How do you know if your business has fans and not just customers? If they get branded tattoos, that’s how – or so says Tom Rainsford, Marketing Director at Beavertown Brewery.
Beavertown’s striking artwork has become so iconic it now adorns the appendages of “super fans” around the world. The London-based brewery has also established a successful sideline in merchandise, ranging from glasses and prints through to beanie hats and bags.
Right from the outset, Beavertown has positioned itself not as just a manufacturer of beer, but as a lifestyle that people can buy into. Rainsford says the trick is for brands to think of themselves as bands.
People love bands, and that love creates fans, not customers.
“People have an emotional connection with bands,” he says. “People love them, and that love creates fans, not customers. Ultimately, that’s what great brands are doing.”
When Rainsford first started talking to his team about the concept of brands as bands, he found it was something they could relate to.
“A lot of them used to be in bands so it was an easy conversation to have. We started talking about, are the beers like our songs, is the range like a set list or a playlist, are our marketing channels like a stage?”
Be like a band… but not like Kings of Leon
The Kings of Leon are a great band, Rainsford does not deny that, but he holds up their huge commercial success and subsequent meltdown as a cautionary story. Just like the Kings, brands are at risk of losing their way if they stray too much from their roots in pursuit of popularity.
“I have a lot of love for Kings of Leon. Even after Sex on Fire they have written some good songs. But I think the lesson – and this is very true with brands when they grow – is that you can become lost. You can become disconnected from your ideology or your values.”
Emotional connection is the most important thing that you can have with people.
Staying true to yourself – consistently delivering your values and personality in a way that connects with people – is ultimately what Rainsford’s musical analogy is all about. It’s this authenticity that can lead to people showing incredible (sometimes even irrational) commitment to your brand.
Once you’ve established a solid fanbase, your brand has a safety net. Whatever happens, you’ll have an audience who will seek you out and support you – even if the going gets tough. Beavertown’s experiences over the last 18 months are a case in point.
Before the pandemic hit, Beavertown were making 85% of their sales on trade. But when the pubs shut down, that income stream stopped overnight. The brand’s small direct-to-consumer business suddenly became a lifeline. Beavertown fans quickly adapted to the D2C model, thankful they could still get their pint of Neck Oil – even if they had to drink it at home.
We’ll keep D2C going because, actually, consumers want beer in different ways.
“We went from doing £20k a month in our web shop to doing £100k quite literally overnight,” says Rainsford. “We went from about two people picking and packing stuff in envelopes into a full blown end-to-end experience.”
While Beavertown had always planned to expand their D2C offering, the pandemic rapidly accelerated it. The brewery even formed a partnership with Beer + Burger to offer home delivery meal kits. Rainsford says they’ll maintain the increased focus on D2C even as pubs reopen.
“We love pubs, that’s our heart and that’s why we are in beer, but we’ll keep D2C going because, actually, consumers want beer in different ways. We’ve continued to see the trend of people who drink at home and I expect that trend to continue.”
Thinking about D2C? Just do it!
Beavertown aren’t the only brand to grow booming D2C businesses during the pandemic – we’ve written about others, like DRY and Bloom & Wild. Such success has got other brands eyeing the D2C model and wondering if it could work for them.
For anyone thinking of giving it a whirl, Rainsford says just do it: “You start by starting,” he says.
“It’s not actually that complicated. You can get endless plugins by Shopify and it’s really simple. If teenagers can do it in their bedrooms selling t-shirts, there’s no reason why a business can’t do it. Just start selling product online and see how it goes. Test and learn.”
Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 125 million global consumers. She also likes cake.