I’m no business expert, by any stretch of the imagination. Never having been in a position to operate or run my own company (or, even, somebody else’s) I have hardly any experience of making those crucial decisions you need to be successful. My gut feelings mostly revolve around the next big meal, rather than the next big thing. My hunches reflect the desk-bound job, instead of being sparks of intuitive brilliance that lead, inevitably, to fame and fortune. In short, I am no Jack Donaghy.
But, what I do know, is this. If you operate or run your own business, trading either directly or indirectly to the public, then one of the single most important things you can do is meet them, face to face. Build a personal relationship to the customers who will buy your products. This is easier, of course, for smaller businesses than large corporate behemoths, but whether it’s you or your attractive, paid, representatives – concentrate on speaking to the people who will buy what you are offering.
In beer terms, you can issue all the press releases that you want, come up with all manner of imaginative recipes, fire off a thousand tweets, Facebook updates, or letters to the broadsheets. But after writing about beer for five years, I’ve realised one thing. To build a brand, you need to focus on the relationship. Leave the keyboard behind; put the smartphone back in the pocket. Give people the chance to Meet The Brewer.
Is there another industry where men and women that create a product turn up to the arena where it’s enjoyed and meet the customers as they do so? There may well be – but none have the luxury of doing so in the pub – a place that fosters interaction like no other. I’ve noticed that the number of MTB nights have definitely increased since I started beer blogging – it just so happened that last night in Edinburgh, for example, there were two taking place simultaneously.
Beer drinkers are tribal beasts by nature – as reflected in any number of articles relating to CAMRA, cask v keg, BrewDog etc. Consumers in general like to stick with a brand they trust. Even though the numbers of events might be on the rise, it still surprises me that more breweries don’t get involved. If you employ someone to cover marketing or PR, contact a well-run pub with a good cellar and hold a takeover. Shout about it beforehand, speak quietly during. You can talk about customer integration in meetings, all you like – but talk to your customers, first.
And don’t think brewers see these events as solely about gaining new business, either – you only had to look at the expression of pride sported by Alechemy’s James Davies last night, faced with a row of his pump clips at the Stockbridge Tap.