Today one of our own local beer bloggers, Brady Walen of The Daily Pull and Crafted, joins the ranks of bloggers turned professionals in the craft beer industry. Brady didn't get just any old job, either; he's the new Marketing Communications Manager for the Craft Brewers Alliance. The CBA consists of three big craft beer brands: Widmer Brothers, Redhook, and Kona Brewing. It will be no easy task, so when I heard about his new gig I wanted to discuss with him what this meant in the bigger picture. But before we get into the interview, a little background info...
I first met Brady shortly after starting The New School when he was also beginning to write The Daily Pull. After hand delivering to me a growler straight from Astoria's Fort George Brewery of Murky Pearl Oyster Stout, I decided he was an alright guy and invited him over for our first ever review panel. Since then Brady founded Crafted, a blog based around marketing and social media for the beer community that combined his day job as a marketing consultant for a company based in Chicago (where he relocated from) and his love of craft beer. Recently we worked together on the first ever Portland Beer Week, and today I have the pleasure of interviewing him about his new job, the future of The Daily Pull, Crafted, the Craft Brewers Alliance, and the general state of craft beer marketing.
Q: How long ago did you move to Portland and why?
I moved to Portland from Chicago in August of 2009. I love Chicago, and leaving Chicago was tough. But my wife had the opportunity to study Community Development at Portland State University, and we’d always been interested in Portland, so we made the move. So far, it’s been great.
Q: What inspired you to start The Daily Pull and Crafted blogs, and what are your goals with them?
I’ve always been into craft beer. When we moved to Portland, I wanted to meet some like-minded people and figured that starting a beer blog would be a great way to do that. I started the Daily Pull a few months after moving to Portland. In doing so, I met more great people than I ever thought I wouId. And I realized pretty quickly that my most-read posts were those that addressed issues relative to the marketing, branding, and the business side of the craft beer industry. I started Crafted at the beginning of the year to focus specifically on social media in the beer industry from a marketing and brand standpoint. There’s nobody out there with that kind of focus, so I decided to pursue the opportunity.
Q: How will your new job with the Craft Brewers Alliance affect your work on The Daily Pull and Crafted?
I’ve made the decision to walk away from The Daily Pull and Crafted when I join the Craft Brewers Alliance team. There are two important reasons for my decision: first, the potential conflict of interest, and second, personal time.
Blogging is an interesting animal. There can be a lot of gray area when it comes to conflict of interest. From a professional standpoint, the decision was a pretty easy one for me. Most beer companies treat beer bloggers as though they are members of the media. While not absolute, there’s an expectation among many breweries and beer companies that bloggers will at least be fair in their writings. The biased vs. unbiased argument comes to mind, and again, it’s another example of the gray areas between companies and bloggers. As an employee of Craft Brewers Alliance, I’m no longer only representing my own personal views and opinions when it comes to beer and the industry. I want to be respectful to the Craft Brewers Alliance, the beer companies that I’d otherwise be writing about, and those that read my blog posts.
My decision was also driven by my desire for more personal time. Contrary to what some might think, writing and maintaining a blog is hard work. To date, I’ve had a full-time day job as a marketing consultant. And my typical day has been bookended with research, interviews, and writing to maintain my two beer blogs. On some days, especially those where I’ve spent 4-6 hours working on The Daily Pull and/or Crafted, it’s overwhelming. While I might be able to rework The Daily Pull and/or Crafted to avoid potential conflict of interest, I’m also using this as an opportunity to give myself some more free time. I know my wife and dogs will appreciate it, and I will too.
Q: Did your work on either of those two projects help you get the job with the Craft Brewers Alliance?
I think that blogging can help almost anyone become a more attractive job candidate and team member. Through blogging, many (maybe most) bloggers become better writers and communicators. Good bloggers keep up with industry trends and routinely engage with others within a specific community or industry. Perhaps most importantly, good bloggers are constantly learning, sharing, and inviting or challenging others to do the same. As a result, many bloggers have earned reputations as subject-matter experts and centers of influence. All of these are good qualities and skills for any job candidate. Given the nature of my new position as Marketing Communications Manager, I think it’s safe to say that my blogging experience –especially with a focus on craft beer, marketing, brand, and social media –will be put to good use.
Aside from the blogs, I think it’s important to mention that I’ve worked as Director of Marketing for a Chicago-based consultancy for the past several years. I know the team at CBA considered all of my experience, qualifications, and skills before offering me this position.
Q: As the Craft Brewers Alliance Marketing & Communications manager what are your job duties?
As with any marketing position, there’s a pretty long and dynamic list of potential job duties for my new position at CBA. This is a new position at CBA – so I expect that my responsibilities will change, shift, and evolve with time. In this role, I will be working across all three CBA brands: Widmer Brothers, Redhook, and Kona, to advise and guide the strategy for all brand communications, including advertising, website, blogs and social media platforms. Perhaps most importantly, I will help the brand teams deliver the unique brand position and messaging to all audiences – both internally and externally.
Q: Being a blogger yourself and sometimes being courted by brewerie's marketing and PR departments, you probably have more insight into your new job. How does this change the way you plan to do your work and will the personal relationships with local bloggers and writers affect things at all?
My experience as a beer blogger has given me some great (and unique) perspective as to how some breweries and beer companies engage with bloggers. This is definitely useful experience, but at this point, I’m not exactly sure how my experience will influence blogger outreach efforts for any of the CBA brands. I really appreciate the relationships I have with local beer bloggers in Portland, and I hope that I’m able to expand on those relationships with bloggers across the country as a result.
Q: On your Crafted blog you write a lot about why various breweries' marketing strategies are successful and unsuccessful. Have you learned anything new about how to reach non-craft beer consumers through your research?
Connecting with non-craft beer drinkers (or just non-beer drinkers) is one of the most common themes and goals I’ve heard from craft brewers and breweries through my work with Crafted. Personally, I think that all craft breweries in this country should be helping educate consumers about the difference between craft and macro beer in the United States. In terms of reaching non-craft beer consumers in a meaningful way, however, there’s no easy solution. Generally speaking, most consumers need a compelling reason to spend more money on craft than they do with macros. The quality of craft is one of many ways to justify the expense. But, as most of us know, many consumers don’t simply don’t understand the differences in quality and production. At the same time, we need to remember consumers’ baseline, which is typically a macro lager. Knowing that, craft breweries may be better positioned to reach non-craft drinkers with logical extensions of those familiar beer experiences – as with a craft lager or any other “gateway” beer, as an example. Messaging and marketing is important, too. Again, consumers need to be educated. And many are open to learning. It’s a great opportunity for craft brewers.
|Brady and his wife Jessica Pickul at OBF|
Q: What do you see as the future of craft beer marketing?
It’s the same as any growing industry -- as more craft breweries open (and plan to open) throughout the country and consumers are presented with more craft beer choices, marketing is going to become an increasingly important critical success factor for all breweries in the United States. I think the future of craft beer marketing is going to require a focus on two things: 1.) educating consumers about the differences between craft and macro, while 2.) establishing and delivering recognizable and meaningful differences between craft brands.
There’s a strong and unfortunate aversion to marketing within the craft brewing industry. Many craft breweries will tell you that “good beer sells itself.” I have two issues with this statement. First, the “good beer” argument centers on product, a primary component of any marketing mix. And second, good beer doesn’t sell itself in a crowded market where several other companies and brands are aggressively competing for consumer attention and dollars. Sure, successful breweries need to make good beer – but that’s only one part of the equation.
There are a lot of great craft brewers and breweries out there. But how does one stand out among the growing selection of great beers? We need not look further than the most successful American craft breweries to notice that marketing and brand has played --and continues to play-- an important role in each of those company’s successes.
Q: It seems to me that breweries that want to expand and grow need to understand how to market their brand, but at the same time craft beer consumers especially do not want to be marketed to. How do you walk that thin line?
From a marketing standpoint, it’s all about alignment. Successful marketers are those who are able to align their brands, products, messages and overall marketing efforts with the needs and preferences of their target market. In today’s marketplace, we’re all bombarded by marketing messages all the time – and no one wants to hear a sales pitch. Many people would equate “beer marketing” to the stereotypical mass advertisements from macro beer companies. But marketing –especially good marketing-- is much more than that. Good marketers are able to connect with consumers in a meaningful way. Again, we don’t need to look much further than some of the industry’s most successful and talked about craft beer brands to see examples of how breweries are able to “walk that thin line.”
Additionally, in looking ahead, I think we’ll see more collaboration –whether direct or indirect -- between marketers and consumers within the craft beer community as another way to walk the line. It sounds pretty obvious, but craft beer marketers can learn a lot from craft beer drinkers. Collaboration is good for both sides.
From another blogger's perspective it is both sad and exciting to see Brady join the Craft Brewers Alliance in such a prominent role. There are few people who are a better fit, though, both knowing and writing about craft beer and working in marketing may be a great fit for brands such as Red Hook, which have struggled to reconnect with the average craft beer fan. Growth has been stagnant for both the Widmer Brothers and Red Hook as of late, while Kona Brewing seems to be the new golden child of the Craft Brewers Alliance, especially since losing one partner, Goose Island, to AB/InBev. AB, of course, owns a portion of all three remaining CBA breweries, which I think has lead to some skepticism about their products from hardcore beer geeks. In the past year especially, I think both Widmer Brothers and Red Hook have stepped up to the plate to prove why they are the dominant regional breweries. But I digress. This sets the stage for an interesting first year for Brady Walen, and his unique perspective and experience should prove a valuable asset. One thing I am very happy about is that too often I speak to marketing representatives from various breweries and I know they are not a beer geek, they might like some craft beer but they are not a real fanboy like us. It's nice to know we now have one of us in the brewery.