Wednesday 20 July 2011

Marketing and Position

Yesterday we had quite a busy day racking, doing some CIP improvements, training my new secret production technician, transferring beer and getting ready to bottle today. It wasn't until quite late I found out that BrewDog and CAMRA had fallen out.

Upon learning this HardknottAnn immediately insisted on commandeering my MacBook for the purposes of writing a blog.

Last night and this morning we got carried away with discussions on twitter regarding GBBF and how beers are selected. I touched on the subject last year as it happens, and it is interesting for me to look back at what beers were actually on. I'll admit to being surprised to see that Punk IPA was there. The fact that it was on the same bar as Cumbrian beer is a little baffling.

It may be that I have a few facts wrong about various specifics regarding GBBF, but despite that I maintain that there are interesting selection influences at play. It might well be that various officials can attempt to reassure that it is all fair and transparent. The impression I am left with is very different; There is a massive disparity between local breweries who appeal to local markets and those of us who are more successful further afield.

Besides all that, the fact that BrewDog will not be at GBBF is no great surprise to me. This was a win-win situation for them in many ways. If they got their beer there in KeyKeg it would have been a result, the fact that it eventually fell through is also a result. PR win again. I seem to remember several people, including me, forecasting that this would be what would happen.

It has been pointed out to me that BrewDog are no different to any other brewery in as much as they want to sell more beer. Spot on there, we all do. What we all have to work out is if CAMRA, and indeed cask beer, are important to us or if they are more useful in opposition.

I'm still working that one out, but it appears to me that the latter might be more successful if a brewer is looking for a gap in the market. Also, it could very well be a useful marketing and positional ploy to be quite public about the fact.


SteveF said...

"What we all have to work out is if CAMRA, and indeed cask beer, are important to us or if they are more useful in opposition."

What frustrates me a little here is the either/or implication. It strikes me as a false dichotomy that you are either with CAMRA or against them. On an individual level, I'm a member and I admire some of the stuff they do, yet on the other hand am happy to criticise them where appropriate. I know many other CAMRA members are the same (though some aren't). On a brewery level, the likes of Thornbridge or Dark Star seem to rub along with them perfectly well, despite holding some views that aren't CAMRA orthodoxy.

I don't see why you couldn't maintain a perfectly constructive and cordial relationship with CAMRA, yet at the same time argue that you think they need to broaden their horizons. I'm no marketing expert, but I suspect there's just as much milage in that approach as a more antagonistic one (or indeed an entirely chummy one).

Indeed that's what has generally started to irritate me with the current CAMRA related debates. They often seem to be all or nothing, little room for a perfectly sensible middle ground.

Unknown said...


There is "rubbing along" and there is being really successful.

Curmudgeon said...

Trouble is, at times the "real ale" vs "chemical fizz" dichotomy expounded by some (not all) prominent members of CAMRA doesn't seem to allow for much middle ground.

Alistair Reece said...

I agree with SteveF in that the whole "with us or against us" is damaging to all parties in the long run.

If a brewery doesn't want to make cask beer then that is their prerogative, just as it is CAMRA's prerogative to insist on cask ale at their festival.

Perhaps what is actually needed here in an entirely independent beer festival, not dedicated to any particular method of dispense but just to great beer in all its forms.

Of course it is much easier to just spit the dummy and portray yourself as victims, as BrewDog seem intent to do.

SteveF said...

"There is "rubbing along" and there is being really successful."

Well, Thornbridge seem to be doing ok for themselves! I imagine you'd be pretty happy to become as successful as they are?

As I say, I'm very far from a marketing expert, but it strikes me that there is the possibility of both having your cake and eating it here. I don't see why it's not perfectly possible to appeal to CAMRA and also the "progressive" crowd. That way you tap into both markets. This is heightened by the fact that in reality the two end members will overlap (e.g. me); I think it's easy to have your perspective skewed by the more intense debates that occur on the internet and amongst enthusiasts and forget that there are lots of people with feet in both camps.

Of course, you may be successful taking a more extreme approach too, but that isn't to say (IMO) that having a foot in both camps can't work and can't make your business very successful. And from a personal perspective, I'd rather see less antagonism and more "why can't we all just get along" type sentiment.

SteveF said...

"Trouble is, at times the "real ale" vs "chemical fizz" dichotomy expounded by some (not all) prominent members of CAMRA doesn't seem to allow for much middle ground."

And that may be good reason to criticise CAMRA. But it doesn't automatically preclude a brewer or a CAMRA member such as myself from taking a different stance, yet still being on reasonably friendly terms with them.

Unknown said...

Mudge, completely agree that is part of the problem.

Al, the problem is both parties are behaving like injured parties.

Steve, Thornbridge have been around for a while. I din't know relative turnover but I suspect BrewDog have equalled or surpassed.

SteveF said...

"Steve, Thornbridge have been around for a while. I din't know relative turnover but I suspect BrewDog have equalled or surpassed."

They may well have done, I wouldn't be surprised. That isn't to say that Thornbridge aren't successful though. They clearly are.

Moreover, if Brewdog's approach works so well, could that also imply that they dominate that kind of strategy? Would there be room for more breweries adopting similar tactics? Of course there may be more than one way to skin the anti-CAMRA cat, but it would presumably have to be done quite carefully.

I look at these issues fairly and possibly overly, simplistically. From my perspective, if you can sell your beers to a regular CAMRA crowd as well as somewhere like the Euston Tap or Craft or wherever, then you are going to be targetting more people. This seems to be particularly important at this stage as you are still relatively small - why not maximise your potential markets as you are growing? Obviously Brewdog took a somewhat different approach, but I don't see why a different tack couldn't work.

NB, other, qualified, marketing advice is available!

Phil said...

What shall it profit a man, though he gains shelf-space in Sainsbury's and the turnover to go with it, if he become an utter arse? I thought Dredge's post on this was an interesting straw in the wind - "BD won't be at the fest, shame, but let's talk about all the great beer that will be there". I think the BD controversy machine is wearing out from over-use; it's served its purpose (a million metres of supermarket shelf space can't be wrong) but it's not going to deliver the goods for them indefinitely.

Unknown said...

Steve, talking to many people, knowing many influential people in the beer world, it would seem that there really is some room for similar tactics. Yes, the BrewDog approach is wearing thin with some, a minority, and I have no intention of going that far. For a start, my aims are not as ambitious. However, it is easy as bloggers, or CAMRA members, to think we represent beer drinkers in general; we simply don't.

Phil, I know what you are saying, and I don't entirely disagree either. Dredge's comments are indeed interesting. The fact that he seems to now be believing that CAMRA have been duped is interesting. I think the situation is somewhat more complex.

As far as the publicity machine wearing out is concern, people have been saying it for two years now. It still hasn't worn out yet. Indeed, look at the comments on BrewDog's blog to see just how many people side with them. Yes, I know James deletes comments that will result in bias, but my point is that all of this is splitting the beer world, and all of those who side with BrewDog think CAMRA is an arse. What use is it having 120,000 members if 50 million people think the organisation is an arse?

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Good lord, 50 million people, flipping heck, I didn’t know, do you think the 120,000 should surrender now or later…

Unknown said...

The 120,000 can do what they like really. It's not about surrendering, it's about realising that minorities are exactly that. It's about realising that the traditional Real Ale(TM) model is only one model for new microbreweries.

I Prise said...

I was dissappointed when I found out that the Brewdog Bar wasn't going to be at the GBBF.The Brewdog bar was one of the main reasons I had decided to spend a day there during my trip to London, I would have thought that the differences could have been sotred out to every ones satisfaction but alas no.
Marc Holmes comments on the original Brewdog blog post seemed to suggest he would be happy with 50l keykegs. However keykegs seem to come in a maximum size of 30l and this seems to have been the sticking point, as Camra didn't want to be changing kegs more often. It seems almost to be a concession from Camra that they were expecting the Brewdog beers to sell so quickly that changing keykegs would have been a major issue.
As for 50,000,000 against 120000, I don't think that is really the case. The vast majority of people don't really care what they drink. There is a lot more shelf space devoted to industrially produced lager than any craft brewer can ever hope to have devoted to their product.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

‘The vast majority of people don't really care what they drink. There is a lot more shelf space devoted to industrially produced lager than any craft brewer can ever hope to have devoted to their product.’

Does that mean craft brewers should give up? Why this need to evangelise and to convert people, either they enjoy it and your business works or they don’t.

SteveF said...

"However, it is easy as bloggers, or CAMRA members, to think we represent beer drinkers in general; we simply don't."

Sure and when pondering whether there is room in the market for another Brewdog-esque approach, I was thinking more about the wider picture. Will the wider body of the drinking public, not those who get involved in fairly arcane discussions about CAMRA, keg etc, appreciate another brewery who take a similar (though not necessarily identical) approach to Brewdog? It's not a rhetorical question by the way, I genuinely don't know. But if you think there is room then maybe that's the way to go.

To return a bit to CAMRA though - in your original post (and the subsequent discussions), things have been fairly CAMRA focused. But I wonder how much the Brewdog approach to CAMRA actually factors in to their success? If, as you note, a lot of this sort of thing is fairly insular beer geeky type stuff, is there really all that much value added by setting yourself up in opposition to them? I'm guessing that the average person who might buy Brewdog in Sainsburys or go to the new Brewdog bar in Camden won't be particularly interested in this sort of stuff. Brewdog would surely argue that they've been successful by reaching out to a wider audience, which therefore presumably implies that the confrontational stance with CAMRA is at best a minor side issue (though possibly one that has some influence).

This line of reasoning minimises the influence of CAMRA perhaps a little too much, but it's presumably the logical extension of your thinking. If you're going to make the point that they don't particularly represent beer drinkers, why bother with them in the first place?

One additional thing - I don't know much about marketing, but I do know quite a bit about the internet based discussions. I've no doubt that a lot of people side with Brewdog, but you really can't say that from comments underneath a blog post.

OllyC said...

I often wonder whether BrewDog would even exist in the first place if it wasn't for CAMRA's actions over the past 20 years ...

StringersBeer said...

"on the same bar as Cumbrian beer"? Wasn't that cos of Aberdeenshire beginning with 'A'?

Anonymous said...

I Prise said "It seems almost to be a concession from Camra that they were expecting the Brewdog beers to sell so quickly that changing keykegs would have been a major issue"

Popular beers at GBBF regularly sell 18g in a few hours. Last time I was on a bar which sold the CBOB winner we sold an 18g on the hour every two hours and it ran out in 20-30 minutes. So chenging 30L (6.5g) would indeed have been an issue, partly because of BrewDog's popularity but also because of the size.

Owen said...

A "normal" (ie non-brewery) bar at GBBF has ~110 kils of beer on its stillage, in 18s so the same number of containers. To have the same amount of beer in 30l keykegs means you'd need 300 containers.

If the bar sells all the beer (as the bar I worked on did), that would mean changing a container every 13 minutes for all 40 hours the festival is open. Obviously some times are busier than others, and you'd be looking at changing a beer over every 30 SECONDS at peak.

...and that's ignoring the fact that BrewDog beers, given their high profile, would sell at a higher rate than the beers we had on our bar (where the last kil that went on sale, of a not-particularly-good bitter sold in under 40 minutes).

Keykegs would have simply been impossible to use, especially given that we didn't have use of EC2 to store empties this year.

Unknown said...

Owen, KegKegs are single use, no need to store empties.

I'm also a bit sceptical of the "impossible" assertion. Anything is possible when you want it to happen. It's easy to say it is impossible when you don't want it to happen.

Owen said...

I'm aware that keykegs are disposable and so "don't need to be stored";a conventional cask doesn't need to be stored, it can simply be returned.

However, they don't simply evaporate as soon as they have been emptied of their contents.

A "standard" bar at GBBF goes through 15-25 kils of beer a day. A brewery bar might go through even more than that. That volume of beer is 40-70 keykegs A DAY that would have to be stored somewhere until they can be disposed of (and 40-70 keykegs a day that would have to be stored somewhere to come in as replacements).

Impossible might be a very strong word, but "hugely impractical to the point of being critically burdensome" comes so close to it as to be indistinguishable. I'm not a fan of the "let's see you do better" argument, but I honestly don't think any of the people critical of this decision have any realistic inkling of the practicalities.

Curmudgeon said...

But what's to stop you just leaving the empty keykegs on the stillage as you can do with empty casks if there's nowhere else to store them?

Owen said...

A keykeg occupies 55l of space to store 30l of beer. An 18g cask occupies about 18 gallons of space.

Brewery bars tend to go through more beer, and do have to swap some out of the stillage; plus the design of keykegs means that saddle cooling is impractical, which means that expensive cold room storage is a necessity, reducing the working space.

It's true that they can be stacked more easily, but the problem of changing a keykeg every 30 seconds still hasn't been addressed; given that GBBF bar managers use best practice in flushing through with water after every container change, the beer would be on sale for less time than it would be off.