B.C. Beer Blog

The who, what, where, when, why, and how of B.C. craft beer

A Question from the Audience

with 4 comments

Big River brewpub, Richmond, BCWhen I wrote the “So You Want To Open A Brew Pub” series of blog posts here as a guest blogger, I didn’t have any grand ambitions beyond giving back to the community and sharing some knowledge. The series has proven fairly popular. Today, someone who I apparently met while working for Building Opportunities with Business, put two and two together and sent me a couple follow up questions. I decided to share the answers with the rest of our readers.

Have you come across any stats/articles for the size of craft beer marketing budgets? How are they making a name for themselves in the face of the dominance of the big breweries? 

I did a lot of research, craft beer in Canada/Vancouver is getting a lot of press. Articles have appeared in places like BC Business and the Globe and Mail on the rapid growth of some of the craft breweries, hundreds of percentage points in a short period of time. Obviously they are not doing it with TV ads during the Superbowl. Most of the the breweries start out with a handful of staff, 3 or 4 at most so a lot of the marketing is done by the owner/operators. Brewmasters are not anonymous and get interviewed by bloggers and sometimes mainstream media. A lot of the marketing is done at festivals, special craft beer nights at pubs and restaurants, and through word of mouth and social media.

The Whip Cask SundayThere are ‘cask nights’ at many many establishments in Vancouver now, where you can taste a specially made beer for only a few hours then it is all gone. Now often another cask is made available at another time and venue, but some are truly ‘one offs’. The other thing you see is food pairing dinners. Where a patron pays a set fee for say three courses and three beers. The social aspect of craft beer combined with the web, smart phones, and social networks has made these events popular and excellent branding opportunities. Finally there are festivals where people pay a single ticket price to enjoy a sample of a dozen or more different beers. These have become quite successful in Victoria and Vancouver. I’d lump competitions in with festivals, I’m not sure what pays off more, winning a medal or just doing an end around distributors and retailers to interact directly with consumers.

I’d say craft breweries compete on taste/quality first and foremost. Secondly they are not faceless mega corporations headquartered in another country, you can meet and talk with the people who make the beer. Howe Sound Brewing taster round.Local and fresh are also key marketing points. Third they do a lot of promotional events and rely heavily on word of mouth marketing. Finally they are not afraid to take chances, not so much with marketing but with releasing specialty or niche products. Even if these truly niche beers don’t sell that well, they help make a brewery’s or brewmaster’s reputation as a talented or creative producer of unique flavours. This has a trickle down effect on the main beers a craft brewery produces.

If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment. Or if you want to maintain some anonymity, I’m not a hard person to find in Google.


Many days later a story went through Twitter on how “social networks are becoming the go-to platform for alcohol marketing“. None of the examples are from the craft beer industry. However if major brands in wine and spirits along with their marketing agencies are advocating increased use of social media to promote their product, this can be taken as validation that the strategy/tactic can be very effective.

A lot of the bigger brands in the wine, beer, and spirits market aren’t even selling alcohol anymore, at least in their advertisements. They are selling ‘fun’ or ‘prestige’ or  in some cases ‘tradition’. Beer is frequently marketed this way, Bud Light is a fun brand, they try to associate their brand with popular spectator sports in North America. Stella Artois would be an example of a beer brand that sells prestige. They market around the shape of their glass even how the beer should be poured. People who drink Stella Artois are obviously more sophisticated than people who drink Bud Light, or at least advertisers want you to believe that.

Lots of breweries market based on their brewing tradition, when Coors bought Molson they immediately changed the founding date of their brewery because Molson was founded earlier than Coors. Many European brands expound upon their brewing tradition, but it is also a popular angle or slant to take in North America. Sleeman did a series of ads after they were purchased by Sapporo that played up their tradition and heritage. Sleeman brewery was founded in 1834 but ceased brewing beer for many, many years so it is a bit ironic they market so heavily on their brewing tradition now.

Craft breweries don’t have the budget for expensive television commercials and studies are showing people have grown accustomed to tuning them out. So the one to one interaction with customers either in person or through social media has proven to be an effective marketing tactic for craft breweries and many of the larger corporate entities that sell alcohol. Craft breweries often market their beer as being a prestige product, much less frequently as a fun product, but it is hard for them to market based on hundreds of years of brewing tradition so they have to emphasize the craftsmanship and the care that is taken in producing their beer.

Taste is difficult to convey in video or print, but that doesn’t stop advertisers from trying… Here are three ads showing the fun, prestige, and tradition marketing angles. Taste is often not even mentioned in mainstream advertising for beer.


4 Responses

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  1. As to the social media aspect. It is mostly using Facebook or are there social media avenues that are more beer or brewpub specific. I know social media is all about some level of interactivity, but do you see places using that interactivity to help them make decisions like what beers to brew or events to hold?


    February 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    • Just let me take another sip of my Overboard Imperial Pilsner from Lighthouse Brewing Company out of Victoria BC before I answer this question…

      I really happen to be enjoying that beer, but it also serves as a perfect example of how social media and word of mouth can help promote a craft beer. It cost Lighthouse nothing. I paid full retail price for the beer in Bowser BC. I’ve never met any of their staff. I didn’t plan on promoting their brand. Social media has an element of spontaneity and approachability to it. This gives it authenticity.

      Instead of me having my friend Dave over for some beer, some BarBQ, and maybe watch a hockey game, where I say “Dave, you gotta try this beer, I just picked it up, it’s called Lighthouse Overboard Imperial Pilsner”. Dave and I enjoy the beer, the end. Now with social media 100’s or even more people will see this brand mentioned and think, you know, I’ve never tried that beer, maybe I should give it a go.

      It isn’t just about frequency. It is more about authenticity. It is also about interactivity. What I said about Molson-Coors, or SABMiller, or any other mega brewery, they do social media. I’m sure they get mentioned on Twitter more than any craft brewery in BC, but they’re paying someone to brand their product, selling to 20 somethings. Craft breweries pay for marketing too, but the brewmaster or the owner/operator may also do some of their social media or attend events representing the company. So consumers recognize and appreciate this level of interactivity and authenticity.

      It isn’t about how much you Tweet, or how many pictures you post to Facebook or even how many ‘Likes’ or ‘Followers’ you have. For social media to be an effective branding or marketing tool it has to reinforce the brand, increase consumer awareness, and ideally lead to sales. Even at the little liquor outlet store in Bowser, there might have been 100 different beers. Why did I choose Lighthouse? I don’t think I follow them on Twitter or ‘Like’ them on Facebook. The bottle is big, the logo is bold, even cartoony. Packaging still plays a role in buying decision. Also important is just getting on the store shelf. The 4Ps still matter.

      4Ps = Product, Price, Place, Promotion

      I’ve seen craft breweries, larger ones, such as Big Rock and Spring that advertise in the Georgia Straight. Obviously they see benefit from these print ads. But when your head count is low and your marketing budget is minimal, social media, word of mouth marketing, and attending events are low cost and potentially high reward activities.

      Winning an award at a beer festival or even just running out of product demonstrates quality and demand. Superbowl commercials don’t necessarily demonstrate quality or stimulate demand. I don’t know how many Budweiser TV spots I’ve seen. I’m well aware of their brand of beer. I still don’t ever go into a local liquor store and buy Budweiser.

      Not all ‘Likes’ and ‘Tweets’ are equal. Measuring influence is something marketers are working on right now. Something like CAMRA is a group of super fans, even influentials. Leveraging your fans and their influence is how you take social media and word of mouth marketing from a ‘nice to have’ or the cherry on top, to being an effective marketing and promoting tool and a key weapon in your marketing arsenal.

      Check out the book “Citizen Marketers” by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba


      February 28, 2012 at 9:07 pm

  2. Twitter is also a popular avenue to promote product and events. However, I haven’t seen social media being used by BC craft brewers, with perhaps one exception, to actually solicit the public as to what beers to brew or events to hold. They have organized contests around naming beers, though.


    February 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm

  3. To somewhat qualify the word of mouth aspect of craft beer marketing, I would mention that an influential part of that comes from the efforts of CAMRA members and homebrewers taking the time to convert their mass-market brand drinking friends.


    February 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm

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