Why are craft beer companies so great at telling their stories? Simple: because these scrappy upstarts actually have stories to tell—often they were built from the ground up on the basis of those stories. Companies like Stone Brewing Co. and New Belgium Brewing Company that started small but have grown successful haven’t forgotten the reasons they began in the first place—and it shows.
But now Big Beer is out to eat their lunch: Anheuser Busch InBev, SABMiller and other companies believe they can fool distinguished suds sippers into drinking imitation craft brands by enticing them with brand stories that ignore the companies’ true origins. Will it work? Time will tell, but there’s already a great divide between the authentic and inauthentic brands.
Authentic Craft Breweries
Stone Brewing Co.
As one of the most highly rated and regarded craft breweries in the United States, Stone Brewing Co. is militant when it comes to the craft of beer—and not afraid to speak its mind when it comes to imitators. In fact, its attitude, along with its long-running passion for the highest-quality brews possible, has come to embody its brand story.
The current brand site of Stone, which was founded in 1996 in California, features a section devoted to reporting expired Stone beer (so Stone can replace it). Elsewhere, its unique brand voice shines through in the detailed, thoughtful descriptions printed on each bottle. Stone has devoted video content to interviews with its brewmaster to discuss not only the company’s achievements (for one: spearheading the movement toward extra-hoppy India Pale Ales now seen nationwide) but also his own personal story as it related to the beer he now crafts for the company.
For its promotion of its “Enjoy By” IPA (another product that serves to reinforce its passion for quality and the unconventional approach), Stone is encouraging fans to speak up to demand it in their neck of the woods and report back through a system of national and location-specific hashtags when they spot the time-sensitive beer.
This is how to tell your brand’s story:
This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory–maybe something with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beverage will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multimillion-dollar ad campaigns make things taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this.
At Stone Brewing, we believe that pandering to the lowest common denominator represents the height of tyranny—a virtual form of keeping the consumer barefoot and stupid. Brought forth upon an unsuspecting public in 1997, Arrogant Bastard Ale openly challenged the tyrannical overlords who were brazenly attempting to keep Americans chained in the shackles of poor taste. As the progenitor of its style, Arrogant Bastard Ale has reveled in its unprecedented and uncompromising celebration of intensity. There have been many nods to Arrogant Bastard Ale…even outright attempts to copy it…but only one can ever embody the true nature of liquid Arrogance!
New Belgium Brewing
Meanwhile, the Fort Collins, Colorado–based New Belgium Brewing tell its multifaceted story daily on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Its passion for great-tasting, inventive beer is mirrored by a passion for cycling and a penchant for the age-old techniques of Belgian brewers. Its philosophy on life shines through on each of its social-media channels in the voice and variety of content posted.
And the “Alternatively Empowered | Employee Owned” company knows its channels: It publishes a new piece of video content each week to YouTube and on-the-fly, amateur-style photos on Instagram; tweets with fans and pushes out time-sensitive content on Twitter; and utilizes a mix of locally and globally appealing content on Facebook. Its Beer Mode mobile app is promoted with discretion across its social platforms.
Most important, New Belgium never loses touch with what makes its brand unique: It educates fans about the work it does via bicycle advocates around the country, celebrates local events and companies in the Fort Collins area (in a way that is of interest to a wider audience, as a way to keep the brand grounded in its immediate surroundings) and publishes travelogue-esque content to followers when it makes occasional pilgrimages to Belgium to pay its respects and hone its approach to beer. New Belgium also goes out of its way to feature other craft-beer peers—both in collaborative brewing projects it takes part in and with its #beerpairing posts on Instagram.
Big Beer – The Wrong Way
Third Shift Brewing Company
“Third Shift is not just a beer, it’s a story,” proclaims a long-winded Facebook tab. Third Shift Brewing Company, a seemingly new craft beer appearing on store shelves nationwide, is actually a crafty offshoot of SABMiller. While the story is in part true—the beer in question, Amber Ale, did win a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival—the beer competed under a different name and had been created by a brewer at SABMiller named Tom Hail. His story is largely untold or greatly modified to fit the masked Band of Brewers moniker used in all marketing and packaging (the only mention of SABMiller is at the very bottom of its Our Story tab).
AdWeek, which mentions Third Shift in a recent report on the growing tensions between beer conglomerates and their craft counterparts, reports that faux craft brews experienced double-digit growth in 2012. Beer advocates, influencers and other discerning drinkers aren’t so easily fooled, though: Sources like BrewBound are skeptical, the Brewer’s Association has issued stern words, and Third Shift’s Facebook page is filled with negative user comments about the authenticity of the brand. A few choice comments that sum things up:
Man… that’s some nasty Stroh’s/Blatz/cheap imitation tasting brew. Good luck selling that crap after initial buzz is over!
You keep spamming my page and I’ll keep telling you how bad your beer and company sucks. Drink local. Drink real craft, not a wannabe craft.
More Coors brewing company swill trying to be cleverly disguised as a “craft” beer. Nice try.
So why is coors setting up a fake microbrewery. why not make a quality coors beer? why do you and miller have to create fake beers to try to fit in with real craft beers? Instead of just ignoring me Id like a straight answer. So would a lot of us who just cant wrap our intelligent heads around the lengths BIG BEER will go to to lie to customers. You do know that people who wont support corporate swill can easily find out who you are and not drink it right?
Mike Wing Jr.
This stuff that InBev (Anheuser Busch) and MillerCoors is trying to pass off as craft beer ruins the market for actual craft breweries. Support your local breweries folks!
Sure doesn’t look like a sack of malted barley to me. I’m guessing this is the corn/rice adjunct you clowns at MillerCoors and your compatriots at places like AB INBev are famous for using to create watered down beer without any real flavor. Pity.
(Note: Third Shift has responded to the comments, but its hands are by and large tied by the storytelling approach it’s taken.)
Big Beer – The Right Way
While a new spin-off from Coors masquerades as a craft brand, Newcastle has found a way—while not losing sight of its status as a global beer brand—to authentically tell its brand story. Its No Bollocks campaign includes video spots and social media (Facebook, Twitter) dedicated to full-on honesty no matter the situation—including the ways its beer is created, the truth about what it’s doing on Facebook and the reality of life in Newcastle.
Its “Subtexter” Facebook tool encourages fans to apply Newcastle’s same brand of #NoBollocks British wit while its Timeline Covers Facebook tab offers fans a collection of cover photos with clever copy geared toward the individual user’s Facebook profile. Both content features were clearly designed with social sharing in mind.
From Facebook to Twitter, its approach is tongue-in-cheek and incredibly funny—not to mention eye-catching and share-worthy.
—Embrace what’s true about your brand, and make sure you can back up the stories and philosophy you put forth.
—Craft beer brands, like Stone and New Belgium, don’t owe all their success to their marketing efforts across social media—but the groundwork they do on each platform each day is incredibly important: It helps drive home, again and again, what separates them from the competition.
—Backstory and the locality of a beer brand are important to craft drinkers. Taste is important, but the people behind the beer are also important. Visiting a factory tasting room and getting familiar with local pours (or the prospect of doing so) lead to deeper connections to these brands.
—Newcastle proves that corporate brands don’t have to be embarrassed about their size or status and can engage in an honest discussion with their fans. Their tone of voice and content topics draw a clear connection to Newcastle, England, the brand’s namesake location.
—AdWeek points out that Big Beer believes that craft-beer drinkers care only about taste. In reality, they’re buying into something much bigger. They also care deeply about the story behind the suds: the location, the philosophy, the ingredients used and the methods involved in concocting each product. This consumer behavior is far different than that of the typical Bud Light or Coors drinker.
—If the story’s not sound—if it’s not grounded in truth—the brand is weak, and its clout among its intended audience is weak. Real brand storytelling builds a strong brand; the opposite will result in only a fleeting sense of community at best and surface-level fandom.
Do you think there’s a place for Big Beer in the craft brew space? Do they have an authentic story to tell? What other craft brews are telling great brand stories? Let us know in the comments.
Photo via Stone Brewing’s Instagram