Updated: Aug 6, 2019
Welcome back to my Exploratory Rant at selling Craft Beer to the black community. If you haven't read part 1 I strongly encourage you to do so. In part 1 we discussed Black folks and Brand loyalty. We broke down the idea that loyalty can change based on circumstance and discussed my Father and his beer decisions. But let's take a break from my Dad now that he has shown us Black people have no loyalty to one brand and discuss my buddy Leonard again. Heineken was Leonard's biggest headache with marketing. They belonged to our competitor distributor and back in the early 2000s they took pages out of Leonard's playbook. With commercials featuring popular rappers and producers like Lil Jon and Jermaine Dupri, they were speaking subliminally to the young black target market. We went to one of Leonard's account's to see the effects of this marketing up close and it was apparent that Heineken was killing it. Every Black Professional in this upscale bar, if they were drinking beer...they were drinking Heineken. I mean on the ground level what a major win, some of these folks probably had no idea where Heineken is produced but that's what they were sipping. They weren't drinking what they're parents drank, they had stepped up in a sense or at least felt like they stepped up. They were young Black professionals, ready to "expand their box" and who was there to fill the void... Heineken. Now don't get me wrong, I am not telling you to go grab a rapper and all your problems are solved. I mean after our company took that L, we scrambled to put on an event for Bud Select and brought T.I. to promote the brand. This was pretty much a failure. We had a massive Select sign behind T.I. and the stage was decked out with Select point of sale, great crowd, great music from Tip (although he not the King of the South, stop telling that lie!), we even gave out samples of Select to the masses. Everyone left, hit the club, and grabbed a Heineken. Hell Tip even had a cup in his hand during his performance and I guarantee it wasn't Select, and even so, it wasn't branded so "Who Cares!" It wasn't about the music or the artist, our company had been lazy towards an emerging Target Market and Heineken paid attention to it.
Back to my Dad, the disloyal, set trippin Beer Drinker and back to me now years removed from the Heineken debacle. Remember from earlier, where I am a young Area Sales Manager in a Black section of Houston. I don't want to miss the opportunity with the Black Target Market like we did in the early 2000s but at the same time I don't want to waste my time selling $15 Belgian Trippels if the Brothers ain't gonna buy it. Let's return to my Dad, for a simple question and answer. I ask my Dad, "If you could drink one beer style or brand for the rest of your life, what would it be?" This brother told me "maybe a stout not Guinness but heavier or Moosehead!" Again for those of you that are too young to know, Moosehead is an import light lager from Canada. I had forgotten my Dad drank Moosehead because after the late 90s it had become increasingly difficult to find in Texas. My Dad had virtually made my quest for the perfect beer and marketing to the Black consumer even more confusing. What did Moosehead ever do to gain my Dad's attention? Come to think of it what did Heineken do? My Dad was drinking Heineken when Lil Jon was much Littler Jon, so it wasn't him. AND POP WHAT THE HELL DO YOU KNOW ABOUT STOUTS! I pondered these important topics while driving through my East side Territory in the lower income part of Houston. I was killing Bud Ice sales for my company, we sold 18oz for .99 cents, and we were killing it but our box was not expanding.
Now at this point (if you read part 1 also) you have read almost 2000 words, and if you sell Craft Beer you are anticipating this genius answer that will guarantee an increase of sales to your Targeted Black Market. But before we even go to that answer (which on the cool, I don't have but you're still here so don't go!) let me ask a question: Do you target any Black Craft Beer Drinkers? Do you think "We" don't drink craft? Is it that all you sell is IPAs and you say to yourself "Black folks won't drink an IPA". Listen, you gotta play to win and there's a field of opportunity you may be missing. The answer is not simple but I did learn that the sales are there for our community. I see Craft Breweries whether intentionally or not, utilize Black Culture to sell their products but don't market to Black People. Craft Beer is supposed to be an inviting and inclusive industry. It's an industry that says "Please try my competitor's product and let us know what you think". Craft Breweries compete for sales but collaborate together in nearly every other aspect of the business. Well why not "invite" the minority that is in all truth, the standard trendsetter for American Culture. I don't have one brilliant answer to increase your sales in the African American Market but if you're reading this and thinking about it...you're already doing more than a majority of Suppliers. Don't patronize the culture or stereotype it! Don't write rap lyrics on your cans (if you don't know what you talking about) or try to be something that you're not. Where I 1st discovered success selling craft beer to African Americans was placing product in central locations where multiple demographics intersect. In East Houston there is basically a couple blocks that divides the Black, White and Hispanic neighborhoods. My team and I placed imports and craft beers at stores in this area, and this is where we saw an increase in movement within the African American segment. We utilized point of sale to market to African Americans but had the cushion of White consumers who already were invested in craft beer. It took time but it worked, naturally as any curious consumers, when beer drinking black folks noticed displays of new products and saw the sell through with other demographics they decided to see what the fuss was all about. Of course you have to support this kind of effort with demos and education but putting the product in those "Crossroads" was key. Actions like these increase sell through and improve margins for your store and bar owners. It's the same thing Big Beer does when they drop a new malt beverage or "Fruit filled" beer: Target the general market 1st, find crossover with the AA market, sample, educate and sell. These brands are priced perfectly for increasing your margins and you expand your reach and sell through. Overall you have to invest some time and energy in putting your product in Black Folks hands and see if it expands your box.
My last big example is my cousin Fox. Fox is Black, pure country from Mississippi and drinks Bud Light. Not only does he drink Bud Light, he drinks Bud Light 7oz (Beer just so much colder cuz! Fox 2015). I used to keep my cooler on me and always had it stocked to the brim. When I became a Beer Polygamist, my cooler was a Craft Beer Drinker's Treasure Trove with Old Rasputin, Ballast Point Sculpin, Brother Thelonius and Heady Topper to name a few. We were knee-deep in a Spades Game and my kinfolk Fox was out of beer because drinking 7oz is not compatible with the length of a quality Spades game. I take a moment to ponder then I make my move, I dig in my cooler and grab him a Session IPA from Oskar Blues called Pinner. I slide it his way, and he looks up at me over his cards. He takes a second to configure his "books" and he goes in, cracks it open and takes a sip. I know in my heart, I am about to get ran off the table and not for a typical Spades foul but for exploding his pallet for the 1st time. He stops and looks at the can, takes another sip, and then looks back at the can. He looks at me and says "Cuz, this got grapefruit or something in it?" I laugh, "naw but it does have that citrusy type of taste to it, good look". He takes another sip, "man this pretty damn good!". Wow... My cousin who grew up in the backwoods of Southwest Mississippi, who loves chitlins (I'll explain another time), who sips on Crown and 7oz Bud Lights, and who probably don't know or care what IPA stands for... Is a Craft Beer Drinker. Expand Your Box.