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Creative marketing and customer care


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#1 ny_spirits

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 06:22 AM

Our product has been on the market a couple of months, and we are beginning to think seriously about marketing at this point. Feeling a little out of my element in this area, I thought I'd consult with the collective intelligence here at ADI. Any thoughts you'd be willing to share on the following would be greatly appreciated:

1. Creative marketing/advertising ideas? (We are considering: taking a slide at the local movie theater, working with other microdistilleries to set up a "distillers trail"...)
2. Ways to keep retailers interested? (a couple of thoughts we've had is to host a party for our wine store and restaurant/bar customers and/or give our regulars t-shirts, caps or shot glasses. Or maybe the solution is as simple as make a good product and stay in touch?)
3. What helps retailers sell? Shelf cards? Posters? etc. etc. etc.

Thanks so much.

#2 cowdery

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 04:11 PM

The most common marketing mistake is to start with tactics. There is nothing wrong with any of those ideas, but they are all tactical and absent a strategic underpinning, probably would be wasted. A successful marketing plan starts with a measurable objective, proceeds to a strategy, then you develop tactics that support and advance the strategy. Other key things to think about and decide are defining your brand and determining your unique selling proposition.

If all this sounds like gibberish, you might want to read a marketing book, take a marketing course, or pay a marketing consultant to counsel you. That doesn't have to cost a lot if you find the right person and retain him or her just to give you an overview of what a sound marketing plan for your business might entail.

I will say this after being around beverage alcohol marketing for about 30 years. Even though the big companies all have state-of-the-art marketing departments and go through all of the motions of brand management, booze is and always has been a sales-driven business.

The other thing unique about marketing alcohol is that there are a lot of legal restrictions and they vary dramatically by state. Something you have seen done for a non-alcohol product may be illegal for alcohol, and something you have seen a distiller in another state do successfully may be illegal where you are. The Distilled Spirits Council has a book that outlines the rules in each state, which non-members can buy, and especially if you're only distributing in one state, you can get that information from your own state's ABC.

As micro-distillers, you also should look at the small wineries, especially those not on the West Coast, for whom tourism is a crucial part of their business model.

#3 Paul G

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 04:21 PM

I will say this after being around beverage alcohol marketing for about 30 years. Even though the big companies all have state-of-the-art marketing departments and go through all of the motions of brand management, booze is and always has been a sales-driven business.


I'll go ahead and reveal my ignorance up front. What is the alternative to 'sales-driven?' What would be an example of marketing towards sales-driven vs. towards the alternative(s)?

#4 cowdery

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 04:38 PM

I'll go ahead and reveal my ignorance up front. What is the alternative to 'sales-driven?' What would be an example of marketing towards sales-driven vs. towards the alternative(s)?


Many consumer products marketers rely on "pull" marketing, in that they market to end-users, i.e., consumers, and thereby create demand for the product. If consumers want it, retailers have to carry it, and the sales force becomes order-takers. It's never really that simple, but that's the principle.

"Sales-driven" or "push" marketing concentrates on making the product attractive to customers, i.e., retailers, with the idea that they will take care of selling it to the consumer. We refer to this as a "front door" versus "back door" business. Cosmetics, for example, is a front door business, as in customers come in the front door pretty much knowing what they want. Liquor has always been a back door business, meaning if you can get it in the back door, the retailer will take care of getting it out the front door.

In liquor, the mandatory three-tier distribution system is part of the reason for this, since distributors are sales companies, not marketing companies.

In the distilled spirits business, Brown-Forman is probably the leader, and the exception, in using "pull" techniques to good effect. For example, how hard do you think it is to be the Jack Daniel's rep? You're basically just taking orders.

#5 Guest_sensei_*

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 04:50 PM

One thing to think about is "cult branding". I realize that microdistillers are much smaller than Star Trek, Volkswagon, or H-D, but the principle still applies. If you're selling vodka just like everyone else, why should I pick your product? However, if you're selling a "lifestyle of being your own person" that may make your product more appealing to a younger more affluent clientele, they may be willing to spend a little more for uniqueness. Just a thought.

#6 grehorst

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 07:35 PM

As Charles Cowdery said look at how small wineries market- if your distillery can become a destination, make it so. We don't have that choice in WI (yet), public tasting at the distillery is not allowed, so our best marketing opportunity comes from tastings at bars. Just make sure that while you're introducing your product to consumers you're also selling to the bartenders. They can make all the difference for you. We frequently invite bartenders to our distillery- they see how and why we do what we do and they'll always associate that experience with the product, someday we hope to be able to do this with consumers too.

If you're just starting, remember you probably have more time than money (well ok you don't have much time either but remember you're trying to build a business!) so avoid gimmicks and spend your time with those who should be buying your product.

#7 cowdery

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 08:11 PM

Guy raises another key point. Conventional wisdom in the liquor business has always been that products are made on-premise, because that's where most consumers try new products. Making recommendations to patrons is part of the on-premise culture much more so than it is off-premise.

"Sample the product on-premise" is a good example of a strategy statement.

Question for Guy. Does Wisconsin law allow you to sell directly to bars, or do you have to go through a distributor?

Michigan is the latest state to permit on-site sampling and direct-to-consumers sales. Where you have that, you have to give tourism a lot of consideration.

#8 grehorst

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 10:13 PM

Guy raises another key point. Conventional wisdom in the liquor business has always been that products are made on-premise, because that's where most consumers try new products. Making recommendations to patrons is part of the on-premise culture much more so than it is off-premise.

"Sample the product on-premise" is a good example of a strategy statement.

Question for Guy. Does Wisconsin law allow you to sell directly to bars, or do you have to go through a distributor?

Michigan is the latest state to permit on-site sampling and direct-to-consumers sales. Where you have that, you have to give tourism a lot of consideration.


When I started, I exploited what I percieved as a loophole- WI law said a distiller couldn't sell direct but a rectifier could. So, I got a rectifiers and a distillers permit. We sold direct for for the first few months then we got a distributor. Shortly after that I had a conversation with a higher up at the state dept. of revenue. He asked if I was still distributing my own product. I said no, and he said thats probably a good idea since if someone (distributors lobby?) made an issue of it I could be in some trouble. Well, oddly enough a few months ago the state legislature passed a change to the language stating a distillery or rectifier cannot distribute their own product.

We've been attempting legislative change for a few years with no progress. The wine and spirits wholesale lobby is extremely powerful here.

My new solution- Since I can't taste the product on consumers at the distillery I'll take the distillery to the bars! We're moving the distillery to a neighborhood that is loaded with bars. Visitors will see the distillery then we'll walk across the street to the bars to sample.

Michigans recent changes are ideal- hopefully someday WI will have some enlightened legislators who will see the value in promoting the states distilleries. Until then we'll improvise.

#9 Paul G

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 11:53 PM

I know CA law is convoluted as all hell. My head was about to explode by the time I got through the "cans" the "cannots" and "except ifs"
I *think* I'd be able to offer tasting, but I don't remember specifically. Either way, I'm keeping tabs on the potential "work-arounds" and filing them away for future reference. I'm still a long way from actually putting rubber to the road as it were, so I can go back and read and reread till my eyes cross so badly they straighten back out.
I think the most useful thing I've done yet has been to print out what I find on-line and keep it in the library bathroom to chew on in small bites. That, and if it bores me to sleep, at least I'm somewhere private.

I think I'll be ok talking up my product...I'm generally good with doing that for things I do and I believe in. One skill I'll have to spend extra time honing will be the simple act of breaking the ice. Then again, to become the reclusive hermit behind the still, I'll have to be well established enough to hire on reps...not bloody likely as a startup.

#10 cowdery

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Posted 31 July 2008 - 11:11 PM

If you have a good story to tell, telling it usually isn't hard.

Jess Graber, of Stranahan's, does a great job, but each person has to have his or her own style. The most important thing is to learn from the reactions of the people you tell it to. That way, you get something valuable out of every presentation, even if you don't get a sale.

#11 GRDB

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 02:26 PM

One thing to think about is "cult branding". I realize that microdistillers are much smaller than Star Trek, Volkswagon, or H-D, but the principle still applies. If you're selling vodka just like everyone else, why should I pick your product? However, if you're selling a "lifestyle of being your own person" that may make your product more appealing to a younger more affluent clientele, they may be willing to spend a little more for uniqueness. Just a thought.


Two things to expand on this, albeit 3 years later. If you imagine 3 circles one inside another and label the inside WHY?, the middle HOW?, and the outer most WHAT?. You want to market from the inside out, why YOU make the product, HOW does is benefit the consumer, WHAT is the actual product. With that in mind watch an Apple commercial and you can see how they are really really successful at this.
The second thing is don not for get your market curve, an upside down U. At the left end of the U there are the innovative consumers(those people willing to camp out for your product release date). Then the early adapters(will tell everyone about your product) and the late adapters( this is the biggest chunk and can run from halfway up the left side the right side tail end). At the very end of the right tall is the "Have To Adapters"(this is where you hope and pray all the big names fail and you pick up their customers because you are the only one making the particular product). late adapters and have to adapters are not going to be your focus, there are just too many competitors in this market.




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