In a world where “FASTER! FURTHER! BIGGER!” is often seen as best, it’s easy to get caught up in that mentality yourself as a business owner. But when it comes to distillery life, we all know that slowing down, focusing and starting small is often best. Why then, when it comes to marketing do so many distillers go big and try to reach everyone, everywhere with their message? Especially if realistically their product is only available locally to start? And how do you avoid falling into that trap yourself?

Strategy First,
Marketing Plan Second

As with any good business decision, it all comes down to strategy.

Are you building your distillery as a family business that you hope to run forever? Are you hoping to grow as fast as possible and get bought out? Will you have online sales or national distribution? Are you only sold locally? Do you have a tasting room that consumers can visit?

All of these questions are key in determining where you should be spending your scarce marketing resources. Once you know your strategic direction, hyper local or aspiring to go big, it’s time to get realistic and assess where you are in achieving that vision. Often, even if your goal is to go big, in the beginning stages you’re starting out small and need some early sales to spur you down your strategic path. Unless you’re sourcing your entire product, don’t have a distillery tasting room and have wide distribution, the best starting point is pretty much always a local, targeted marketing campaign.

Think Like a Local

Ready for some good news? You are a local! You know the people, culture and community. That means you’re one of the best local marketing experts around. Just be careful to not market to yourself (in market research, this is known as the “sample size of one bias”) and ensure you’re thinking about the collective local personality. Now, start thinking through how to fit your business into that naturally:

Big yoga area? Think about hosting Saturday morning yoga classes at your distillery the hour before it opens.

Huge dog community? Let’s make sure people know your distillery is dog friendly.

Farmers’ market down the street from you? Offer up a cocktail brainstorm based on what customers bought at the market that day if they stop by your tasting room. If you don’t have a tasting room, get a booth yourself to meet people and give them cocktail ideas on the spot… and, of course, point them to the local retailer where they can buy your spirits.

Partner with restaurants, bars and retailers to do on-location tastings.

Tell your story (that you’ve carefully developed and curated beyond simply being local and/or craft) at open mic nights or other community gatherings to connect personally and emotionally and to make a lasting impression for the next time they’re in the store.

Sponsor local teams or give out high-quality branded materials for locals.

Host a party at home and invite select members of the community.

Get creative, think about what would excite your local community and help people feel connected to you so they want to support you. Unfortunately, simply being local isn’t enough anymore… but truly speaking and engaging with the locals goes a long way toward building your installed base of raving fans.

Effectively Reach
Your Local Market

Okay, so you have your locally inspired idea. Now, how do you actually promote it and get the word out? More great news: Targeted marketing is one of the easiest, most cost-effective things to do in today’s digital marketing landscape. Talking to exactly who you want to be talking to is not only straightforward, it’s also much more effective than shouting your message from the rooftop and hoping the right people hear it.

Simply posting on your social media accounts with no advertising behind it is a crapshoot. It’s helpful and important for ongoing engagement with your fans, for sure. But when you’re trying to drive specific actions based on a post, it’s often not even worth the time and energy you put into creating it. Why? Constantly changing social media algorithms can limit its reach so that not one relevant person even sees it! Let’s take a simple example I see from distilleries all the time on social media.

Great. A little general, but good that you’re trying to inspire your audience to take action. Take a quick look at your follower demographics on Facebook or Instagram. What percentage of them live locally? Your post is relevant only to that portion of your audience. Now, layer on top the viewing algorithm. On Facebook, it is estimated that only 10–20% of your audience sees each post. While Instagram is better than Facebook at allowing your posts to be shown to your followers, it’s estimated that most Instagram users miss about 50–70% of the posts in their feed (since most people don’t scroll all the way back to when they last checked it).

So, doing some quick math: If you were to post this to Facebook on a Friday morning to your 1,000 followers, and let’s be aggressive and say 50% of them are local, only 10% of them will get your post in their feed. We’re already down to 50 people who potentially could see your post, if they’re online that day or at the right time and other content doesn’t fill up their feed before they get to yours. So maybe 20 people see it. And perhaps five of them don’t already have plans that night and are actually in town. You see what I’m getting at here.

Throwing a call to action post onto social media without any targeting behind it to ensure it actually gets to people who can take action on it isn’t super productive. But turning that post into an ad that specifically targets people who live in your area and enjoy spirits can take that simple post and turn it into actual people walking in your door that night. You can even target people who like the Facebook pages of other local alcohol producers or similarly relevant nearby businesses. Honestly, the targeting options are endless but it is important to target smartly and not include too many variables at once so you have clarity on what works.

And yes, all of this is pretty affordable. To start, you can test something like this out for as little as $25. Plus, with targeted ads, people don’t have to currently be followers of yours, so your reach is much larger and you might gain new followers even if they don’t come in that night. Win-win!

The Real Benefit of Nailing
Your Local Marketing First

Okay, so you got them in the door of your distillery, a bar or local retailer. They bought a cocktail, maybe even a bottle. Success! Right? Not quite yet. If that’s your definition of success, you’re missing out on the true value of local marketing.

According to various studies, fewer than 20% of companies focus on customer retention yet it is commonly shown that acquiring new customers is five times more costly than retaining existing ones.

Every single time you have an interaction with a local consumer, it is an incredible opportunity to provide top-notch customer service, make a lasting impression, inspire loyalty and drive word-of-mouth marketing. Yet so many companies are barely giving this a thought. Customer service and tasting room staff are two of the most overlooked elements of marketing, yet they are among the most important. Retaining customers and creating local brand ambassadors to spread the love of your brand for you is priceless. So, please, every single time you or a representative of your brand interacts with a potential consumer, make sure it is memorable, on brand and amazing. You can have the most perfect Facebook ad in the world and drive a ton of traffic, but if people don’t have a great, memorable experience they won’t be back, nor will they recommend you to their friends. Trial is hard to get in our industry. Don’t mess it up once you do get it!

You simply can’t do this with people who aren’t local, not in the same high-touch manner. Focusing on building this local, installed base of raving fans first is critical, so that when you’re ready to start expanding your marketing beyond your backyard, they are liking all of your posts, leaving nice comments and even sharing their own content and experiences. They will help bring your ethos and human story to life for those who can’t be there to experience it for themselves. And while telling your own story is important, getting others to tell it for you is even more powerful.

So, take your time getting your local marketing right. Think of it as an opportunity for deep consumer research so that when you are ready to expand, you know exactly who you’re looking for in your new (still targeted!) areas where your product is available. Local marketing is not only critical to help grow your brand, but it’s a great testing ground to help you be a smarter marketer if or when you do expand. Think big. Start small. Learn fast.