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Low Cost Marketing Tools

MB Roland

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As we work on a streamlined budget, and our marketing budget is not incredibly huge, we're always looking for ways to increase our visibility without overtaxing the money. Of course, we have a FB page that we update and interact with regularly, as well as a Twitter account, which honestly I don't find as engaging, but we do try to keep it updated. We use radio and billboards, rack cards at local hotels, businesses, and interstate rest stops. We also make sure to refer customers to other similar businesses, knowing they will return the favor. Needless to say we do have a website that we keep updated as well. We've also begun hosting monthly events at the distillery which seems to be going very well in increasing knowledge. However, we are always looking for more opportunity to "get the word out".

Invariably, we always hear from new customers that they didn't know we were in the area. Or we hear of someone looking for a product that we make and they've driven miles to purchase it when it's produced in their own backyard, they simply weren't aware.

Do any of you have any suggestions we haven't thought of, or something that works for you that you'd be willing to share?

Thanks for any & all feedback!

Merry Beth

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1. Attend and sponsor local events. Donating your time or booze to a local event is a great way to build brand recognition.

2. Leverage local message boards, local blogs. Comment on them. Start conversations, contribute to existing conversations. They don't have to be about booze. Business blogs, civic blogs, community message boards. That's where your customers are hanging out online.

3. Optimize your website for search engines. You may have a great site and great products, but that doesn't matter if people can't find you. Use a lot of keyword-rich content, and possibly consider running an Adwords campaign to drive traffic to your product pages.

4. Start a blog. If you live in Detroit and sell whiskey, write some blog posts about "Detroit's best whiskey" and "Detroit's finest whiskey distillery". Write good content, regularly, and not all of it should be about you. Write about what other cool companies in your area are doing. Push the posts out to facebook and twitter. Respond to all comments.

5. Google Local. Make sure you claim your location on Google. People do more local searches nowadays than general.

6. Twitter searches. Do a twitter search for people talking about whatever you make. If that's craft whiskey, search for it. Follow the people who talk about it most. Join in the conversation. Ask questions. That stuff may not seem to be worthwhile, and it may take 6 months or a year to build up any real sort of following, but it's worth it. Your social network will turn into valuable customers.

7. Contests. Do a contest with local chefs to create the best dish using your spirit, or pairing with your spirit. Winner gets...free case of spirit! Or tshirt, cocktail glass, whatever.

8. Customer testimonials. If you have customers that love your products, ask them to tell their friends. Reward them with swag or other prizes. Ask them to tweet or post on Facebook when they are enjoying a cocktail or glass of your spirit.

9. Get press. Talk to local journalists (tv, radio, print, blogs) about doing a story about your new product, or the story behind your distillery. Come up with a solid pitch first, because these folks get inundated with stories all day long. Think about the most interesting, unique facet of your distillery, and craft a short paragraph to tell that story. Send it out to all the journalist email addresses you can find.

Hope that helps!

If you need more help with the web stuff, I'd be happy to advise. I do that sort of thing for my undercover office job - when I'm not planning a distillery :)

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Quirk's suggestions are all good, but perhaps the most effective one is getting PR hits.

But as the Zen masters say: this is learned by practice only.

You might want to work on 1-8 to build up a stock of media material; then whenever you have a great story, pitch it for the press hit. Check out the book "How You Can Manipulate The Media" for more ideas.

Advanced lesson: build a "bullpen" of media contacts so you can spread stories widely.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks to you both for sharing your valuable time & information. Some of them we've already put to use and some of them are works in progress. It all adds up, right? Thanks again, very much appreciated. If we find something special that works wonders, I'll post as well. But I will say that so far, besides the absolute best free advertising (word of mouth), has been radio. The cost hasn't been exponential, and since a large part of our target audience rotates out seasonally (we're in a military town), advertising on a station that caters to those folks has been great for us thus far. Obviously that's unique in our situation, but it's great for anyone advertising a new product or new event, and a heck of a lot cheaper than print (for us, anyway).

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It seems from your orig post that you have a good foundation of the basics, especially those that work for you. Couple questions:

1.) What are the links to your FB, twitter, and dot-com locations? and your Brand's name? You didn't mention any of those in the original post....but this is my point. While you might have the major bases covered, perhaps there are cracks that you can still fill that will further increase (maybe even over 50% increase) the reach of your efforts...like a signature with your brand's info for no-sweat repetition every time you make a post on this forum or another...(see my signature :-) ).

2.) Does your radio advertising consist of actual commercials, or underwriting (like the 9 seconds you get with an NPR affiliate?). If it's commercials, has there been much production cost, or what has your experience been with the cost of creating the spot, and then running it? Are the costs equal? Have you had success with a certain message or keyword over an other?

3.) Are you really buying billboards?? if so, what's been the cost, and do you have a pic of the content??



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My apologies for not responding sooner, we've been a bit busy and the reply I'm typing now is going to be a bit short due to time constrictions, but I'll respond further in depth as soon as I can. As far as the return on the radio, it's definitely hard to quantify due to our limited time in business, but I can say with certainty that we get at least one customers a week tell us they heard about us from the radio and decided to "come on by". The way I've always understood it, while one person will verbalize how they heard about us, there are 5 more that did the same but didn't tell us. So by that method, we're getting an average of five more new customers a week. Obviously that's going to fluctuate, and sometimes it'll take more time to get them to stop by, but the word is definitely getting out.

The radio ads are produced at the station for no extra cost, and we change them up frequently. We also sponsor an hour of live DJ time that our business is promoted regularly during that "hot" hour.

We have a billboard on the interstate, originally started with two, but have dropped to one. One is all that is necessary and we have our website, ability to taste & shop info, etc. You've only got about 3-4 seconds for them to actually "read" a billboard, so you've got to get the message to them quickly. Costs range dramatically, from $750 to $2,000 a month. Take a guess which end we're at. ;)

And you are correct, I didn't link to our FB, my direct e-mail, business (MB Roland Distillery, sorry I'm MB Roland, not to be confused with my husband Paul, so ironically it felt redundant, but I definitely get the point) etc. I definitely do on my e-mails and other contacts with customers, but failed to do so here. That will be corrected when I have time. Thanks!

Got to run, my day job calls. Have a great day!

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  • 6 months later...

Howdy, I thought I might expand on the marketing items for your consideration.

1. Radio - This has been mentioned but it can be expanded. One could do cheap 10 second "radio reads" where the DJ just say's something about your product or brand. These are around $15 or so each. You could also do a live remote where they come to your distillery and do a live broadcast. These can range from $500 to $1000 or so.

2. Stickers - People love stickers. just look at Apple computers, they put two stickers in with every computer. Don't charge for these, it's a marketing expense.

3. 'Zine - low budget and hip magazine you make yourself about how cool you and your products are. I can get these made for about $1,500 for 5,000 zines.

4. Youtube - make video's of you hand crafting the product, doing cool things like cracking open a barrel that's been aging for 3 years and tasting it, or just fun, day-to-day antics.

5. Throw a distillery party - people like parties, throw one and invite the big wigs of the town.

6. Flickr - start a flickr account and take photos of all your miss adventures and happenings

7. Community Involvement - Get on some charity boards and do good things for the community. (PR material)

8. Branded Bar Breathalyzer - Donate some of these to your best bar clients for its free use by its patrons. (PR material)

9. glass coasters or napkins - for bars and maybe bundling with your spirit

10. T-shirt cannon - do something fun at an event that you're sponsoring

11. Hotel Room Mini Bars - make little bottle sampler kits of your spirits and work a deal with local hotels. (tricky with controlled states)

12. Sponsor local adult athletes, adult teams or maybe start an adult kickball league.

13. Artist Showing - If your town has a gallery or famous artist, how about doing a tasting at their gallery, inviting their client base. It could be a pairing of art and spirits.

14. Long Drive Golf Contest - team up with a golf course and have a longest drive event for its members.

15. List building - have a tasting room guest registration booklet that captures their name, address and e-mail for future marketing.

16. Sell t-shirts at very tight margins. The wearable advertising is well worth the profit loss. You will sell more and have human billboards walking around town supporting your brand.

17. Bloggers - send your spirits out for review to spirit bloggers or bloggers who have a ton of followers.

I could go on an on and on.... but the main thing is to do what your competition is not doing, be different and you'll get noticed.


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  • 10 months later...

I need to revive this post. I just had a conversations about this with a potential brand.

I think everyone should read this thread because there are a lot of ideas on here. I previous to my current life worked on developing a brand with a shoestring budget. There are a few sales tools that you just NEED.

When you present to a (good) Distributor, one of the first questions they will ask you after "How Much?" is "What Else?"

What kind of POS (Point of Sale) items do you offer as tools for sales people.

Sales people, are largely, some of the worst people to deal with - not by lack of character, but rather the nature of the life. They are constantly pulled in different directions, different focus brands all fighting to be their top priority when they walk into an account that only gives them a few minutes.

Buyers - retail or on-premise - are also overloaded by sales people coming into their offices and showing hundreds of brands. I've seen and lived it on all three levels.

That being said-


I really cant bold that enough...

The well made sell sheet, acts as a cheat sheet for the sales person to represent your brand, with the same buzzwords, terminology, and points that you yourself would use if you were personally presenting it to the account. They are cheap and easy to make, you can even have a .pdf version to email.

I might start a separate thread for building a successful one.

All of the other Ideas are secondary to this simple and easy tool.


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  • 3 weeks later...

I think one of the most cost effective marketing ideas was entering the various spirits competitions.

Beverage Testing Institute, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Wine Enthusiast, etc.

Getting positive reviews of your spirits can lead to plenty of free additional advertising.

After we scored 94 points at Beverage Testing Institute, that gave local news media a reason to write a series of articles about us.


So it was a free round of local PR. We heard that many of the liquor stores carrying our vodka sold out in the areas where those news sources have their readers.

The cost to enter most of these competitions is only $300 to $400.

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The thing I have seen with micros that works best is engaging your customers. Rather than a scattershot approach, which is what most of these boilerplate lists amount to, which can take a lot of your time and money for very little benefit, concentrate all of your energies on:

1) Getting previous customers (trade and consumer) to buy again.

2) Getting previous customers (consumers espcially) to become your advocates or, as the majors call them, ambassadors.

I say this more for the benefit of everybody else, because I think MB Roland already does this well, but I'd encourage even them to forget about stuff that might give you broad reach with very little depth. Spend your limited time and money developing those relationships. Now, if that leads you naturally to things like Facebook or ad specialties, fine, but let the strategy drive the tactics and the strategy should be bonding with existing customers.

For example, I think MB Roland has done parties, with live music, food, and other activities. These are great. If you already do them, think about what attendees can take away that will make them more likely to buy more, and more likely to share their enthusiasm with others.

This is true for any small, specialized business. A loyal, repeat customer is gold. If you can make people feel like you are their distillery, you'll be set.

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I for one hold out very little hope for the voracity and value of the proliferation of "Honey BooBoo" award venues that seem to be popping up for spirits and wines. I know for a fact that a recent "gold medal award" was won by a distiller (not one that I have seen post on these boards) who didn't even have his still hooked up at the time his entry's were sent in. I have no way of knowing what was actually in the bottles, but it wasn't something from his production, and I can't help but wonder how prolific that practice is.

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