Place yourself in this scenario.
You walk into a bar for the first time not knowing what to expect. The vibe is trendy but still inviting. You step up to the bar, glancing past the waitstaff at the daunting array of bottles and cans displayed proudly beneath a wall of strange and exotic tap handles.
The bar is busy. If you don’t know what you want the moment the bartender makes eye contact, you will be left standing there like a goof while he moves on to serve more decisive patrons. Before you even have a chance to scope your options, he looks your way.
With the pressure on to make a decision, you panic. What’s the difference between these six different local IPAs? Why are there so many wild sours all of a sudden? Is that an apricot wheat stout?
This is the internet as we know it.
We’re constantly bombarded by the rush of digital marketing efforts forced upon us at every turn — on social media, search, and anywhere you can place one of those fancy HTML5 ads. Basically, everywhere.
One major difference between the web and The Web Taproom (which incidentally is what we’ll call the Lightning Jar offices once we’re finally able to make a case for Free Beer Friday) is that most online advertising is sophisticated enough to target you based on your interests and your browsing or shopping habits. It's like having a bartender who already knows what you want even though the two of you have never met. That might be a little creepy in real life, but this is the internet, after all.
Even targeted advertising leaves us with an overwhelming number of options. With new craft breweries and beers popping up at every turn, how does any one of them effectively manage to stand out in the battle for our hearts, minds, and livers? Or to bring it back into digital marketing lingo, how do they still end up drawing us further down the conversion funnel?
Lesson #1: Customer choice is like a cold pint of Paradox Porter.
You’ve probably heard of the Paradox of Choice. The more options we have, the less likely we are to choose from any of them, and the less likely we are to be satisfied with our choice once we finally make one. In a craft bar setting where there’s a ton of options, you’ll generally find a knowledgeable bartender who knows the beer selection well enough to make a recommendation or at least narrow your options.
The lesson? When presented with a myriad of choices, customers often need some sort of nudge to get them to make a decision. That could mean anything from fewer navigation options on your website or mobile app to fewer product offerings within your ecommerce experience. Like the helpful bartender with the perfect beer recommendation, a great user experience often involves reducing choices or providing contextual information and personalization features to help the user decide on a particular path.
Lesson #2: 94% of first impressions are related to design choices.
With so many craft beers competing for shelf and tap space, branding and marketing play a pivotal role in attracting customer attention. Borrowing a trick from the wine industry — where inferior wines invest in attractive labeling in hopes that less knowledgeable customers will buy the bottle over its contents — the craft beer market has become saturated with slick packaging, clever copywriting, and no shortage of beer puns in their names.
The market has become so saturated, in fact, that it’s hard to tell one beer’s clever branding from another. Some brands have attempted to combat this by becoming even flashier, while others have taken the opposite approach. These contemporary, minimalist stylings look a lot like the flat design that has taken the web by storm the past couple of years. Could this same trend be on the verge of catching on in the craft beer world as well?
Lesson #3: Shelf space is the retail store equivalent of SEO.
One trick employed by the big breweries like Budweiser, Coors, and Miller is to offer the same beer in several different containers, sizes, and packages. No one needs a six-pack of the same beer in cans, glass bottles, and aluminum bottles, so why do they do it?
Simple — shelf space. The big brewers are effectively able to leverage their clout with distributors and retailers to force smaller competitors off the shelves by offering multiple versions of the exact same product.
Think of retail shelf space as a metaphor for Google search. Users are about as likely to click beyond the first page of results to find what they’re looking for as they are to leave one retail store and go to a different one. When it comes to search rankings, you would much rather be like the macrobrewery dominating the top few results than you would be the craft brewery fighting to stay on the shelf. That doesn’t necessarily mean to create as many keyword-optimized pages as possible, but an effective SEO strategy is critical in the fight for customer attention. If they don’t spot you at first glance, chances are they aren’t going to go hunting for you.
Craft a better digital strategy.
To recap: make things simple for your customers by minimizing their options and providing the right amount of contextual information to help the user feel confident when making navigation choices or purchasing decisions. Figure out what your potential customers are searching for and own those keywords, pushing your competitors off the search shelf. Ensure that you stand apart from the crowd by making a good first impression. Do these things and you and your team may just find yourself having a round of celebratory beers over a successful campaign.