Friday, February 11, 2011

Week #6 - Dean Browell

Dean Browell is Executive Vice President at Feedback, an agency that takes Social Media to the next, well... a deeper, well... a more informed and strategical level. Feedback's research and analytical processes allow companies to make social media even more powerful and Dean is right at the heart of the matter. He is the next installment of interviews with the members of the Storytelling panel at 2010's CBC in Chicago and I find what Dean brings to the social media conversation just fascinating. Dean is a Richmond, VA resident and a big music fan. All of these things make him pretty cool in my book. Without anything further, Dean Browell...

The interaction of different age groups online has been a point of study for you, if you had to put all of craft beer into an age group where do we fall in line? In the realm of Social Media, do we get it? Are we getting there? We're hip, right?

Great question...
I'd say the hipness is growing, but there's still a ton of room for improvement. When you consider how relatively cheaply and easily you can utilize social media to grow an audience (compared to say, TV and print) combined with the fact that the people that would pay a little more for a craft beer are the same people who are likely online and savvy, it's a serious wonder that the entire industry isn't doing it better. Especially since so much about craft beer is about telling your story, this medium is perfect. That's what last year's panel with Charlie, Fullsteam and Erik was about ( ).

Here's the thing, and it's not at all just the problem of craft beer as many industries are facing this, but the craft beer audience is out ahead of the industry itself right now. It's a really odd thing that the average person knows how to market themselves online better than some breweries. (Can you imagine the average person being able to make TV commercials better than businesses in the 1960's?) My earlier statement about the craft beer buyers being likely to be online - well that's becoming more true for everyone across the board. Look at the Pew research from last summer with people over 50 making up nearly half of all social media users -- when the GRANDPARENTS of college-age drinkers are on Facebook, what excuses are left for not understanding the ubiquity?

There's something else that I want to point out, and I've been skewered in the past for saying it. In fact right before my first appearance at CBC I made a comment on Twitter and got jumped all over for it, but I stand by that initial outsider's observation: The online craft beer community has trended toward the divisive (reviews, critique, cynical fandom) rather than the inclusive. Not everyone is like that, but it doesn't take much prodding around to uncover elitism. And what is so stunning to me, and this is what got me in trouble, is noting that of all things the wine industry has managed to take the opposite approach and somehow be more inclusive. Years ago now there were massive social networks for wine drinkers online, all helping you find your taste, get comfortable in the environment and be proud about your own personal taste. Meanwhile in some craft beer forums you can get your internet throat cut for saying you really enjoy a mild over an IPA. When you see the socialization of wine online it makes me irritated because craft beer, in my opinion, is far more democratic and social an industry, but that's not always reflected. Sure wine snobs are still there and it's not like every vineyard has a Facebook Page. But where is craft beer's Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) ? How did the snobbiest of all drinking pastimes manage to lap the pub crawlers? What's next, absinthe drinkers?

If I'm a craft brewery who's small and making great beer, but limited in the resources of time and availability, marketing-wise is there one thing I should definitely be doing online? Is an active and vocal following on Facebook more powerful than a website that may not get updated often enough? Is there a priority system with these online opportunities?

There are two necessary ingredients to a good social web presence: consistency and authenticity. If your website isn't updated regularly, don't design your website so it looks like it was supposed to be updated regularly (resulting in a "cobwebs" look). People know your website will say nice things about you, so LET IT - let it be the repository for all kinds of information. But then let the discussion and the "person behind the curtain" feel come through in social. The odd photo of the mash, the video of a tasting and reactions, asking your fans what they think of a new release... It's conversational. So what I would suggest is let the website be static if it means you'll have more time to keep the community aspect of a Facebook Page going. Commit to updating 1-3 times a week, even something small. Point people to your social presence from your website. But manage your expectations based on the time you put in. be on Facebook, at least. But take a long look at the geographies you serve and determine WHERE your audiences are talking and how and make an informed decision as to how to proceed. Not every city is the same. That's what we do at Feedback more than anything: research the cultures people serve and make informed recommendations as to how to intersect.

How about a craft brewery who is willing to commit some time and maybe even personnel to marketing and the world of social media, but doesn't know a tweet from a blog post? What services are out there to help them get started?

There are some great 101s out there. But my first bit of advice is do not go out and try and learn everything. Not every tool is probably right for you anyway. The one with critical mass is Facebook so that may be your easiest target. Sign up personally. Create a private group for your key personnel and communicate with each other. Try it out, see what it lets you do. Play. Same way you play with recipes. Get comfortable with the variables and the options.

Knowing that you're a huge music fan and seeing the impact of music's sales and distribution online, how vastly different is the social media game when your product can be fully experienced while sitting at the computer? To keep up, should craft brewers be trying to make beer as interactive as possible? Is there something to be learned from something so quickly gratifying as a download?

Well if there's a single lesson it's how the music industry let their entire audience get so far out in front of them without finding a way to tell their story, while individual artists who took the time to observe and play in the space ran away with the crown and actually made money (see: Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails) while reinventing the fandom and reaping live event money as well.

One thing craft beer can learn is how they can make sure they are encouraging fandom of their beers, brands, stories, even when people aren't sitting in front of a tap or with a bottle in their hand. That one guy from your pub who loves your Belgian White still loves it when he's sitting on an office chair instead of a stool, the difference is he can still be Tweeting and sharing his love for your beer even when he's not drinking it. Goodness knows that at 4pm he's already thinking about drinking it - why not encourage him to make others daydream about the same?
Interactivity is key, but it sounds like it's something new they have to learn - but it's not. It's the same interactions they've been having with new and regular customers their whole lives. We can just see it now. Word of mouth we can see.

When did you start drinking craft beer? Was there one beer or experience that sealed the deal for you?

I was lucky. My Dad is a big fan of trying new food from all over the world and we traveled a lot. So I was influenced very early to try things and not accept the norm. My Dad is still one of my favorite people to drink craft beer with, he recently brought back Andechs from Munich wrapped in his socks from a trip to Germany. Anyway, by the time I got to legal drinking age, ahem, I was also lucky enough to have college roommates with great taste in beer. One was from Malvern, PA and after every break would return with cases of Yuengling which was as "common" a beer we would ever drink - and then we'd go to a little craft beer and wine store called, The Caboose in Ashland, VA (we were at Randolph-Macon) and buy mixed six packs and try everything. So i wish I could point to a singular experience, but it was really just being surrounded by people who didn't accept the status quo and encouraged trying new tastes.

If we're coming to Richmond, VA and we want the following things where should we be shopping...

A meal of great food and great beer:

Capital Ale House (and they have a few in the area). Great food and a ridiculous beer selection.

Great sixpacks or big bottles to go:

The Caboose in Ashland, VA is still around:

But to be frank we're also lucky in Richmond that Legend is sold in most of our grocery stores.

Vinyl for our growing (no matter how obsessively) record collection:

Deep Groove. Hands down. But also visit Plan 9's basement.

A live show:

The National is a favorite venue for sure, but there's some great little places as well like The Camel. But you seriously can't beat a great show at The National.

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