Chocolate + Beer = KC Love

Sarah Brewster

It’s just beer, right? Okay, so it’s chocolate-flavored. And it’s made by Boulevard. Points taken. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few days, it’s hard to escape the brand awareness Boulevard Brewing has generated with the relaunch of its now famous Chocolate Ale.

Some may think January 31, 2012 should go down in history as Chocolate Ale day in Kansas City. When liquor store doors opened early, folks waited in lines for hours just to get their hands on a bottle. TV news stations were abuzz all day, newspaper reporters wrote article after article, consumers took to their social media channels and colleagues discussed it over lunch. It just may be a Kansas City love story.

I’ll be honest. With apologies to the Most Interesting Man in the World, I rarely drink beer. But when I do … well, it’s usually a Boulevard Wheat. So, I haven’t tried the Chocolate stuff just yet. But, I will say the hype is rather intriguing and makes me wonder what I am missing.

So, what’s the big deal? Is it really that good? Why the love affair with chocolate beer? How did Boulevard get to this point of brand awareness for this one limited-supply product, that it became the topic of conversation for an entire metro area?

As communications professionals, we call this generating “Brand Champions,” and it is marketing gold. A paid endorser is one thing; when thousands of people are talking to their friends and neighbors about your product, voluntarily, that’s endorsement you can’t buy at any price.

It’s a certain kind of marketing phenomenon that causes us to ask ourselves, what did Boulevard do so right to make this happen?

Yes, I am sure hours were spent on developing the marketing strategy, pitches were sent to local news outlets and leadership was prepped with key messages.

However, a single marketing team cannot create this kind of phenomenon. It’s the brand champions who make the difference, and truly influence behavior.

Think Apple. (Mmm … Apple dipped in chocolate …) Then, think about the company, Apple. All they have to do is tell a handful of people they are going to launch a new product and the whole world starts buzzing.

Some may call this grassroots marketing. The truth is, it’s more than that. There are lessons to be learned from brands like Apple and Boulevard that can impact every company, regardless of size. Here are a few things to borrow from these iconic brands – no matter your audience, reach or industry:

  • Keep your brand promise. What is your audience expecting from you? Every interaction you have should deliver on that promise.
  • Understand your target market. What emotions impact them? What makes them tick? Why should they care about your brand or product?
  • Create a brand experience. No matter if you are making beer or selling insurance, in today’s world, audiences expect to engage with brands. If successful (and it’s not easy), you gain loyalty. With loyalty comes a craving for your product or service. With that, you’ve built a brand champion.

Easy enough, right? Remember, this level of hype – seriously, log onto Facebook and try not to see a post about Chocolate Ale – does not happen overnight. You can’t expect a product launch or business announcement to get this kind of attention without remaining committed to your brand and your market, every day. No single marketing strategy for a product launch can stop a city in its tracks. But, a loyal brand with a loyal customer base sure can.

Think about it while you’re sipping your Chocolate Ale. What are you doing to create your brand champions?

Oh, and enjoy the beer. I hear it’s delicious.

– Sarah Brewster, TCG Account Supervisor

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