The craft beer industry faces a unique set of marketing challenges thanks to the constant question of how to grow while keeping things small.
One of the most difficult hurdles a craft brewery must face when it comes to marketing is what I call the “indie fan effect.” Having come of age during the dawn of hipster culture, many a millennial can attest to the internal struggle one faces when an obscure “indie” band that you have always prided yourself on knowing exists hits it big and becomes well-known or too “mainstream.” Indie bands must constantly straddle the line between mainstream success and the indie authenticity that garnered them that success or they risk losing their original fan base to someone a little more obscure. This is the indie fan effect. Craft beer inherently suffers from this same phenomenon because its charm lies in its “micro” origins and attention to detail.
Because of this “indie fan effect” a craft beer brand must focus on maintaining that original sense of authenticity no matter their size by creating a distinctive brand identity and sticking to it. Part of the charm of one of our craft beer clients, Texian Brewing Company, is their unwavering focus on the great state of Texas. Everything from their ingredients to their packaging to the concepts behind each new beer takes root in Texas history and no matter how popular they get, I doubt that will change.
This leads me to the second major hurdle craft beer marketers must overcome: How to stand out in an industry with such a common origin story. As the industry grows, it becomes more and more difficult to find a fresh brand story. While many breweries have found success by emphasizing their small family-run origins, that has become less and less of a plausible option for new brands moving forward.
Because of this “indie fan effect” a craft beer brand must focus on maintaining that original sense of authenticity no matter their size by creating a distinctive brand identity and sticking to it.
Now that the public is more familiar with what craft brewing is, people know to expect a somewhat humble or quirky origin story from their craft breweries. This, of course, means another balancing act for marketers because for many breweries emphasizing their roots is how they establish the local following that gives them their start. But as that theme becomes more and more ubiquitous within the industry, they will need a more distinctive brand strategy if they hope to grow beyond that local market. Texian serves as a great example here as well because what began as a story about their Richmond, Texas roots has sparked a very specific identity.
Above all, a brewery (like any brand) must identify what makes them and their product different and own it, no matter how big they may get.