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Are Minnesota craft breweries doing enough to market themselves differently?

Last week, I attended a great event at a craft brewery here in Minneapolis named 612Brew (hosted by Minnesota PRSA). I had a great time catching up with a number of friends and colleagues–and we even heard from the brewers themselves as well as the publisher of a relatively new craft beer publication.


During the discussion with the brewers, one comment got me thinking. A question from the audience was posed to the director of marketing for 612Brew: “How do you differentiate your brewery from all the other craft breweries in town?”

His response: Laughter. Then: “Our beer is better.”

It was a tongue in cheek response, but it speaks volumes about where this industry sits right now from a marketing perspective.

Times are good in the craft brewery business in Minneapolis. Breweries are seemingly popping up everywhere. In fact a whopping 18 breweries have opened in the Twin Cities since Jan. 1, 2012. And a number are slated to open new tap rooms in the next year (including Surly’s big new destination brewery near University Ave. in Minneapolis).

But what happens when this industry hits its maturation point? When people aren’t clamoring to visit tap rooms and pick up a six-pack of the latest brew at their local liquor store? Won’t brand differentiation play a mighty big role then?

I think so–but craft beer marketers don’t seem to be paying attention. One look around the Twin Cities beer scene and you see much of the same, in terms of marketing strategy and tactics, including:

Social accounts all have the same feel (some even have the same darn cover photo!)

612Brew FB

Indeed Brewing FB

They all target the bicyclist/hipster crowd (cyclists/hipsters aren’t the only ones who drink good beer)

Harriet Bike

Partnering with food trucks is all the rage (literally almost every one of the local breweries is doing this)

Steel Toe Food Truck

They’re clearly NOT using paid social tools (a big miss–specifically on Facebook)

Surly Paid

They all sponsor local beer events at restaurants

Fulton Beer Events

They all have a guy with a beard (joking…kinda)


OK, OK, Arik, so what are these breweries supposed to do? Stop ragging on them and offer up some suggestions, for crying out loud.

Oh man, I thought you’d never ask. Here are 3 ideas I would explore if I were marketing one of these breweries:

Organize events targeting middle-aged parents

Seems to be the breweries spend an awful lot of time targeting younger, single people. I get it. They drink a lot of beer. But you know who also likes to drink beer? Parents. We have to take the edge off, yannow :) And who do you suppose has more disposable income: A single 25-year old or a 40-year-old with two kids? I can guarantee you I spend WAY more on beer than I ever did when I was 25 (even though I drink far less beer). Why not make it easier for these people to come to your events? Organize events with events for kids. Or better yet, find a way to bring the events to US (beer delivery service anyone?)!

Focus more on email–less on social media marketing

This seems to be the one big mistake I see the bulk of the craft beer marketers making–minimal focus on email and a tremendous focus on social marketing. Again–has to do (most likely) with targeting the younger demo. But, I would argue the email list is still the holy grail of online marketing–and craft breweries are no exception. With an e-newsletter, you would have the ability to share: 1) Upcoming beer events, 2) New releases, 3) Tap room specials, and 4) Other misc. items. In a timely manner. In their inbox–something they check EVERY day (especially that older audience who has more discretionary dollars).

Think bigger than the tap room

Right now the problem with all the tap rooms is that they’re all the same. They all have cool interiors. They all have food trucks outside. And many feature music. Super cool (I love them–make no mistake), but they offer absolutely no differentiation. When most people are zigging, I say zag. One thought I had: Why limit yourself to a tap room? What about a combo tap room/pizza joint? Couldn’t a craft brewery partner with an up-and-coming pizzeria (think Pizzeria Lola for Minneapolitans) and create an urban brewery/pizzeria that would be one part hangout spot, one part brewery, one part pizza joint (but higher-end pizza)? Think “Piece” in Chicago.

Those are just a few ideas. I have more. But, I don’t want to give them ALL away for free. Craft brewer marketers: Feel free to call me for the rest :)

This post was written by Arik Hanson and originally published on Communications Conversations. Follow him on Twitter: @arikhanson.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 06/18/2013 - 10:25 am.

    Not a beer drinker, but…

    I understand there are a number of new craft beers coming out this season under the label “Booze-Hamilton”, “Booze Allen”, and one just called “Hamilton”…not to be confused with one of our earlier presidents?

    All are distributed under the same brew-meister coalition of corporation and government supporting one common theme, “ANYTHING YOU DRINK CAN BE USED AGAINST YOU”

    “You have the right to remain silent…”

    “But what’s the point? You know all about me already Officer Miranda?”

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/18/2013 - 10:36 am.

    Being the trendy maker/purveyor of a product that is infinitesimally different than other trendy maker/purveyors pretty much guarantees a boom/bust economic life, with the “bust” phase being much larger.

  3. Submitted by ryan joens on 06/18/2013 - 11:12 am.


    The author of this poorly written article is stretching the issue. They simple don’t understand the industry. People really enjoy the beer and atmosphere (that’s all they need). On the surface it may appear all these breweries are very similar and do similar things. But that is what makes them so great. Most of them produce high quality beer and have great community evolvement/awareness. We are not even close to maturation point. Look at Denver and Portland case closed. No need to reinvent the wheel here, just keep doing what these breweries are doing and they will still be packed every weekend.

    • Submitted by Dave Okar on 06/18/2013 - 11:41 am.

      Right on


    • Submitted by Arik Hanson on 06/18/2013 - 01:00 pm.

      I have no doubt most of the craft breweries in town/MN product outstanding beer. I’ve tried many flavors myself as I’m a fairly big beer geek. But I’ll say again–that’s not enough to differentiate from the competition. It might be now. It might be for the near future as we close in on Portland/Denver status (good point–we’re not close to where they’re at yet). But, the time will come when they need to differentiate. And those ahead of the curve on that front, will survive.

  4. Submitted by Dave Okar on 06/18/2013 - 11:31 am.


    I appreciate your take, Arik. But, at this moment the local, craft brewers are trying to distinguish themselves from the global brewing corporations that still account for 85% + of the beer consumed in this country. Moreover, there are already places that are doing what you suggest – check out the brew pubs if you want food with your house-made beer.

    I agree, the comment “our beer is better” is a bit flippant. A more accurate response would have been “our beers are different”. One of the sad legacies of the consolidation of the brewing industry during the 1970s is that all the beers tasted the same and so many beer-drinkers learned that beer is only what the global brewers put in their hands. But that is a complete lie. Beer has a spectrum of flavors that is unrivaled by any other drink. Yes, even wine. So if you want to find where these breweries distinguish themselves, drink up, because that is where the differences lie. Sure almost every brewery has some form of a hop-forward IPA – but look further down the list and you’ll find some real treats. Try thinking about beer the way we think about wine because it is more about beer styles than it is about particular breweries.

    • Submitted by Arik Hanson on 06/18/2013 - 01:05 pm.

      Agree–there are many, many great flavors out there now thanks to this “revolution.” And believe me, I’m a big fan as a huge craft beer lover. But, outside the beer geek/hipster audience, do people really care about all those flavors? I’m not sure they even get to that point. I just think some of these breweries could do a lot more to distinguis themselves from the competition, that’s all.

      • Submitted by Dave Okar on 06/18/2013 - 03:08 pm.

        I’m no hipster

        I’ve been working on an independent documentary (see the link above) about the craft beer movement in MN for over a year and have visited many of the new breweries around the state. I can assure you, Arik, that despite your concerns about similarities in marketing aimed at the 20-30 year-olds, I find many folks my age (51) and older enjoying the expanded range of beer flavors and styles that have become available in recent years. Some aspects of the marketing are the same for almost all the new local brewers. The benefits with regard to drinking fresh, locally produced beers, for example are a big part of the marketing scheme and apply equally to all the new breweries.

        I mean, compare those to the response from a macro-brewer like Budweiser where the biggest advance is a new can, or an even less flavorful “platinum” formulation. It is a world of difference.

  5. Submitted by Nick Wood on 06/18/2013 - 11:38 am.

    Covering the local craft beer scene…..

    Here’s a publication that covers pretty much everything re; the local craft beer scene (and no, I have no affiliation with the magazine):

  6. Submitted by Mark Olson on 06/18/2013 - 04:07 pm.

    Social Media and the seasoned beer drinker


    As a fifty something beer geek I get your point about marketing to those of us that are more seasoned however I don’t agree with your take on social media. My group of friends, all either in my demographic or just a bit younger, are social media users who seek out and find information as seamlessly as the younger set. I use untappd, a social media application on my smartphone, to find beers and a like minded online community. I would suggest that craft brewers continue to use social media and e- lists (many do offer this already) and *gasp* select print media to build brand recognition. I might also suggest focus groups and online surveys of the seasoned beer drinker if they really want to market to us more. Excellent way to start the conversation!

  7. Submitted by Daniel Justesen on 06/19/2013 - 02:27 pm.

    Building variety in craft beer

    As the currently serving President of the MN Craft Brewers Guild ( and co-owner of Vine Park Brewing Co ( in Saint Paul, I have thought often about the marketing of craft beer in an age of expansion.

    As noted, many of NEW breweries have many similar characteristics to their marketing; partially due to the reality that the entrepreneurs who have put their passion, lives, and finances at risk are generally young, hip, biking, social media users. Having started in 1995, Vine Park has a large clientele and we know our core is aged 30 – 50 and we reach out to them via email (please feel free to sign up 😉 ) and social media.

    The MN Craft Brewers Guild is aggressively reaching out to all Minnesotans by expanding beyond the traditional beer festival by hosting a record setting MN State Fair exhibit that brought in crowds of Minnesotans from all over the state…many of whom had never tried craft beer. Adapting the “if you can make in New York City, you’ve made the big time”, for many entering the exhibit with their eyes wide open you could tell they were thinking “if you can make it to the State Fair, you have made the big time”. Our Winterfest craft beer event sells out $75 tickets in seconds and has filled the Minnesota History Museum year after year and no one rides a bike to it.

    Each new brewing business will need to find its unique selling feature and as the market develops, the need to find it will be more critical. It might be location, style, attitude, or something that strikes a cord with a critical mass. The market will demand differentiation.

    Remember to explore beyond the latest media article about the new breweries. Go seek out both the old and the new and return to the ones that meet your needs. Have some fun.

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