Apr 2011

BostInnovation Features A Guest Post From Mark

Mark Hellendrung recently wrote a guest post for a Featured Series on BostInnovation.com about Narragansett beer’s use of social media versus big beer and traditional media. Here is the full story and what Mark had to say:

How Narragansett Wins the David vs. Goliath Beer Marketing Battle

Innovation and technology have been critical to the success of Narragansett Beer for over 120 years. The beer was introduced in 1890 as a lager, a beer more costly to make than the ales that dominated the market at the time. Over the years, the brewery was the first in the northeast to install a high-speed canning line, the first beer company to use sports marketing with the Boston Red Sox and Braves, and created a giant imperial quart (GIQ) bottle the was the precursor to the 40oz category. Today, our use of innovation, technology and now social media has helped ‘Gansett become one of the fastest growing beers in New England. 

The US beer industry is dominated by billion dollar international companies like Anheuser Busch Inbev and SAB Miller with enormous budgets to spend on mass media. While we can never compete with these companies in the mass media game, social media is the great equalizer in this David vs. Goliath battle in that cost of entry in social media is negligible in comparison to traditional television, radio, and print advertising. Moreover, there is compelling evidence that social media and word-of-mouth marketing are more effective tools to engage with consumers.

The first step for Narragansett Beer was to make a complete organizational commitment to the use of social media two years ago. We recognized that people essentially “tune out” when information and communication is sporadic. Our ten employees have smart phones and use Facebook, Twitter and to a lesser extent Foursquare, daily. Through these channels, we are able to broadcast contests and promotions, share photos of fans and events, announce new product releases and retail availability and repurpose third party content about the beer, just to name a few. While traditional mass media may not be an option financially, social media has proven to be a cost effective tool to tell our story to beer drinkers.

Even more powerful than pushing our message to the public is the ability to receive information and content from our fans. For example, on the front page of our website we encourage people to “Drink Your Part, Support the Cause” to rebuild the brewery by telling us where they would like ‘Gansett. We have placed ‘Gansett in hundreds of new accounts by using these “referrals”, convincing retailers that they have existing customers that want to drink our beer. Product out of stocks at retailers are frequently a problem for a growing product, and we have been able to proactively deal with these issues many times when fans notify us through Twitter and Facebook. Finally, beer is obviously a very social product and the photos, videos and messages shared by fans through social media are powerful tools to build the community aspect of the brand.

Entreprenuerial start-ups like Narragansett Beer face increasingly difficult challenges from industry consolidation and the market power of the dominant players. The advent of social media technology has presented a fantastic tool for small companies to compete on an even player field. And as the way consumers choose to receive information and interact with each, beer companies like us are given the opportunity through social media to engage with consumers in a more authentic way.

Editor’s Note: Curious how Narragansett does it? Check out their blog, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube pages — and watch and learn!