In the mid 90’s the Dallas area saw the first big boom of the craft beer industry. A handful of micro-breweries opened their doors and introduced Dallas beer drinkers to the world of craft beer, but by 2000 almost all of the breweries closed. As a new wave of Dallas area brewers opens their taps, what lessons can be learned from the industry’s past failure?
Dallas’s first wave of home-grown craft beer came in the form of gastro-pubs, where the food wasn’t that great and the beer was equally mediocre. Servers knew very little about the beers offered and how to pare them with different entrees, so most patrons continued to order the big national beer that they were familiar with. With little to no marketing educating customers about beer offerings it’s no wonder that most of the breweries failed.
While it’s true your line of beers have to be good for you to turn a profit, how you brand and market your tasty brews determines how much profit and how long you can continue to grow. As with all businesses, your product doesn’t mean a lot if you can’t get it in front of customers. You ideal customer isn’t waiting out there for the next big craft brewery to launch, so it’s up to you to make them aware. While it’s true that you may have a ton of awards touting your Belgian Triple as the best American brewed beer since St. Bernardis began distributing in the United States, it doesn’t matter if no one is there to try.
Sure you sell beer to your customers, but what are they really buying from you? For any brewery to live beyond the initial boom of launch, it helps to realize what your customers are looking for in your brand. The first phase of brewpubs missed this opportunity by only offering beer on site. Brand adoption meant that these patrons liked the food or atmosphere of the brewpub with beer being the least important factor despite restaurants making beer the differentiating factor. If your customers’ brand expectations don’t align with your brand promise then failure is inevitable.
Most beer drinkers align with certain brands that represent their lifestyle or tribe they belong to. Pabst Blue Ribbon has seen an enormous resurgence in the last decade as the choice for most concert-going hipsters. While Pabst Blue Ribbon isn’t the best tasting beer on the market, the tribe associated with the brand has rocketed them to success due to the unique paring of ironic mustaches and ironic beer drinking. Think about the lifestyle that your beer represents to you target audience, and craft your brand and marketing efforts around it. It’s important to realize that if you’re honest in your messaging your fan base will grow. So, never try to make your brand be something that it isn’t.
Every interaction with your target audience is an opportunity to brand. Don’t leave anything to chance. Your beer may be great, but if your packaging looks like everyone else on the shelf you can’t expect your customer to remember you. Think about your tap handles, merchandise, packaging and social media messaging in terms of strategy. Define specific goals for each channel of your marketing. Even your brewery tours should have a strategy. While it’s great to educate visitors about how beer is made, does that differentiate you from the other breweries that are doing the same. Crafting experiences for all five senses in your tour will form stronger memories, and stronger memories means that the next time your target is at the store or a pub they’ll order your beer instead of the other hundreds of options available.
While Dallas’s craft beer scene didn’t survive the first initial wave due to lack of differentiation and poor to non-existent branding and marketing efforts, the new class of breweries which includes Lakewood Brewing Co., Community Beer Company, and Deep Ellum Brewing Company are showing a focus on strong brewing lines backed by strategic branding and marketing efforts. Not all of the new breweries will survive the latest boom, but I believe that the craft beer scene will remain strong and continue to grow in the Dallas area.