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How to Market Your Craft Spirits Brand on a Craft Spirits Budget

Interviewing Hannah Hanley of Heritage Distilling Company on how to optimize small marketing budgets to support your retailers and build your brand.

  1. On-premise sales are often a godsend for small producers looking to boost sales, especially if they self-distribute. What are some strategies to help brand awareness at on-premise locations?

Work hard to create relationships with key bars and restaurants to leverage the exposure of on-premise sales into increased off-premise sales. It’s no secret that when a potential customer tastes a product in a delicious cocktail, they are more willing to purchase a bottle of the product so they can reproduce that cocktail at home. As brand recognition grows, bars and restaurants start seeking out popular products. A good rule of thumb is to always follow up with them in person and work to create a personal relationship in order to ensure your drinks are placed on their menus.

Social media can also land inquiries from bars across the U.S. and distributors in various states, Canada and around the world. As you grow your company and refine your products, target your messaging, marketability and placement - develop better marketing strategies and collateral tied to the placement of products and their audiences. You have to understand your audience before you can sell to them. Trying to sell a high-end craft gin to an on-premise “beer and a shot” bar doesn’t make sense. Likewise, trying to sell a flavoured moonshine to a high-end steakhouse likely won’t yield success either. It's all about finding the right fit for your brand and giving your retailer the necessary attention that they need.

Heritage Distillery

Heritage Distilling Company uses low-cost channels and clever marketing to help provide support to their on-premise accounts and build brand recognition.

  1. What kind of support do you provide at new account launches to help increase sales?

There are four main reasons a customer buys a bottle of spirits:

  1. Packaging;

  2. Quality;

  3. Price Point;

  4. Story.

When you launch a new brand you really need to feel like you hit a home run in each of these four aspects: the label speaks to people with high levels of passion; the product in the bottle is of very high quality, and the price point is competitive with the larger competitors.

Lastly, the story you tell, and the story the product tells about you, helps to seal the deal.

In addition to these four product points, offer retailers special pricing on larger case orders and display incentives to go along with those orders.

Getting big displays is a huge coup. Consumers are bombarded with visual stimulus all day and you have to break through that clutter. Having a single facing on a shelf won’t draw much attention. Having a stack of 20 cases on the floor? Now that draws attention. And it may be that someone doesn’t buy your product at that store on that day. But they saw the label, and the next time they are in the market for a spirit they might remember yours. Getting that frequency of placement in front of eyeballs is the key. 

  1. Online retail (where legal) is another great way to boost sales. What kind of support programs work and what don't?

Online retailing for liquor is very tricky. In only a few states are you allowed to direct ship spirits to customers, so we don’t actually run an online retail store for spirits. We are examining that route, but it is through third-party hosted sites who have purchased the alcohol legally through the various required distribution channels. Once it's in their hands, it is up to them to do the online sales and fulfilment once they get possession of the product.

  1. Unique programs also offer Craft brands a way to get to consumers. What are some ways that craft distillers can get customers involved in the company and increase brand loyalty?

Focus on enhancing the experience of the customer. It’s not just about selling a bottle. Selling the bottle completes the circle of the retail sale, but it doesn’t complete the overall “experience” for the customer. In our case, we have designed our distilleries and tasting rooms to create that “experience” that used to be reserved exclusively for destination wineries.

Clever in-distillery programs like “My Batch” help keep costumers loyal.

As a craft distillery, you need to be focused on creating evangelists for your brand. That starts with making sure that the product in the bottle is superb, and at a fair price. It also means going to where the people are – tasting events, non-profit fundraisers, Distiller Dinners, speaking to your local Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, promo events, and more. The more creative you are the better. This also includes training bar staff and retail staff at stores. The more they know about your product and your story the more they will talk to you when you are not there. They become your local evangelists. You can’t be everywhere, and you won’t have the marketing budget of the big guys, so have to find ways to leverage yourself and get people prophesizing about you and your brand.

Most importantly, if you run a distillery with a tasting room and the have the right to sell bottles on-site you need to respect your customer. Keep your shop open at hours convenient to the customer, not you. Be engaging and educating when consumers come it. Be excited and passionate about what you are doing. If the consumer made the choice to walk through your doors this is your huge opportunity, because there are no distractions from products that are outside your brand. They are captive to you and it is your chance to shine. I am shocked by how many distilleries don’t get excited when people walk in their doors. Respect the fact that a consumer chose to come to you. If you don’t want to deal with the public or with customers then don’t go into this business.

  1. What other effective low-cost marketing strategies can craft companies use that to help generate brand awareness and exposure?

Social media is huge these days. We participate in every major social media channel because there are different demographics for each platform. Twitter and Facebook allow you to engage with customers and give them insight into your daily activities at the distillery. We can get so caught up in our daily activities that we forget working in a distillery is a lot of people’s dream job. So use the more visual social media outlets such as Instagram and Snap- chat to give sneak peeks of what you are up to. Find ways to spark the interest of your customers to keep them as avid participators in your social circle.

Also, partnering with charities and organizations to get your name out there and your product in front of people. We donate to lots of charities to help build brand awareness, and we try to sponsor events with lots of repeat eye-ball interaction, like golf tournaments. It's a great way to keep up awareness and give back to the community.

International and Domestic Submission deadline is February 22. If you are looking to grow your brand in 2024, looking for product feedback, or looking to get in front of real trade buyers. It's time to enter your brands in the London Competitions. Here's how to enter, costs and benefits.

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