners!”
The brewery and pourer In Situation 1 don’t recognize the opportunity in front of them. They’re at the festival because they feel like they should be there. The brewery in Situation 2 clearly cares about its customers’ experience. They’ve created an engaging story around their products and a memorable narrative around their brand. Situation 2 also offers an opportunity for the guest to leave feedback without feeling pressured or awkward about giving it in the moment. Furthermore, they have allowed for an opportunity to interact directly with the brewery outside of the festival.
Which of these situations is more likely to lead to a future relationship with the customer? Which brewery is likely to have their beer chosen from a menu on a future occasion? Which is more likely to have a beer festival patron try their beer again? The answer is obvious.
Quality theming around a booth can get expensive. But with a little creativity, anything is possible. You don’t need a big budget to add a few signature items that increase the customer experience and create an interesting story. Look at the more comprehensive booths for inspiration and think of parallels appropriate for your brewery’s marketing themes. If budget allows, invest in something flashier than a tent and jockey box. [Example: Old Yale Brewing’s beer serving trailer.] When these signature items have been created, they must be cared for. A dented, scratched, stained presentation reflects those same unsavoury qualities onto a brand.
Even though theming is fun and exciting, the best investment is in creating a memorable experience for the festival guests. Like a tasting room, a beer festival is “live, experiential marketing”—an in-person opportunity for customers to engage with a brand and develop an emotional connection. Customers want to peek behind the curtain and shake hands with the people involved; they want to feel like they know a secret and belong to something bigger than the product.
It’s time for more breweries to develop the beer festival marketing strategy past a four-ounce sample and into an engaging dialogue that starts a meaningful relationship.
Photo credit: Brian K. Smith