By Fred Czuba
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Whether you are on the consuming end of the craft beverage food chain or designing recipes for your next holiday ale, both parties have one element in common: The Love of Story.
Every craft producer has one. Every customer wants to hear one. But too often in our haste to sell and to buy, we pay far too much attention to the price point on the shelf, forgetting that packaging — and labeling in particular — is not just a list of ingredients. Perhaps it is because so many have forgotten what a good story is.
A good story doesn’t just list what’s inside the bottle. Back in the ‘70s, America went through a fad where generic labeling was trendy. Simple black-and-white packaging identifying mayonnaise, red wine and beer were amusing, and the contents inside were decent examples of what was labeled, but there was no connection between seller and buyer. Seldom a second purchase. No child on your lap next to the fire saying, "Read me this story again daddy. It's my favorite." No mother would read to their child from a book simply labeled, "Fairy Tale," and no child would be interested. They want to see the cover, the pictures. They want to know the names of the characters — root for the underdog and have their hearts race for the imperiled hero, even though they know how it ends. That is the essence of story, and a connection that every manufacturer hopes to build with their customer.
Here are a few guiding tips on how a producer/storyteller can connect to their consumer/listener.
1. Engage the consumer
"We make great beer," "We use only quality ingredients" and "Growing grapes since 1972" can all be facts, but are total yawns. It works as a beginning, much like "Once upon a time," but it doesn't say much more. If I saw a label that said, "You can read the fine print, but we know you're more curious about what happens after you remove the cork," I would buy it out of pure curiosity. It's the promise of a good story that pulls you in.
2. Tell your story, not someone else's
Just because everyone makes an IPA or a pinot noir or a gin doesn't mean you have to. Bow to the market out of necessity if you must, but your story is uniquely yours. Only you can tell it. Whether this means that your Celtic roots drive you to harvest grapes for a particular wine only on the night of a full moon or you are a brewer who is the great, great, great grandson (or granddaughter) of George Washington and every batch contains a blade of grass from Mount Vernon, it's your story to tell and it’s unique.
3. Catch their eye
Most consumers judge a book by its cover. A label is not just an ingredient list, a government warning and a barcode. Everyone has that. Be creative. Whether you use paper labels, Mylar or ink decoration, think first about your story and second about the cost of creativity. Yes, budgets are important, but if your product is not jumping from the shelf to a customer's hands, then no one is reading your story. Luckily the craft beverage industry has an ample supply of designers and marketing agencies to aid you in telling your tale.
4. Make them want to read the story again
Do you leave a listener/consumer hungry for the next chapter? With so many choices on the shelf, customer loyalty is a thing of the past. You should not expect that your beer/wine/kombucha/vodka is the only one they will try. But your story should bring them back again and again and hold all others up to your standard. Do you invite them to your world/facility, engage with social media and leave a trail of breadcrumbs in the crowded forest of product choices so they can find you again? There is no one way to do this. If that were true then there would be only one light beer on the market.
And to that point: currently there is an online post attributed to the Brewer's Association asking the public to contribute funds for craft brewers to buy Anheuser-Busch InBev to "take back" craft beer. Even if this is not "fake news" or a Russian hack, one must ask why AB InBev has been so fixated on the craft beer industry for years. The answer is simple. AB InBev craves the narrative. So long as the craft industry has an interesting story to tell and expresses it in very personal ways, then connecting with the listener will yield a long and enriching experience.
Fred Czuba is a BING member and the sales manager at Tri-S Decorating in Tualatin. For nearly 30 years, he has enjoyed listening to and telling the stories of the craft beverage industry.