If there’s one thing today’s consumers have become accustomed to (and unhappy about) seeing in their shopping adventures, it’s rising prices. It seems like every industry is affected by it – auto, food service, clothing… even beer. Luckily for craft brewers in the United States, the last few years have brought a groundswell of support and growth. Many craft breweries even have legions of loyal fans (or “brand ambassadors and enthusiasts” as you may call them) that willfully support their brewery through the toughest of times. These enthusiasts can be the key to avoiding negative buzz – as proven when Three Floyds Brewing Co. recently changed the pricing of their signature annual event.
One day a year, people from across the world travel to the small town of Munster, Indiana for a festival that centers around Three Floyds’ “Dark Lord,” an incredible Russian Imperial Stout that is the envy of beer geeks everywhere (second-hand sales of the beer have been known to reach many hundreds of dollars). Three Floyds is well-known for making extremely high-quality, unusual craft beer and the brand has grown a cult following.
This year, I had the opportunity to go to my first Dark Lord Day, held on the last Saturday of April. As an avid fan of Three Floyds, it’s been on my “to do” list for some time because of the stories I’ve heard. “Word of mouth” marketing has totally gripped me, thanks to close friends who have previously attended and accounts written by multitudes of beer bloggers.
The event itself is rather unremarkable to the casual observer: long lines, expensive beer and loud music – all hallmarks of a typical concert. The thing that sets Dark Lord Day apart is the excitement surrounding the brand, the prestige of attending the event and the camaraderie that goes on inside the gates. Friends and strangers alike stand around sharing samples of extremely rare beers, some of which have aged for years or are worth hundreds of dollars. Festival-goers describe the craft breweries of their region and talk about the kinds of foods they enjoy pairing them with.
For the longest time, Three Floyds took a grassroots approach to growing the excitement for their yearly event: keep prices relatively low, but limit ticket sales and the bottle allotment of Dark Lord. Prior to this year, tickets to the event were just $15, but only 3,000 were available. Each person could count on four bottles of Dark Lord at $15 each.
However, in 2013 the brewery decided to double the size of the event: twice as much space with twice as many attendees. To offset their increased costs, Three Floyds bumped ticket prices to $30. Beer prices remained the same, with one catch: attendees were only able to purchase three bottles this year instead of four – a detail that was not divulged until one hour before the gates opened to the event.
Charging higher ticket prices for less beer? In most industries, the reaction to such changes would be outrage. Three Floyds had groomed expectations into their loyal fans. Standing in line to enter the gates and hearing the news, I prepared for the worst.
It never came.
The overwhelming consensus was mild disappointment mixed with understanding. Three Floyds had long held out on raising ticket prices and lowering the bottle allotment – and to their benefit. By the time it finally happened, no one was particularly upset. To nearly everyone (including me), the experience was still worth much more than they were paying. And, more importantly, any naysaying was quickly overruled by our very vocal and social community.
Three Floyds could easily sell tickets to Dark Lord Day for exponentially more than what they have been charging. People would still shell out the cash and tickets would still sell out in three minutes. By treating their customers so well for so long and by building a critical mass of intrigue around their event, Three Floyds was easily able to avoid what could’ve been a PR nightmare. That’s the power of building passion and creating a core audience of enthusiasts.
It seems to happen every few months: Tebowing, planking, etc. Something comes along in social media that dominates mass market conversation across all media channels. We now expect these viral shock waves, but their timing is impossible to predict. The latest phenomenon, the “Harlem Shake,” is a series of videos made by thousands of people worldwide that share a number of key elements. Every video is composed of two cuts of video: one with a single person dancing, the other with many dancing. Each is based on a 30-second clip from the song “Harlem Shake” by DJ/producer Baauer.
Here’s what everyone can take away from the meteoric rise of the Harlem Shake and its successful viral predecessors:
- It’s repetitive but catchy. Harlem Shake videos all share the identical song cut and length, which drives awareness by implanting the tune in collective consciousness. There’s no substitute for a song that you just can’t get out of your head.
- The video is extremely easy to film, produce and upload. Similar to Planking and Tebowing, Harlem Shake videos can be made and posted in the public space by anyone with a camera, computer and internet connection.
- The theme is easy to personalize. That means firefighters, schools, ad agencies, swim teams and more are all uploading their “take” on the Harlem Shake – not unlike the geographic theme that inspired people to plank in new and interesting places.
- It’s a short guilty pleasure. Harlem Shake videos catch the viewer’s attention for 30 brief seconds. Rather than featuring long, drawn-out dialogue, these videos are only as long as the ads that likely precede them, leaving the viewer wanting more.
The next time you consider video for your social strategy, be it a contest, user-generated submissions or other execution, remember the Harlem Shake’s best qualities. Integrate a tune, phrase, image or other distinctive visual element. Give your audience guidelines that will make each of their videos similar but not identical. Keep the submission requirements simple and allow as many people to participate as possible. Open the door for creativity and personalization: inspire people to add their unique take on the theme. Finally, require submissions to be short.
Your next video project might not be as big of a viral success as the Harlem Shake, but you’ll likely see a huge upswing in participation if you follow these “viral principles.”
If you want to get a taste of consumer passion and see real-time fan engagement, go to a motorsports event.
To auto buffs like me, race car drivers have the most enviable jobs in the world. Much like other pro sports fans, we hold drivers on high pedestals and perceive what they do as something almost otherworldly. As an Indianapolis native who grew up near the Speedway, my childhood idols included famous drivers from the early ’90s like Emerson Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk. As an adult, I lament at not having the opportunity to see Ayrton Senna work his magic and mourned the loss of Dan Wheldon. Racing is a real passion of mine, even if I don’t always have the time to keep up with it.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to attend the ALMS Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta in October. This was my first ALMS event, and what I found was a surprising departure from typical racing series culture found around the tracks at Indy Car or NASCAR events. The pomp and circumstance of the Indy 500 was replaced by something more akin to a grassroots movement with an unrivaled authenticity. The ALMS wasn’t trying to oversell its product with gimmicky sideshows. They let the race, the teams, the drivers and the environment speak for themselves.
The ALMS is lucky to have participants that are the walking embodiment of consumer engagement. Fans were able to interact with the crews before the race out on the starting grid. Drivers donning half-zipped fire suits casually moved between the pits and garages, stopping to take pictures and sign autographs along the way – acts of literal public relations. It was a memorable sight to see.
For racing fans like me, it was exactly what the race day environment should be: authentic, intimate and accessible. As someone in PR, it’s the kind of atmosphere that makes my job easier. As a paying customer, it’s worth every penny they’re charging.
I recently came across an inspiring commencement speech by David McCullough, Jr. (yes, son of the notable historian) that has gone viral thanks to its somewhat controversial message: “You’re not special.” McCullough delivered the speech to the 2012 graduating class of Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, where he is an English teacher.
Rather than congratulating the students, McCullough gave them a warning. His message? Don’t do something just to earn praise from others. Instead, do it for the experience, for the pleasure of doing it and for the joy of doing something well.