Top 5 Considerations When Selecting Craft Beer Promotional Products

Think outside the box to increase market visibility and create new customers.

Man's feet on a SUP

With the number of breweries in the United States at an all time high (4,144 and growing steadily every day), every single one of them are looking for new ways to distinguish themselves from the pack. Standard sales materials like sales sheets for retailers and distributors and banners with brewery logos at beer festivals are still useful in promoting a brand, businesses are trying to make as large as impact as possible, usually with small budgets. But in today’s competitive and crowded market, you can’t afford to ignore promotion and advertising altogether. So, what’s a craft brewery to do?

Here are the top 5 things you need to think about when deciding on a marketing strategy and selecting promotional products for your craft beverage company.

1. Know Who You Are 

Knowing who you are as a brand is hugely important and all else should follow suit. In order to market your product in the best possible way, everything should stem from the brand identity you create and promote. The fact is, breweries are opening every day across the country, but when it comes down to it, customer appeal will keep you in business. To become appealing, your marketing strategy should leverage your uniqueness  in order to find success.

Lindsay Nations, co-founder of Great Raft Brewing in Shreveport, Louisiana, states, “The most important part of our marketing strategy is a strong brand identity.” Nations turned to DeRouen Company, based in Austin,Texas, after using “good old Google” to identify several PR firms that had experience building brands for both large and small breweries. She selected DeRouen not only on the quality of its portfolio, but also its relative proximity to Shreveport, making it easier for face-to-face meetings when necessary.

Southern Prohibition’s director of marketing, Emily Curry, notes, “All of our branding, marketing, and swag is created to reflect who we are as a brand. If I see someone sporting our shirt in public, I know it was because they drank our beer and liked it enough to buy the T-shirt.”

2. Find Vendors that Share Your Company Values 

Michelle Robinson, the marketing and public relations coordinator for Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, Mississippi says that if she can partner with a local company to make promotional material for the brewery, she will. Their T-shirts all come from two nearby businesses, Elite Screen Printing and Mombo Graphics. She finds that their proximity to the brewery makes for quicker order fulfillment and eliminates the need to rely on shipping.

“For T-shirts, when you’re out of them, you need more immediately,” Robinson says. “So we use a local company on the coast for T-shirts. The idea of locality is what’s driving the phenomenon that is craft beer – people want to support what is going on in their hometown.  We’re simply doing the same thing – we want to support what’s going on on the Gulf Coast.”

However, she adds, “there are so many great companies that cater specifically to craft breweries,” like Taphandles, a beer marketing company that designs and manufacturers tap handles and LED signage; Brewery Branding, a promotional and retail merchandise company strictly for the craft brewing industry; and Grandstand, a glassware and apparel provider for the beer industry.

New Orleans’ NOLA Brewing uses a larger, out of state vendor – Kotis Designs in Seattle, finding their turnaround time and quality of product to work better with the brewery’s needs. In contrast to Lazy Magnolia’s experience that local vendors provide faster turnaround time, NOLA Brewing has found that a larger, out of state company is more reliable for them. 

There are other factors in play, depending on what each brewery’s leadership values most. For example, Night Shift Brewing, just outside of Boston, MA, chooses to work with socially responsible vendors like Next Level Apparel and Bella+Canvas to create its merchandise.

With promotional advertising, it seems, there is no “one size fits all” solution; rather, the way a new brewery expresses itself can be – and should be –  as unique as the brewery itself.

3. Think Outside the Swag Norms

Oftentimes, setting oneself apart from the competition means that unique, hand crafted products are a brewery’s best bet for increased market visibility.

Lazy Magnolia offers items like candles scented like several of its beers, or soap made from beer, both resulting from partnership with local artisans. “People love that kind of stuff,” Robinson says, noting that sales of these unique and hand crafted items increases exponentially around the holidays and during summer tourism season.. “That’s what people are looking for when they go out of town, they want something they can’t get at home. It’s great to have that – people know we have unique products outside of the standard beer stuff. We’ve got these great partnerships with people and they want to do fun stuff with us.”

Soap made from beer offers the potential to partner with local artisans.

Gnarly Barley uses skateboard decks as promotional items, which reflects the brewer’s love for the sport while serving as signage in retail outlets that carry its beer. Co-founder Cari Caramonta says, “They are also 100% skateable, so we also sell them for people to hang or skate. We actually don’t consider it a strategy, it just happened naturally.”

“We don’t necessarily make more money off of the more unique items, but I know they’re more fun to sell,” Robinson says. “Just imagine the pitch to sell beer soap to a group of quintessential craft beer lovers – they all leave with a bar of Southern Pecan beer soap to scrub their beards. “

These kind of unique items are an organic way to set a start up brewery’s brand apart from the pack. Every beer lover probably has a brewery T-shirt, koozie, bottle opener, hat, or combination thereof. But when nontraditional marketing items are in the market, both the consumers that purchase the items and the potential consumers that are exposed to them second hand are receiving the message that the brewery and the beer it makes are special.

4. Be Generous to Create a Brand Following

Promotional items don’t always need to be items you touch, feel, wear or ride on, promotional items can be donated goods to help local organizations as well.

The vast majority of NOLA Brewing’s promotional and advertising budget, according to president and CEO Kirk Coco, goes to donating beer to nonprofits for their events in the Greater New Orleans area. “This is where we live, and I want to take care of it. So, we don’t do ads on TV, I think we’ve done, like, two magazine ads in six years. For us, if we’re going to spend money on marketing, it’s going to be helping the nonprofits, which helps our city and gives me potential customers. It’s just a no-brainer.”

Partnering with non-profits to sell beer related merchandise that benefits the charity is another strategy to create awareness of the brewery’s brand as well as its commitment to helping the community. For example, Gnarly Barley works with a non-profit called Bullets2Bandages which makes bottle openers out of large caliber bullets and works to raise money and awareness for returning veterans’ needs. The unique, useful item set Gnarly Barley apart, creating interest in its brand as well as a deserving non-profit’s.

5. Promote Around Events

Breweries tend to ramp up promotional efforts around special, new and/or annual beer releases.

Night Shift’s Janine Pohorely integrates promotional pushes and beer releases with existing local events. “Our Oktoberfest coincided with our town’s village festival, which was a great awareness opportunity that drew a lot of people new to Night Shift beer and strengthened our ties within the local community.” The brewery promoted the Oktoberfest/Village Fest event collaboration through its newsletter, social media, and posters placed in the taproom and community.

Gnarly Barley’s Caramonta notes that she likes to release and showcase promotional products the brewery has when the timing is particularly appropriate. “For instance we just came out with a new beer called the Imperial Korova Milk Porter, so I came out with shirts for that beer. I like to make sure everyone knows we have that item so I’ll post about it on all of our social media sites.”  

 Gnarly Barley’s Milk Porter T-shirt.

Promotional items go hand in hand with marketing any business. And more and more breweries are getting creative in how they make themselves stand out. How though are most breweries and craft beverage companies tackling traditional advertising these days? After speaking with a few, we’ve learned that email and traditional print ads, although not as widely used now as in years past, are still valuable resources.

Where Does Traditional Advertising Fit In?

Many breweries, including Great Raft and Night Shift, use a regularly scheduled e-newsletter to go to people who have opted-in, either signing up at the brewery or on the brewery websites. Free and simple online newsletter tools like MailChimp make this a low cost and relatively low-energy way to get the word out about releases and events.

While many smaller breweries don’t have the money for traditional print advertising, larger ones like Stone Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada place ads in national beer magazines like Beer Advocate and All About Beer. For a lower cost print advertising strategy, consider a more local publication like the free regional “beer-iodicals,” like the Brew News family of regional papers (Yankee Brew NewsSouthern Brew NewsNorthwest Brew News) which will promote within a geographically targeted audience. 

Nations notes that Great Raft’s largest investment in marketing and advertising is a large ad at the single baggage claim at the Shreveport airport. “That way, people can see it right as they come into town and it plants the seed of visiting us.”

However, Robinson sums up her grassroots approach to promotion. “We’d rather have somebody buy a Lazy Magnolia T-shirt and just randomly wear it. And then someone else sees that and sees a six pack of Southern Pecan, and says, hey, I’m going to pick that up.”

by Nora McGunnigle

Get Quote