There are 5000 breweries in the United States alone. That’s a lot of beer — and a lot of competition. Luckily for Brooklyn Brewery, they’ve been around long enough to know what works and what doesn’t, and how to stand out from the rest. What originally started as a small operation run by a banker and a former Associated Press correspondent for the Middle East has grown into a vast brand with an international cachet. As craft beer gains in popularity amongst both consumers and brewers, Brooklyn Brewery has managed to retain its relevance despite the increased competition.
I spoke to Ben Hudson, the Marketing Director at Brooklyn Brewery, at this year’s Millennial 20/20 Summit in New York City about the challenges the company has faced competing in a crowded marketplace. He thinks that “the industry is moving into a phase that is more marketing-driven,” placing increased value on storytelling and presentation in order to differentiate from other players. At this point, Hudson says, many marketing stunts that might have done wonders for brand awareness in the past are now commonplace, from the tap takeover (where all the taps in a bar are commandeered by one brewer) to the beer dinner (a food-beer pairing). And if every brewer is using the same marketing strategy, there’s very little left to distinguish yourself from the competition.
A changing industry
Because alcohol producers are prohibited from selling directly to consumers in the United States, distributors play an important role in determining a craft brewer’s success. Right now, craft beer is the most profitable sector of alcohol market, which has made it an obvious target for a lot of distributors. As a result, many distributors have chosen to collect a variety of craft brands to sell to consumers. Traditionally, however, distributors have also been responsible for the marketing of the product — but since each individual craft beer is being produced by a different brewer, they no longer have the resources to market each brewery one by one. As a result, the brewers themselves are now greatly responsible for the marketing of their own products.
Brooklyn Brewery has taken these challenges and adjusted to them. They’ve come up with some truly innovative marketing methods that have helped grow their brand around the world. Their donation program, which has become a cornerstone of their marketing strategy, makes their brews available to people hosting company events, free of charge. This unique strategy allows Brooklyn Brewery to be in direct contact with customers and build relationships that last far longer.
Putting the “Brooklyn” in Brooklyn Brewery
Hudson says that Brooklyn Brewery “[feels] a responsibility that our marketing has to be as unique and quality-driven as the beers that come out of the tap.” Having “Brooklyn” in the brand name has inspired Hudson to come up with innovative solutions and deliver them in an idiosyncratic way. His excitement over challenging the tropes of beer marketing is infectious, as he talks about the creativity required to turn some of those tropes on their head and collaborating with outside parties to ensure Brooklyn Brewery’s continued success.
But, as Hudson notes, not every success can be replicated. “Everywhere isn’t Brooklyn,” he says, “… you have to be careful about seeing what everyone else is ready for.” For example, one of Brooklyn Brewery’s biggest marketing initiatives is the Mash, a beer and cultural festival that travels between Brooklyn Brewery’s top-performing markets. In addition to being a marketing platform, the Mash is also a cultural envoy, highlighting of certain artists, performers and creators around the world. That being said, some elements that worked really well in Brooklyn weren’t as successful when transplanted elsewhere. But Brooklyn Brewery has taken this as a learning experience, one that will better inform their global marketing strategy.
“Beer is a funny thing,” says Hudson. “There’s so much currency attached to it. It’s really something that brings people together.” Brooklyn Brewery has taken that idea of beer “as a cultural connector” and created a brand that is both mindful of where it comes from and willing to push the envelope. It’s no wonder that Brooklyn Brewery is thriving — I have a feeling we’ll be drinking their beer for years to come.