Wednesday, 4 July 2012

How a Scottish Home Brewer Used Social Media to Get Global Customers

If you run a small business or you’re thinking of starting one, a big challenge you will face is getting customers. Without customers, you can’t pay your bills, and you have no hope of convincing anyone to invest in your company.

And it’s a Catch-22 for most entrepreneurs, because they probably think that they need capital to build the product and sales force required to get customers. The difficult reality for most start-ups is that they have to get customers before they can raise outside money. And this puts start-ups under pressure to make the cleverest possible use of their scarce founder’s capital.

And one way to get the biggest bang for the buck is to use social media. This comes to mind in considering the success of Scotland’s James Watt -- who is nothing if not a business renegade. When he started beer-maker BrewDog, after quitting work at a law firm after two weeks, he knew clearly what he didn’t want to do. But what’s most interesting is how he figured out what to do instead and how he used social media to get customers.

BrewDog’s co-founders started the company because they were bored with their conventional jobs, disliked conventional beer and the conventional corporate cultures they represented, and wanted to do something they loved.

As Mr. Watt explained in an interview, “Law — in a word — is dull, and there was a big part of me that totally panicked thinking @!*& is this it?’ The last thing I wanted to do with the next forty years of my life was to sit behind a desk, sorting out paperwork and other people’s problems, constrained by a nine-to-five and a smart casual wardrobe. When I quit, I didn’t know what I would do, but literally a week later [co-founder] Martin Dickie and I started experimenting with beer, so I wasn’t stuck watching daytime TV for long.

As Mr. Watt said, “The idea to start our own brewery certainly wasn’t something we consciously set out to do.”

“I guess like any good idea, it just had this natural flow about it that . . . kept rolling and has never really stopped. BrewDog officially began in April 2007, but it was some months before that, when [Mr. Dickie and I] were having a beer that BrewDog was ‘born.’ The subject of monotony and the fact that all supermarket or big brand beers taste the same was the topic of conversation.

“[With Mr. Dickie] having just finished a degree in brewing, beer often took precedence in our conversations, but this time words became actions, and we decided to try and create our own beer as a means of remedying the stuffy ales and fizzy yellow lagers that had come to dominate the UK drinks market.

“That evening we set up a makeshift and pretty sketchy looking brewery in Martin’s garage, and created the first batch of what has now become known the world over as Punk IPA.”

Their next move was to see if anyone in the world would like what they had brewed. Mr. Watt continued, “From here we took our pilot beer to a series of open tastings and — by chance — were discovered by the late beer guru Michael Jackson at an event in Glasgow. Upon tasting our beer, Michael told us to quit our jobs and go into brewing fulltime. This is exactly what we did.”

Mr. Watt said, “For us, everything comes back to one simple thing, one overarching ambition, one guiding light: to make other people as passionate about great craft beer as we are. We want to show people there is an alternative to monotone corporate beers and introduce them to a completely new approach to beer and elevate the status of beer in our culture.

Its marketing approach also reflects this anti-corporate bias. As Mr. Watt explained, “Whether it is wrangling with industry regulators, pushing the boundaries in high ABV [alcohol by volume] brewing, smashing bottles of generic beer with a baseball bat, or doing a Saturday morning tasting at a local street market. This is why we work sixteen-hour days and why we only hire the most committed and passionate craft beer fans to work at BrewDog.”

BrewDog produces very clever and humorous videos that are inexpensive to produce and tend to attract many viewers through viral growth. Mr. Watt noted that a one-page magazine advertisement in the United Kingdom might reach a few potential customers for $8,000; however, BrewDog was able to reach 250,000 people around the world with a humorous YouTube-style video that it created for $2,400.

If you’re a start-up with your back against the wall, you could do worse than using BrewDog’s tactics to get customers without spending too much money 

By Peter S. Cohan WALL & MAIN
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