I get Daryl Rosen's e-letter on beer sales. Not about what beers are selling; it's about selling beer. Rosen comes from the Sam's beverage retail chain in Chicago -- it was his family's business -- and when the family sold 80% of the business in 2007 (the chain would later be bought by Binny's, their Chicago rival (and an excellent booze supplier, love to see something like that in PA post-privatization!)), Rosen set up shop as a lecturer and sales consultant. And he's good. Not only does Rosen give me an insight on how beer sales works, his advice -- listen, focus on finding needs and filling them, help the customer even when it doesn't directly benefit you or your product -- works for me, and potentially for anyone. I've never met Rosen, but I owe him.
Anyway, I wanted to share something I read today at his Beverage Professionals site: "Split Personality." It's about how the beer industry looks at branding. A lot of craft beer drinkers -- the hardcore -- look on branding, marketing, promotion, and advertising as pretty much tools of the Devil...because that's what the big brewers use. When craft brewers use them, it confuses these people; witness the way some of them trash Samuel Adams, a beer brand that has done amazing things to establish craft's credibility across the country, and one that produces excellent beers, exceptional and experimental beers.
However, as Rosen's colleague Michael Browne points out, it's not so much the branding the bigs use that should be disturbing; it's how they do it. Here's how he starts the piece:
'So a bunch of states that have this 3.2 ABW law. You have to sell a watered down (‘non-intoxicating') beer to distribute in many channels.'
‘Okay, I get it,’ says the newcomer to the beer industry.So we take our biggest brands -- the ones we spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing - and water down the product by 25% so we can sell it in these channels.’‘Use the same brand name for this watery version of your product?’Yup’
...the beer industry has convinced itself that playing fast and loose is okay, as long as there is a lot of volume at stake. And consumers are keenly aware of this. They know that craft brewers and specialty imports do not have compromised versions in these markets. They are able to draw a bright line between the mass producers and the small brewers that don't compromise… more evidence of the split personality in the beer industry. There are a bunch of large brewers who will put one brand on 2 very different beers; and there are craft Brewers that won’t.Just one more chapter in a larger narrative that crafts are all about the beer; mass brewers are all about money.