Much has been made of large breweries funding blogs, online magazines and news sites. There’s a simple explanation.
Many concerns have been raised in the US around the likes of Good Beer Hunting, along with their involvement in October (part funded by one of AB-Inbev’s venture arms). Beer Necessities is another example, funded by AB-Inbev.
This isn’t an inherently evil practice, nor does it presuppose poor quality content. It’s just content marketing.
What Is Content Marketing?
Bear with me because I know some of you will already understand this while others might find it strange and boring. Hopefully this will shine a light on content marketing.
Put very simply, content marketing is a long game. It’s not for quick wins or an immediate upswing in sales but for the gradual growth of brand affinity and goodwill among a customer base, the size of which should increase over time.
Companies can throw money at content marketing to gain initial traction but it needs time to incubate and connect with customers.
Those customers are more ready than ever to engage with brands online but also more likely to question what they read and move on if they get bored.
Content marketing is less campaign based (like Lion’s tragic Beer The Beautiful Truth) and more an ongoing way of telling a brand’s story and connecting with customers in an authentic and valuable way.
The importance of this form of marketing is that the company owns the platform. They’re not relying on Facebook or Twitter who can change terms and conditions or algorithms on a whim. They’re investing in their own strategic assets.
How Can Independents Compete With Big Beer?
Ultimately, it’ll be the breweries that do this with authenticity who will win the game. Their actions need to match what they say on the web. This is at the heart of good content marketing.
Not only does the content need to be engaging, it also needs to be consistent with how the company acts, who they are. It needs to resonate with their target customers.
That’s why, unless they change their practices, many AB-Inbev brands are going to struggle to match the authenticity of other breweries publishing online.
There’s been some debate around this in the beer world but it’s been happening elsewhere for ages. And yes, big brands can do it well – very well. The likes of Kraft and Johnson & Johnson have been early adopters and have seen great returns.
In beer we can look at Firestone Walker who have embraced it and are quite clear that the platform is their own.
However, I can’t stress enough that, on the whole, breweries are not doing content marketing well at all.On the whole, breweries are not doing content marketing well at all. Click To Tweet
I’ve written before that marketing is not a dirty word. It’s a part of getting a product to consumers. It’s when companies do it badly or use underhand tactics that people feel deceived or cheated.
This is where the beer community is getting annoyed and rightly so. (For a glimpse at this frustration listen to the end of episode 90 of The Beer Temple Insiders Roundtable).
Disclosure and Journalistic Ethics
Firstly, disclosure is of vital importance. A company needs to be clear that they own or invest in the platform. It doesn’t need to have their name plastered all over it but it should be easy to tell who’s funding the content.
The same goes for writers. They need to disclose where their pay cheque is coming from. That’s just journalistic ethics.
The issues facing journalism have been documented for a while. What we’re seeing is former journalists turning to the corporate or PR worlds in order to make a living. Their skills are in demand by companies looking to produce eye-catching content and tell interesting stories.
If a journalist is earning coin from a particular brewery or conglomerate, conflicts of interest become a concern. AB-Inbev might not want to employ someone who writes about the evils of Big Beer, while an independent brewery might not want an AB funded journalist or platform to cash in on their brand equity or their loyal customers.
Referring back to Good Beer Hunting, Michael Kiser wrote an excellent piece on balancing core and craft. Regardless of their earning money from AB brands, what they write is excellent and I’d highly recommend it.
In fact much of what they do through the blog and podcast is an example of high quality content marketing, for both themselves and their clients.
Independence is a hot topic throughout the beer world and that applies to what we read online. Consumers have every right to question the commercial interests of those writing about beer. Breweries employing those writers should do the same.Consumers have every right to question the commercial interests of those writing about beer. Click To Tweet
The value Big Beer puts on brand equity and goodwill has been stated. Along with strategic acquisitions, developing strong online content for their brands is going to be one way of balancing the loss of engagement they’re experiencing with their flagship brands.
For smaller, independent breweries, now’s the time to start building an online platform, while the big guys are still figuring it out.For smaller, independent breweries, now's the time to start building an online platform... Click To Tweet
However, with the money and brain power available to them, they’re figuring it out quickly.
Investing In The End-To-End Beer Experience
Big Beer has invested in the producers, they’ve invested in retailers (such as Beer Hawk in the UK), they’ve invested in the online media and now they’re buying their way into the data and insights that consumers provide.
Most recently we’ve seen the AB-Inbev funded ZX Ventures buy a stake in RateBeer. This seems primarily for the data they can glean from a large user base and a site full of user-generated content.
There’s been initial backlash from consumers and brewers alike, with Sam Calagione bringing journalistic ethics into question. However, we’ve seen sentiment towards acquired breweries return toward the status quo. The same might happen with RateBeer.
If AB-Inbev are “completing the set” in brewery acquisitions (see Wicked Weed), then they’re close to doing the same when it comes to being a part of the end-to-end experience a consumer has with beer.
They’re equipping themselves to market and advertise their products extremely well and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see an improvement in their approach to content marketing very soon.
Now You Know
The point here, I hope, is to raise awareness of this type of marketing. It is definitely a thing and it looks set to stick around.
It’s not always immediately obvious to people who aren’t involved in journalism, marketing or web publishing, and there are companies who are willing to exploit that. I don’t want to see them win.
Admittedly most of the examples cited here are reflective of the US beer market but given the connected nature of the online beer world, the principles apply. The fact there are fewer Australian examples highlights the vast opportunity in our market.
Ultimately, I have no issue with companies creating their own platform for content – whether that’s articles, podcasts, videos or whatever – as long as they provide something valuable to customers.
We talk about the desire for breweries to engage with their customers. With so much of our time spent online, this is a natural way to do it.
But, just to hammer the point home, content marketing itself is not evil. It just needs to be done well with authenticity and transparency. What a company publishes online needs to be consistent with their values and how they act.
This is where Big Beer is currently failing and where there’s opportunity for independent beer to connect with consumers for long term benefit.