Monday, 24 February 2014

Building a beer brand through social media: Windsor and Eton brewery case study

Windsor and Eton Brewery field trip for Royal Holloway MSc Entrepreneurs

Located just off the railway arches on an aesthetically average industrial estate in the foothills of Windsor castle in Royal Berkshire you will find a remarkable entrepreneurial business.  The intrepid group of MSc Entrepreneurship students from Royal Holloway set out to feel their learning in action hosted by one of the four company founders.  

Founding partner Paddy shares entrepreneurial insights with students

Our host was founding partner Paddy, a mid-fifties ex-corporate professional, who had been operating in consulting but found the work unfulfilling.   Having had some experience in the brewing industry early in his career, Paddy had wanted to set up a brewery near his home in Manchester, but the proliferation of competitors put him off.  

Top side view of the fermenting vessels

Surprisingly the London area, which has "a lot of chimney stacks" and many pubs keen to offer customers a variety of guest beers, possesses relatively few mircro-breweries.  Sambrooks is a rare example.  A conversation with a friend soon sparked into a business plan, two additional ex-professional directors brought together a powerful blend of brewing, manufacturing and marketing skills and, in record breaking time with pension funds and savings raided, a brewery was operational within 6 weeks of receiving planning permission for an industrial shed that was really 'a bit too big'.  

Tasting the product:  a different kind of learning experience

Reluctant to borrow for funding and with a clear focus on building a long term business based on effective trade relations, the Windsor and Eton brewery (W&E or URL  restored the craft of brewing to the population of Windsor with a remarkable customer response.  Not the function of an expensive marketing campaign, although one of the owners does have a marketing pedigree, but because one of the founders wives insisted on using Facebook to develop a social media following that charted the journey through planning permission approval and brewery kit out to the eventual St. Georges day launch.

Laura's favourite drop

The market for real ale peaks from Easter to early summer (warm weather sees colder lagers favoured) and Paddy tells one story of the kind of luck that is often needed when a new business is being established.  A minibus load of real ale 'knights' from Cheltenham, in full St. George fancy dress, arrived at a Windsor pub asking "Do you serve Guardsman ?" the first commercial brew that had been launched at 1200 that day.  The clever marketing stunt (in reality a serendipitous unplanned occurrence) saw locals and American tourists clamour for 'some of what they are drinking' and within a thrice, two casks were emptied and the happy landlord was on the telephone to the brewery ordering some more for the following day.  

Licking your palm to taste

 the essential oils from 

the hops: a bitter experience

In fact local publicans were persuaded to stock the unknown local brew by aspiring consumer inquiries during the week prior to the launch, locals who had followed the development of the new craft brew brand, some even particularly keen to take the first pint pulled at 1200.  The sales team at Windsor and Eton compete hard to sell their wares, with average publicans called 20-30 times each week being offered traditional cask beers from around the country.  A variety of cost effective marketing activities are undertaken including group factory tours, a retail outlet,  and hosting rugby games using a big screen on the wall of the brewery to allow 100 fans  enjoy an unusual community experience that emanates authenticity.  The odd banner, limited advertising in magazines and beer mats are nearly the full extent of the advertising mix, thus positive word of mouth, creative use of social media and strong business-to-business relationships are crucial for the enduring success of the company.  The first weeks production of 23 casks were all sold, the foundations of a great new business had been laid.

Tasting malted barley: think Horlicks and Maltasers

From a marketing perspective the brewery has creatively leveraged a B2B push and B2C pull strategy that utilises personal relationship heavy telephone selling to place casks of guest beers into pubs (which do not benefit from automatic and regular reordering that established, national brands can rely on thanks to their powerful marketing support) whilst generating word-of-mouth interest and ultimately B2C demand using social media.  Targeting the fat sausage catchment spreading 25 miles north and south and 40 miles east and west of Windsor, regular deliveries are made in the Thames Valley that includes 'all of London'.

Imperial casks: Red Metric kegs

Blue and purple are 

'stand out' beverage colours 

The Windsor Knot brand was developed to celebrate the wedding of local celebrities, Will and Kate, with the iconography of the label using Royal Windsor swans, beaks touching to form a heart and surrounded by a golden tie boasting a Windsor knot.  Clever visual puns that are designed to grab the attention at the bar.  

My chum Peter, who worked at drinks giant Diageo, stated that consumers are very open to suggestion as they approach a bar, with as many as 50% undecided on what they would purchase - no wonder the point of sale paraphanalia in the form of drip mats, handle labels, ice buckets, pump clips, bar towels, glasses and swizzle sticks is so over loaded with heavily branded visual cues.

Students benefitted from a full tour of the brewing process, including tasting the raw ingredients that include smoked, caramelised and lightly toasted malt to licking the bitter tasting essential hop oils from the palms of their hands.  Paddy explained that the operation might be thought of as a fungi factory that has a nice tasting by-product (beer !), explaining the various processes required to create the optimal conditions for the yeast to grow and to transform malt into beer.  

Students also got to ask questions about the motivations of the entrepreneurs, their strategy to grow the business and to understand the kinds of risks and returns taken by the founding investors.  Unlike BrewDogs the fast growing, City financed international brand that looks primed for a brand optimisation approach, the team at Windsor and Eton are comfortable with their organic growth strategy that relies on internal sources of investment, a common shared passion for brewing and building long term business relationships.  Paddy said the personal trade-off rigour required for agreeing and deciding to invest in the business (perhaps with extra storage space or a bottling line) or alternatively using the funds to take family holidays, results in extremely well thought through financial decisions.  The business has grown much more quickly than expected and W&E are keen to find more space to continue to grow organically and, because they are beholden to no one, they are happy to chase bank managers off the premises. This appears to be a very liberating approach, judging by Paddy's rhetoric and body language.  

Seeking to whet the appetite of, to cite a rather trite marketing cliche', "ever more demanding customers" the team used All Black Rugby legend Zinzan to develop his own drop, naturally presented as an all-black bitter using New Zealand Redback malt and Waimea hops from the South Island for a 6 Nations only sales period.  Treetops is another limited edition brew of African Stout that uses sorghum syrup, roasted millet and toasted yams.  W&E import raw materials from around the world to create a range of sustainability friendly, super local brands (e.g. Knight of the Garter, Eton Boatman and Conquerer) whilst linking international dimensions (Queens Jubilee Commonwealth) to allow for more exotic ingredients to be used, such as cardamom, coriander and jasmine petals.  

Reflecting on low barriers to entry ("Anyone can buy this equipment from Burton-on-Trent and set up a brewing process with a bit of nous") Paddy suggested that competition from the regional, national and global brands was intense, with many larger companies buying up micro-breweries to satisfy strong consumer demand for variety.  Interestingly,  several craft brew outfits, including Windsor and Eton with its Czech inspired Republika, are looking to the lager market, using bottom fermentation processes, to offer a craft lager experience that benefits from a wider market demographic and to stretch their production capacity into the hot summer months when refreshing chilled drinks top the tables.  

Our group of international students (many who were not big beer drinkers) thoroughly enjoyed the visit and we highly recommend the experience.  Link to tour page