What's the deal with Point-of-Sale (POS) and Craft Beer

I'm a big fan of sending an effective message. Get to the point by understanding your audience and communicating your solution efficiently and relevantly. Fair warning - This post is going to lapse pretty heavily into beer marketing strategy, so please feel free to go watch this adorable husky video instead.

In this ongoing series, I've written about effective growth for small breweries, effective marketing, how sales teams have changed over the years, etc. Today I'd like to quickly hone in on an industry standard practice that might not work. I'm, of course, referring to POS, or Point-of-Sale.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, I can quickly clarify. Anything you see at bar/restaurant/store that is branded by a brewery is considered POS. It can be something as simple as a sign or a tap handle, or as nuanced as the chalkboards you see when you walk into a bar that has a brewery's name on it.

This is all considered POS.

In my brewery days, POS was a main focus for the brewery representative. Manage your territory, work with your wholesalers on draft and package placements, expand the brand through events and promotions, be a point of contact in your market, and secure your POS. POS POS POS POS!

I'm simplifying a challenging position, and I have literally all the respect in the world for brewery people, because I love you guys and I know how difficult the job can be. POS is supposed to keep the brand top of mind. It's supposed to help you, the craft beer consumer, easily recognize the brewery and its offerings. This, in theory, expands the brand equity, builds awareness, and increases sales of the beer, which is the whole point. 

But I'm a pragmatist, and I posit that it's not nearly as effective as breweries think it is. I think it's almost impossible to determine the ROI on most pieces of POS, and I think that the American craft beer consumer is less swayed than they used to be by tin signs, coasters, cheap tshirts, and pint glasses. The pragmatist in me also knows that POS is very expensive, very steal-able, and often times ends up looking ragged and tired at your local pub, which doesn't represent your brand effectively.

I'm positing this without any real evidence, but I haven't seen any data that proves me wrong (I enjoy being proved wrong, so please send me the info if you've got it). I think there is a solution here, and I think it's more sustainable than bottle openers. The solution lies in the current craft beer consumer. 

Craft breweries aren't necessarily fighting for mindshare the way they were 15 years ago. Now, in 2015, most of the customers that breweries want are probably going to be aware of craft beer and their personal preferences. They're going to have an idea of what they want and what they like. These are all generalizations, but bear with me. I posit that a brewery probably doesn't need flashy signs, because the consumer they want doesn't care about flashy signs. The consumer they want, and that exists in large numbers out there, is craving information. They want a personal connection with the brand.

Craft beer is becoming a deliberate, educational, and transactional experience. Folks are flocking in huge numbers to local brewpubs and breweries because they're craving information. They want more from the brewery and their doling out personal mindshare to experience it. POS might communicate this experience, but people communicate it a lot better, and more sustainably, than a coaster you put your beer on.

And I know this because I'm your target demographic. I'm the guy you want...trust me. I walk into a bar, look at the tap handles (I like tap handles...those are worth the money), look at the beer list, chat with my buddy about what looks good, chat with the bartender about what looks good, and then order. That's it. I don't look at the walls, or the flashy signs, or the pint glass logos, until I have the beer in my hand, and I don't really care afterwards. Nothing was more important to me than getting some key information and then transacting from there.

Some POS probably "works". But most of it probably isn't worth the cost, because you're not gaining brand evangelists from cheap little handouts. Spend your money on communicating your value proposition in the most effective way possible...through human communication. Put an informed and energetic person on your brand and your product and you'll see success every time.

- Chris