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What works and what doesn't in distillery marketing and branding?

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I recently introduced myself to this forum as a nascent distiller and a full-time marketer and offered an invitation to discuss marketing plans with forum members. The response has been great and I'm helping to develop some plans of action.

I'm wondering if some of you in the "older guard" would be willing to offer stories of what works/what flops with regard to marketing your product lines and your distilleries.

I'm not asking for trade secrets or anything here, just an overview of marketing ideas that have proven successful for you. And a few war stories might help to pepper the mix...

I also understand, all too well, that what works for one business may not work for another. I've read the threads, with some amusement, about promotional giveaways such as branded golf balls that some see as a great branding vehicle while others see them as a complete waste of time and resources.

Let me reiterate, I'm not trying to "borrow" secrets. I'm hoping this thread can become a teaching tool for those in the early phases of developing a marketing plan, saving them time and money on wasted or misguided efforts. I'm also hoping, of course, that I can save my clients the same.

Carl

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I find it VEry hard to get info out of many even when offering to pay for there time or info. Mostly get no one did it for me crap why would I tell you. Then there are VEry few who are more than willing to help and they are great wise people who will get rewarded in the long run.

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I find it VEry hard to get info out of many even when offering to pay for there time or info. Mostly get no one did it for me crap why would I tell you. Then there are VEry few who are more than willing to help and they are great wise people who will get rewarded in the long run.

John D, How much are you offering to pay for my time and info (I have both to offer)?

Your post makes me think of one of my favorite Confucius quotes: Man who stand on hill with mouth open will wait long time for roast duck to drop in. Is that the "reward in the long run" you are talking about? I think your time would be better spent attempting to figure it out instead of waiting for a chance to complain that no one is offering it to you...

Best of luck.

-Scott

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Carl,

The marketing plan is "to sell the 2nd bottle". Selling the first bottle is simple, selling the second depends on quality and message. It was at the Portland ADI event, forget which session, the panelist Max Watman said to quit sending him crap. He didn't mean hooch, he meant plastic monkeys, feathered boas, and other marketing material that didn't really speak to the core message of the brand.

We're very proud of our brand and marketing strategy and insofar as it has been moderately successful, we believe that is due to the authenticity of our message. We co-branded our marketing strategy with the history of our town and by result became a part of its message as well.

I think that marketing hooch is tough and there is no one answer that works, but the customer can smell crap, so if the message isn't authentic, just go home.

Cheers.

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Hey Scott

Not pointing fingers just what has been happen to me in general. Trying to get general first steps question is not to hard but start to drill down and most of my questions still get general answers. But some will explain in detail.

I will be closing on my land at the end of the month. I am looking at online and day trip distilleries to get an idea of layouts. Lot size is 25 wide by 110 long. Looking to put two stories with back 80 open to roof line. The front 23' will be one floor in ground as cellar and the other at street level.

As for the $$ I have been looking a the 1 / 3 day classes offered by other distilleries. But as a disabled veteran with learning disabilities I need one on one classes. Found one on the west coast, $5000.00 one week plus travel,motel, food. I just don't have that in the budget just yet. I do have $$ but can't find any east coast doing one on one. I would love to go back to Maine. Hint Hint!

Know anybody willing to help a guy learn the legal way and share planning and ttb prep. For a small fee and grunt labor?

Sorry for for ruffling feathers, I really don't like duck.

John

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Scott, I was sincerely hoping you'd come into the conversation, though not necessarily in this light.

I've checked out your sites and your social feeds and have, in fact, sent your links to the distillers I'm working with as an example of a distiller who's working Social Media Marketing to its fullest. It looks like at least one of you two have a background in design so I'm guessing that gives you a boost of confidence to take on such a task.

How's it working for you?

Carl

John D, How much are you offering to pay for my time and info (I have both to offer)?

Your post makes me think of one of my favorite Confucius quotes: Man who stand on hill with mouth open will wait long time for roast duck to drop in. Is that the "reward in the long run" you are talking about? I think your time would be better spent attempting to figure it out instead of waiting for a chance to complain that no one is offering it to you...

Best of luck.

-Scott

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John,

Here's a question I don't yet have an answer for; To whom are we looking to sell the second bottle? Seems to me, booze is in a strange little niche insofar as it's kind of a B2B product and a B2C product.

Obviously, you want people buying your bottles from the liquor store but you also want it to get into the hands of bar owners and managers, who can drive demand and bring buyers back for more. Personally, I like to test out a new quaff at the bar rather than drop $50 on a bottle, and I often rely on the barkeep to make recommendations. That would seem to require a two-tiered marketing approach, driving customers into the bar requesting your product as well as bringing the brand to the attention of the decision maker at the retail level.

And then there's distributors. They, if I understand it correctly, become the sales staff for your brand. How to make them your cheerleader?

I agree with you completely on setting aside the gimmicks and building a genuine presence behind your brand and I think the distillery game is rife with stories that consumers can get jazzed about but it has to be 100% genuine.

Carl

Carl,

The marketing plan is "to sell the 2nd bottle". Selling the first bottle is simple, selling the second depends on quality and message. It was at the Portland ADI event, forget which session, the panelist Max Watman said to quit sending him crap. He didn't mean hooch, he meant plastic monkeys, feathered boas, and other marketing material that didn't really speak to the core message of the brand.

We're very proud of our brand and marketing strategy and insofar as it has been moderately successful, we believe that is due to the authenticity of our message. We co-branded our marketing strategy with the history of our town and by result became a part of its message as well.

I think that marketing hooch is tough and there is no one answer that works, but the customer can smell crap, so if the message isn't authentic, just go home.

Cheers.

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John,

That's why I was very explicit with my question. I knew this was a topic that could ruffle a few feathers if not asked carefully.

carl

I find it VEry hard to get info out of many even when offering to pay for there time or info. Mostly get no one did it for me crap why would I tell you. Then there are VEry few who are more than willing to help and they are great wise people who will get rewarded in the long run.

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Sis- what exactly are you attempting to do: open your own distillery, or charge "clients" for the marketing information you obtain for free from this forum? It seems like if you are after marketing tips that you can then "sell" you may very well hit a wall :)

As for B2B, vs B2C, perhaps you should keep in mind that B2B has no actual value without C. Essentially what you are looking for is B2CViaB. This is then quite simple for a regional product:

Story / label / price point for bottle #1.

Quality of product for every bottle thereafter, as B2B will fail automatically regardless of Story/label/price point, if C doesn't repurchase.

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Roger,

It's a fair question, though I feel like I addressed it before you did. I run a small marketing company and am in the very early phases of conceiving a plan for a microdistillery of my own. It occurred to me that I could combine the two, marketing for distillers while learning the craft and getting to know the players and their varied approaches.

So far as I understand it, industry forums exist for the sharing of knowledge and the building of community. I've dug through some of your posts and I see that you contribute quite a lot on both fronts. In building my knowledge base by pouring over past topics, I may well find myself utilizing "information I've obtained free from this forum" to shape the future of my distillery. Is that, by default, to be limited to tools and techniques at the exclusion of getting my product to market?

I imagine my path to ADI is not unique. I spent years dabbling in the Home Distiller forum until I got the crazy idea of opening a distillery. It was then I discovered this forum and dove in with both feet.

While I've learned much here, I see that marketing is not, generally speaking, at the forefront of the discussion. This thread will hopefully contribute to the knowledge base for people like me who are just getting started. In fact, you've made a huge contribution to said knowledge base with the B2CviaB approach you describe above. Thanks for that.

I'm well aware that many people think of marketers as little more than glorified used car salesmen but without a finely crafted marketing strategy the world's best spirit will languish in oblivion and potentially drive the craft distiller into craft bankruptcy.

That said, my intention is twofold, as I freely and openly admitted above. I'm in conversation with four distillers, all of whom are members of this forum, who are in various stages of early development. While I'm well versed in marketing tactics and techniques, the microdistillery industry is new to me and has nuances that I don't yet fully comprehend. I don't want to waste their time and resources, nor my own, on tactics that don't work.

As an aside, I've given all four of those distillers tons of my time and advice and only talked money with one of them, who had this to say:

I'm not sure who else, if anyone, acted on this post, but I've been very impressed with Sisyphus and Carl's knowledge of startups and their use of electronic marketing. They are quoting a package for me, but even if that doesn't work out I think I've learned quite a bit from our handful of conversations. I know must members of this forum are further along in the business than I am, but if there's anyone looking for a specific marketing plan or a quick overview of where they stand, I'd suggest giving Sisyphus a call. Carl wasn't at all pushy, and actually guided me in a direction that will require fewer resources than I originally anticipated.

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I am one of the Distilleries that been speaking with Carl and he has been great in pointing me in a direction or two, and the topic of money or his fees has NEVER come up .. I appreciate that he is putting himself out there .. And when I make the decision to spend some money on marketing assistance I will remember the help that he's provided !!... thanxxx...Brian

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Thanks for chiming in Brian. You get your homework done yet?

Carl

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Sort of ... I ordered the books in question !!!.. . Thanxxxx ...I'll email you my status...

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Sys- I get your drift, but I will offer an alternative view. in my previous company we paid an individual just under $300,000- for an inhouse consultation to assist us with some specific marketing ideas that were relative to our business, that she had been successful with in her term as the president of marketing for a like firm prior to her retirement. It was well worth it for us to do so, and we were glad we paid for it.

But in your case you have admittedly no knowledge of the industry, and are attempting to gain said knowledge for free from professionals (both what has worked and what hasn't) so that you can build a knowledge base to then sell on the open market. I absolutely commend you on your effort, and I really mean that. However I can't imagine any particular company would reveal specific marketing successes freely, for someone to then resell.

All of that said, the best way for any company to research what is working, is to look at the offerings and marketing concepts of like companies. In fact I will give you the one bit of advise that we paid heavily for: if you see something that a lot of companies are doing, do the same thing. Then do something else to individualize or brand your company so it stands out, but rely on the sales of those products that everybody else in your space sells. It seems pretty simple, and it is, but oftentimes companies try too hard to be different, and they lose the potential revenue stream from more mainstream offerings.

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Thanks for your continued input, Roger. It's funny, all the while you're saying I'm not likely to get any useful information from my question, you keep giving me (and future forum users) incredibly useful information.

I appreciate your input and remain hopeful that the conversation will continue to evolve.

Carl

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. It's funny, all the while you're saying I'm not likely to get any useful information from my question, you keep giving me (and future forum users) incredibly useful information.

Yep, that's what this board is all about, the flow of "free information". Now you're catching on :)

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Here's some great information. It may be old news to many of you but I just came across it. This article from BeverageMedia.com talks about the growth of Craft Distilleries but also lays out some success stories and the challenges faced in getting a product into the hands of consumers.

http://www.beveragemedia.com/index.php/2013/01/small-gets-bigger-the-craft-distillery-movement-keeps-growing/

Carl

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My take away from that article is that big companies are pretending to be little so they can be "hip", and little companies are pretending to be big so distributors will mass market their products. Pretty sorry excuse for advertising theory.

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Man, you're a real ray of sunshine, Roger. :D

What I got from the article is that this industry is on fire but there are some real challenges in getting attention and scaling up. Obviously, the big players are watching what's happening and trying to reproduce the model but they face the corollary challenge of scaling down.

The grey area in the middle creates a quandary in positioning a brand, I think. Should you become the face of your product? A small, scrappy David against the established Goliath? To do so may well limit the potential for authenticity when you start to scale. The alternative would be to create the image of a big brand but run the risk of missing the benefit of local traction.

Obviously, this question boils down to individualized approaches but in twenty years it'll be answered in hindsight.

Carl

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Anecdotally, the former method has worked well for Tito's vodka. His name is literally on the bottle, and even at a larger scale he has managed to maintain quality and the image of a craft product.

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True, Quirk, but the landscape has changed dramatically since Tito's started in '97.

C

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The landscape has changed since Tito started... But sales are higher-than-ever, and the brand identity remains the same.

If executed well, either/any method can work. But of course, like everything else in business - it is this execution that is the difficult part.

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Precisely my point, tl. That's why I'm attempting to start a conversation that will help to side-step the trial and error process.

Carl

The landscape has changed since Tito started... But sales are higher-than-ever, and the brand identity remains the same.

If executed well, either/any method can work. But of course, like everything else in business - it is this execution that is the difficult part.

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