Remember when you wouldn’t give a Castlemaine XXXX for anything else? Or would answer the phone with the longest ‘Whhhaaaatttsssuupp?!’ you could possibly muster before passing out?
Global beverage companies have undoubtedly spent millions on advertising campaigns to differentiate the same yellow fizz with clever slogans that refresh the places that other straplines don’t reach.
But now, in the digital age, anyone with a smartphone can grow a global audience.
These people are known as Influencers.
Ask a brewer their opinion of Influencers and I’m sure they’ll spit out their response like a heavily oxidised NEIPA.
But, before you ceremoniously drain-pour Influencers altogether and write off their opinions as ‘too sour’, it’s worth considering what an Influencer actually is.
The word ‘Influencer’ carries many misconceptions and has become a catch-all, often derogatory phrase to describe anything from ten-bob-beer-reviewers to scantily-clad individuals revealing boobs and midriffs (and that’s just the hairy-chested, beer bellied men!).
However, to be an Influencer, in the truest sense, is to be ‘someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave’.
People who are actually influential in the world of beer often create meaningful content and are usually extremely knowledgeable about their subject: whether it’s taking professional photos that showcase a beer in the best light, a certified Sommelier or Cicerone exploring the combination of food pairings, or a broadcaster speaking passionately into a microphone or down a camera lens about the science of dry hopping.
For example: take the humble beer writer. Armed with quick wit, sharp vocabulary and pointed prose, they will fight to the death with their opinion and let slip the dogs of war with a mere twist of the tongue to influence our thoughts on a particular subject.
As Saul Alinsky said, ‘He who controls language, controls the masses’.
The problem is, a lot of brewers associate the word ‘Influencer’ with someone who’s just trying to score free beer. But there’s a lot to be gained by working with people who are actually influential.
Working with any Influencer needs to be a relationship that offers an equal exchange of value, integrity and transparency behind the motives of both parties. Get it right and you have a recipe for success.
‘[We] have often swopped photography for beer. I can take a photo on my phone but if a professional photographer wants to take a photo of our beer with good light, etc, that does have [monetary] value. Someone even offered to make us a full TV advert in exchange for beer, which ended up on telly!’
Similarly, during the first lockdown, Devon’s Utopian Brewing quickly gained widespread popularity by sending out care packages to Influencers, making it clear that there was no obligation other than to ‘enjoy the beer’.
The effect was immediate: content creators quickly took to their social accounts to discuss the brewery and rave about its quality Pilsners. Before you could say, ‘Stay at home, but don’t stay at home!’ bottle shops across the United Kingdom were stocking Utopian’s beers.
As managing director, Richard Archer, explained on the Hop Forward Podcast, ‘The coverage we got off the back of it, if you costed it up as a marketing campaign to try and pay for it as direct marketing, would have cost us a lot more than the actual beer. We needed to energise our webshop and get people to come directly to the brewery and if we were going to do that we needed people to know about the brewery, so we just needed some signposts really: people to point towards that space’.
It’s evident that Utopian Brewing, with input from experienced Marketing Manager Ruth Mitchell, had the right combination of connecting the right voices with the right beer.
‘Ultimately, the liquid is really good; we’re really proud of it.’ says Richard, ‘It’s a lot easier to get people to say nice things about it if it’s really nice beer’.
By building meaningful relationships with the right Influencers, you unlock the potential to expose your brand to a new audience, pick up trade customers through personal recommendations and – at the very least – open yourself up to objective feedback and sound advice from individuals who know marketing and taste lots of beer: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Social media and content marketing will continue to play a significant role in beer marketing and brand awareness; even more so now our lives have become more digitised.
‘I always suggest working with social media and content producers for product launches and feedback on beer,’ says Craft Beer Channel’s Jonny Garrett. ‘It’s a vital part of gaining awareness and momentum that all breweries should look at for each announcement. Often the follower count isn’t the most important thing – it’s who follows them, what their reputation is, where they live.’
The bottom line is this: Influencers are one of many tools in a brewer’s toolbox to help lubricate sales friction and crack open new customers, waiting to discover the best beers they’ve never had.
It’s inevitable that you’ll be contacted by the 5-follower-freeloaders, the self-proclaiming egomaniacs and the have-a-go-beer-bros but if all it takes to gain some traction is extending an invitation to an event, taking a genuine interest in a content creator’s platform and occasionally sending out a four-pack by way of appreciation, that’s a small price to pay for the brand recognition you may get in return.
Now, in the meantime, you can send some ‘free samples’ to my home address, which is…