Many leading beer brands hope you’ll turn on your TV and get turned on by their commercials. You find them duking it out, often during sportscasts, with boundless (and often absurd) attempts at comedy.
Makers of the popular Fat Tire brand, New Belgium Brewing, avoid the cliché approach. The company from Fort Collins, Colorado is serious about content marketing and uses it to build community in a number of insanely creative ways.
According to the 2014 edition of the B2C Content Marketing study by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, the four tactics rated highest for effectiveness by participating marketers are in-person events, eNewsletters, videos and social media.
Unsurprisingly, New Belgium pours itself into each. And with a strategic, outrageously entertaining and integrated approach to the four tactics, they produce a very intoxicating mix of content.
Does New Belgium have a rigid recipe?
I asked Bryan Simpson, New Belgium’s media relations director, if their content marketing recipe is as calculated as the mix of ingredients in their brews.
“In the early days, it was all sort of instinct,” Simpson said. “If you look at craft beer as an industry, it’s a lot of relational marketing. It’s person to person, bar stool to bar stool, and getting out and doing events.”
Bryan explained the company started taking their beer to festivals before it even commercialized. He said in the early days, it was a default activity of sorts, because it’s cheap. Six years later, when Simpson joined the company, though a handful of folks worked the branding department, marketing remained “rootsy.”
The Tour de Fat takes shape
Simpson said Tour de Fat dates back to the early days (late 90s). Wait, you say, Tour de … What?!
Tour de Fat:
- Is a traveling celebration of all things bicycle
- Honors mankind’s greatest invention (bikes, I assume)
- Increases awareness in cycling as a sustainable form of transportation
- Opens with a costumed bike parade through host cities
- Is a rolling carnival of creativity
- Encourages brave souls to hand over their car keys as a commitment to commute by bike
Beer is seldom associated with fundraising. This year the Tour de Fat, which takes interactive sculptures, art bikes, beer, good times and live music on the road, raised $625,000 for cycling-related nonprofits across 10 cities.
Any questions? Of course, as your self-appointed guide de Tour de Fat, I had a few.
How’d it start?
“One of our co-founders was cycling through Belgium and he got turned onto that style of beer. When he came home, he named his first beer, Fat Tire, in honor of that trip. And so there has always been a deeply embedded biking culture here. It’s a big part of our DNA.”
“So our branding director and sales director were sitting around thinking about what we could do to give back to the cycling community. It was right around the time Tour de France was going. And they were like, oh, maybe a silly version of the Tour de France.”
“His first vision was to go out and do sort of a bike collectors’ event … get some bands out there … and do some advocacy work. We team up with local bike non-profits and raise money for them through beer sales and merchandise sales. That’s always been a big part of it.”
Bryan said the brewery doesn’t take money out, but funnels all proceeds into a non-profit scenario to benefit the community by advocating for better bike lanes and infrastructure. The goal is to make fundamental change in the community.
In the early going, Tour de Fat visited six cities with varying degrees of success. The company stuck with it and attendance started to grow.
Meaningful connections with the community
I asked Bryan to flash forward to today…
“Tour de Fat just completed its fifteenth season. It’s become a much more professional looking show. The content is much more focused. The morning costume parade has grown exponentially. Now it’s odd if you’re not in costume.”
The tour drew 25,000 in Fort Collins this year and broke $100,000 for the non-profits for the first time. He said they’re approaching about $4 million raised over the lifespan of the event. It’s been a great success for bike advocacy and allowed New Belgium to make truly meaningful connections in the many communities it visits.
Clearly, Tour de Fat is more than a story of a beer company hosting events. It’s a unique offering that casts New Belgium Brewing as the hub in the center of a wheel (or tire) with spokes connecting to local causes, local artists, bike enthusiasts, entertainers, the host cities, families and of course, beer enthusiasts.
Tour de Fat is a great place for the family to take in a yo-yo show, just one of the event’s kooky forms of entertainment.
“Clips” trips across the country
In recent years, New Belgium has also created the “Clips Beer and Film Tour,” a beer-toting, film-traveling, nonprofit-benefiting show that travels coast-to-coast landing in 28 cities.
“We had an inflatable outdoor movie screen and for years we had been showing classics, a bit of art-house cinema and a lot of throwback comedy stuff,” Bryan said.
New Belgium decided to take to the road with the idea. They now conduct an annual online film festival calling for submissions from filmmakers early in the year. More than 100 short films are submitted every season.
“We curate them into about two hours of content—maybe 22 films, all about two to four minutes in length, and from a variety of backgrounds. In the first year the quality was all over the board, but now it’s topnotch. A lot of it is specifically produced for the festival.”
“This Sh*t Is Banana’s” stars a banana talking about New Belgium beers.
Rewarding social media experiences
New Belgium Brewing is all-in for social media (with a half million Facebook likes and 212K Twitter followers), mobile and gamification with a variety of ways to make digital interaction with the brand fun and rewarding.
As a member of the brewery’s Grand Cru Rewards program, you’re rewarded for visiting the company web properties, sharing its content, attending events and using its highly unusual Beer Mode app.
Beer Mode users are offered exclusive access to special events and offers, and of course, the app makes it easy to locate a libation seller nearby.
However, they named it “Beer Mode” for a reason. When you become a Beer Mode user, you can select a persona and the app takes over your Facebook and Twitter accounts by posting messages for you (so you can give beer your undivided attention).
I asked Bryan if your followers know you’re in “beer mode.”
“No, therein lies the joke, as they shouldn’t quite know exactly when or where that’s coming from. Ideally you follow up with them later to explain.”
Engaging fans with email
Kevin Darst, New Belgium’s digital manager, joined the conversation to paint a picture of how the company uses email to integrate their outreach efforts and engage their fans.
“People tend to overlook email marketing, but it’s a really engaging channel for us with our fans,” he said. “Much of our best engagement comes via email, especially for Tour de Fat.”
Kevin talked about how New Belgium delivers relevant news by allowing fans to subscribe to very specific lists. “If you want to hear just about the tour in your city, that’s what you’re going to hear about. You won’t get email about new beers or other things we’re doing unless you ask for that. You’ll learn specifically about the event in your city, the performers, and so forth.”
Unsurprisingly, New Belgium enjoys extremely high open and click-through rates.
The event-based emails also enable subscribers to sign waivers in advance, learn more about the local causes and make donations. Many of the donations award the guests Tour de Fat branded items, which they pick up when they arrive. The New Belgium swag tends to sell out at most events.
New Belgium never freezes
During my conversation with Bryan, I picked up on the fact that he’s remained pumped about handling media relations for the company for two decades.
The reason: New Belgium always has something exciting brewing. We talked about the winter and holiday season, where obviously (and especially in Colorado) parades and outdoor film festivals won’t fly.
“In the wintertime we do a series of scavenger hunts across different mountains in the western U.S. We’ll have clues scattered throughout the mountain, so you can gather these clues and come back for an award—you know, beers at the lodge at the end of the day. The scavenger hunt is a big fun one in the winter.”
In February, New Belgium hosts an event called “Lost in the Woods,” which celebrates the release of their Sour Beer Series. This coming year, they’ll come out with the 2015 version of La Folie, a beautiful oak aged sour beer.
“We film it and put it out on social media. We share the content and our Facebook followers and friends put their own content on there and create stuff. That’s all part of it—creating events where people can join us, build on the media, and engage in playful ways.”
Cheers, New Belgium.