Build a Beer Program that Works for Your Brand

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We hope you had as fantastic a time in San Diego for the 2017 VIBE Conference as we did. If you weren’t able to attend this year, we have great news for you: you’ll still be able to benefit from all of the knowledge and expertise that was shared. Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing articles containing all of the information you need to take your programs and promotions to the next level.

VIBE attendees who arrived in San Diego over the weekend before the conference started or on early on Monday were able to take advantage of an exciting and informative pre-conference workshop. Patrick Kirk of Applebee’s hosted “Build a Beer Program that Works for Your Brand,” moderating an illustrious panel that consisted of Joe Abegg of MillerCoors, Chick Linski of Anheuser-Busch InBeBev, Scott Hempstead of Boston Beer, and Alex Prieto of Constellation Crown.

The main theme and takeaway from this pre-conference workshop was building a plan. Operators need to get everything together and pull the seams tight before they roll out their programs. Yes, beer selection strategy depends heavily on concept, but first things first: you need a plan. As far as the panel was concerned, the keywords to bear in mind when building that plan are tap selection, menu, balance, engagement, waitstaff, support, food, experience, sales, promotion, insights, and brand. Keep those top of mind when you’re strategizing

You then need to walk through the following steps.


Choose the Right Brands

We’re proud to say that we feature only the best of the best for VIBE speakers, moderators and panelists. The industry experts who sat on this panel are consummate professionals who aren’t at the VIBE Conference to sell attendees on their products. Instead, they’re interested in sharing information to help operators succeed.

The panel agreed that the tap tower can either make or break your business. Balance will help ensure that you make it. A draft study consisting of 1,001 random adults (60% male, 40% female, 23 to 59 years of age) uncovered some interesting and actionable results. The respondents were shown 15 randomized 12-tap lineups and asked to choose one beer from each lineup. (Choosing none was not an option.) The study discovered that 56% of respondents preferred to stick with their favorite beers, meaning that enter your venue with an idea of what brand they are going to order, with 81% deciding on the specific beer once they’re inside the venue. The study also found that despite significant churn, lead craft brand family share remains substantial. In other words, churn isn’t helping you, so it may be beneficial to you and your distributor to stop focusing on a beer of the day (if that is part of your program).

The national brands and distributors utilize tap handle surveys, sales team surveys and feedback, and also studies conducted by IRI. According to the panel, if an operator is not paying attention to IRI data, they will be left behind. The panel, sharing the information they have gleaned from their studies, suggested that you need to focus on choosing the right taps, not the right amount of taps. This is where balance comes into play. Having too many esoteric beer styles can actually hurt you, so before you start playing with that sort of lineup, nail the most popular styles first. The following is the core 12-tap lineup that should appeal to 95% of beer drinkers:

  • Mass domestic (2)
  • Domestic special (1)
  • Import (2)
  • National craft (4)
  • Regional/Local craft (2)
  • Cider (1)


Position Your Beer Menu

You have just one minute – just 60 seconds – to get a consumer’s attention. “If menu was ever important, it's right now,” said Anheuser-Busch InBeBev’s Linski. Optimized menus help patrons navigate their search and grab their fleeting attention.

The main types of menu that should be used are main, drink, happy hour, daypart and late night. For a while, electronic menus were hot but they seem to have becoming somewhat of a novelty. Linski, like the majority of your consumers, prefer to have an actual menu in their hand when making a selection. Linski also explained that romance language is hot on menus, people will always prefer images to help them make selections, and organizing a menu by flavor can nearly double consumer preference and drive purchases. Customers prefer that beer brands be listed vertically on either the left or right of a menu, and Linski prefers that his brand’s taps be on the left since Americans read left to right.

Two interesting points regarding what customers dislike on menus:

  • 50% don’t like menus that don’t have prices listed.
  • Half of customers dislike menus that use “ask your server” language.


Promote Beer Effectively

Traffic declines, thousands of new SKUs arriving, and the prices of commodities increasing are all big challenges to the on-premise space. If you want to succeed, you need to learn how to promote beer effectively. Luckily, there are three “checklist” items the panel shared that can help you succeed:

  1. Use all of the tools available to you. This includes social media, all types of advertising, and utilizing your distributors and brand reps.
  2. Elevate the experience. Your patrons want a story, and they want an elevated experience before, during and after visiting your venue.
  3. Drive excitement for the staff. Your waitstaff heavily influences purchase decisions, so get them involved with and excited about your promotions.

A good promotion must start from your brand, so tie your promotions back to your food, using alcohol beverage promotions to elevate the quality and value of your venues. The panel recommended using the total promotion in conjunction with your brand to increase check size. Your brand offers your guests a promise and must deliver on it: the creation of great things.

If you’re serious about succeeding with beer promotions (all of your promotions, really), you’ll bring your marketing team into the process. They understand your brand, and successful promotions start with that understanding. Bring in your marketing people and you’ll create your best promotions. Keep in mind that your guests are most likely in your restaurant for your food first and not necessarily just for the promotion, something your marketing team likely already understands.

Ask yourself the following questions rather than just knocking a few dollars off your prices to elevate your promotions and therefore your experience:

  • Is the promotion unique to your brand?
  • Does the promotion offer a meaningful story?
  • Are you using all your resources to market your promotion?
  • Are you selling throughout the dining experience?

Once you’ve created your promotion with the help of your marketing team, train your staff on it and leverage your partners (the panelists, for instance). Show the staff how they will benefit: provide context, explain how they're part of the team and how promotions make them more money, and incentivize them throughout the system. A mere 5% of servers make recommendations, a dismally low number. Train your staff to always ask, "Would you like a beer?" and to upsell. They don’t need to sell a specific brand; explain that promotions are about putting more money in their pockets.


Balance National vs. Local

The first thing an operator should know about national beer brands and local beer brands is that they are highly capable of cannibalizing one another. Second, know that they are both important to your operation.

National brands are important because they are accompanied by national support and resources. They are also easily recognizable brands with presold consumers. National brands also come with the added and very real benefit of operational efficiencies.

Local brands are important because they offer operators a market-level franchisee opportunity. While it may be difficult to monitor and police the quality and compliance of local brands, they come with strong regional appeal to core customers.

Both national and local brands can help your operation with market data, market insight, category management, standardization, and optimizing program impact. It may be tempting to always view these brands as national versus local, but savvy operators approach them with a national and local view, optimizing their balance. Realize that balance is crucial to the success of your beer program, so ask yourself the following questions and answer them as they pertain to your current program:

  • Do you lead with consumer insights and understand your consumer base?
  • Is your promotional sales mix consistent?
  • Do your customers expect a consistent experience?

Those three questions are a great place to start.

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