Brewery trend: Fostering customer loyalty through community building

Branding for breweries
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A new trend is sweeping through the global beer scene. More and more breweries are establishing their own communities and fan clubs with the goal of boosting customer loyalty and turning beer enthusiasts into lifelong brand ambassadors.

Declining beer consumption and cutthroat competition demands new models of customer loyalty from established breweries. As a result, clever marketing managers are increasingly turning to their own fan clubs and communities to boost customer loyalty. One example is the Scottish creative brand Brewdog, now in the process of opening a second outlet in Berlin with the intent to capture the German and continental European market. They have a steadily growing community of more than 100,000 Scots living worldwide who call themselves “Punks for Equity”. Crowdfunding activities are their main focus, but “shareholders” also enjoy numerous benefits such as discounts in Brewdog bars and in their online shop. In addition, members receive perks such as exclusive access to all new beers before they arrive in stores, and invitations to special brewery events.

Customer loyalty: Reaching people with a wide range of offerings

It is not only the Scottish Brewdogs who are successfully cultivating an “us” sentiment for their brand through fan culture campaigns. Breweries, especially those in Denmark, Germany and the U.S., use attractive events, special tasting packages, and merchandise to turn beer aficionados into not only faithful and loyal customers, but also lifelong brand ambassadors. Most breweries charge a membership fee to belong to the fan club with the community enjoying many different activities like individual balloon rides, bowling tournaments and catered hikes.

Branding for breweries
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Brewery apostles are particularly fond of stylish fan gear, such as t-shirts, sweatshirts or caps, all bearing the beer brand’s logo. The entire fan community, therefore, becomes a walking promotional platform.

Breweries with their own fan clubs

Erdinger Bräu, arguably the most successful and largest fan club operator in Germany, reports 90,000 members worldwide. The Paulaner Group has 12,000 fans. Not too far behind is the community of Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu with approximately 9,000 fans. These fans call themselves “specialists” and by their own account, emphasize a sense of community and good cheer. Some brewery fan clubs even organize annual events “for members only” in order to cultivate this cohesiveness.

One of the most successful beer fan club operators in Germany is Erdinger Bräu with some 90,000 members worldwide. Looking beyond country borders is possible: Rogue Brewery, based in Oregon, operates on an international scale. The complimentary fan community is called “Rogue Nation” and numbers more than 230,000 members in 71 countries.

In May, for example, the Distelhäuser brewery hosted a large fan party featuring live music, ample beer and high spirits. Some 1,500 motivated supporters came from all over Germany, many wearing the club’s own green t-shirts, conjuring up images of fans at Bundesliga games. “There is no better compliment for a brewery,” says Distelhäuser president Christoph Ebers describing the guests’ enthusiasm as they pledged loyalty to his brand.

Community building can help breweries build brands
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Beer connects: A community crosses national borders

One of the world’s largest fan communities, albeit with a simple concept, is operated by the Rogue Brewery in Oregon. The U.S. brewery’s complimentary fan club is called “Rogue Nation” and reports more than 230,000 members in 71 countries around the world. Big Al Jorgensen, the acting president of the “Rogue Nation” community, drove a bus across the country to recruit even more members. When asked “What exactly is Rogue Nation?” he replied, “It’s a group of people who decided to drink good-tasting beer.”

The Danish beer brand Mikkeller takes a different approach. The cult label from Copenhagen fosters brand loyalty without drinking beer. Five years ago, to keep fan spirits high and to motivate them to exercise more, brewery head Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and his friend Søren Runge founded the Mikkeller Running Club. Now, numbering more than 12,000 members worldwide, club members meet for a jog on the first Saturday of the month in cities with a Mikkeller community. These events take place in cities such as Reykjavik, Santiago, Berlin, Tokyo, and even Torshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands. The destination of the community run is always a Mikkeller bar, with the first beer on the house.

Mareike Hasenbeck

Mareike Hasenbeck is a freelance journalist with her own craft beer blog (Feiner Hopfen), she is also a beer sommelier and an international expert for beer sensory certified by the DLG (German Agricultural Society).