BrewDog's marketing plan for invading America: Don't change a thing

The upstart British brewer is sticking to its nonconformist roots as it enters the U.S. market. But there's one topic it won't touch.

James Watt (L) and fellow BrewDog cofounder Martin Dickie.

COLUMBUS, OH: U.K.-based craft brewer BrewDog is planning an invasion of the U.S. market in February with the opening of a brewery in Columbus, Ohio. Despite the change in scenery, cofounder James Watt has no plans to deviate from the marketing strategy that it uses in the U.K.

BrewDog targets "borderline alcoholics with commitment issues," Watt joked, adding that his company avoids targeting consumers based on markets or demographics, calling the strategy "outdated."

"Everyone wants to be someone they are not—young people want to be older; old people want to be younger," Watt said. "So you are essentially marketing towards the stereotypical aspirations of a stereotype, and I think that just falls down under the weight of assumptions."

In fact, he describes BrewDog’s marketing strategy as "selfish."

"We make beers that we love, and we put them out there, and if other people like them, that’s great," Watt said.

The company was founded in Scotland in 2007 by two people—Watt and his business partner Martin Dickie—and has grown to 850 staffers. It operates 44 bars globally, and its products are sold in 55 countries.

And while Watt acknowledges American consumers often have trouble with staffers’ Scottish accents, he is sticking to his company’s U.K.-honed marketing plan.  

"We aren’t planning on doing anything differently with American audiences than what we have done in Britain," he said. "The strategy is going to be massively focused on digital and social media with more traditional PR tied into it, as well as untraditional things."

Those "untraditional things" have included launching a "transgender beer" to support the opening of a bar in London’s SoHo in November, which received a somewhat favorable response from the LGBT community. Earlier this year, BrewDog also released every one of its beer recipes.

"We have always done unusual things from packaging a 55% beer in taxidermy to making a beer at the bottom of the ocean," said Watt. "All of these things have a shock element to them. We also have been able to use the controversy and shock to get people thinking about beer in a slightly different way and to open up the discussion as to how it can be enjoyed."

The company launched its first unconventional initiative in the U.S. this week with the help of Manifest. BrewDog, which has raised more than $32 million through crowdfunding for its U.K. business since 2009, has invited its U.S. shareholders whom are part of its crowdfunding scheme, Equity for Punks, to double their stake in the business.

Investors will have until December 28 to opt in to the initiative—agreeing to the value of all or part of their investment being placed on the roulette table by BrewDog’s co-founders.

If the bet is unsuccessful, investors will keep the benefits of being an Equity Punk investor, including a lifetime discount on the beer, but their shares will be returned to the company. The company will broadcast the gamble on its Facebook account in February.

"Everyone always says investing is a gamble, so we wanted to make that case and do something anti-Wall Street, anti-investment banking, and non-conforming," said Watt. "So we came up with this concept so people could invest conventionally or they could invest in a gamble share."

To get the word out, Watt is focused on media relations targeting U.S. publications. BrewDog also created a video about the gamble featuring its cofounders that was released on Wednesday.

"We think this is an opportunity for people to take a chance and invest in an unusual and unorthodox way," said Watt, adding that the company is also highlighting new Jobs Act regulations that let small businesses offer equity stakes to non-accredited investors. "Hopefully this will kickstart a finance revolution for small business and get people thinking about business finance differently."

BrewDog’s Equity for Punks initiative has more than 50,000 individual investors. The opportunity was opened up to U.S. residents in August when it debuted the Equity for Punks USA website. Since then, it has raised nearly $3 million in just three months and brought on more than 4,500 investors.

"Most of what we have done has been driven by Equity for Punks," said Watt. "Our company is owned by people who care as much as we do about fantastic beer. They are not just investors, but they are advocates and ambassadors and they are the heart and soul of our business."

What’s next?
Asked why BrewDog chose Columbus for its U.S. headquarters, Watt said he made the $30 million investment decision after a 12-hour stay in the city and research on Twitter.

"I was visiting different cities to see where we would plant our flag in America and when I landed in each city I would go for a day and post a tweet telling people I was there," said Watt. "When I landed in Columbus, I did that and my phone exploded with people tweeting me back. It felt like home."

BrewDog is planning to expand to other states next year, while it makes its foray into the U.K. spirits category in 2017 with its first gin and vodka products.

Yet while marketing stunts are a part of BrewDog’s DNA, there’s one topic it plans to avoid: President-elect Donald Trump.

"We have no plans to do anything relating to the new king of America," Watt said.

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