Brand Loyalty – Hard to Gain, Easy to Lose

I am thrilled to announce that I have been approached with a guest blog.  I am also thrilled to announce that not only did I accept, but it has spurred a new section of this website for guest posts, aptly named “Community Posts”.  Let me remind you that the purpose of this blog (and should be for any blog or journalism outlet) is to provide the consumer with information, recommendations, thoughts, and experiences.  Here at towineman.com we do that to help you all better appreciate wine and other alcoholic beverages.  Sometimes that takes being critical and sometimes that means singing the praises of things we love.  It is with all of that in mind that we launch “Community Posts”. If you’re interested e-mail us at towineman@gmail.com to discuss your idea or to review your post.  If approved we will post it to the site.  Please share with us both positive and negative posts and ideas.  This section is not meant as an outlet for frustration, it is meant as another means to enhance the readers experience.

With that I turn it over to our inaugural guest writer, Luke Doehn from Kitchener Ontario.  His experience summarizes how one bad encounter with a small craft brewery can drastically impact brand loyalty and ultimately lead to bad word of mouth.  But I will let Luke explain in his own words.

For the purpose of this post I will be taking you through an experience of mine with a local, small, craft beer company but the same principals I will discuss can be applied to any other alcohol products and companies discussed on this blog.

First let me set the stage for you which starts a couple of years back. I am playing rugby for my local club (Wilmot Rugby Club if you were curious, www.wilmotwarthogs.com) and we were in need of a new set of jerseys for our men’s and women’s teams. There are a number of other clubs that we compete with who have brewery sponsors and put their logos on the team jerseys. This can be a great way for a rugby club to offset a portion of the cost of the jerseys and can give back some advertising to the sponsor. The second key piece of information is that beer is closely tied with the sport and culture of rugby, which helps make this sponsor match so desirable. This tie is evident not only as a unified club of players enjoying beverages, but after each game the home team hosts a social where both teams attend.  They go back to the host teams sponsor pub or clubhouse and recall and rehash the previous game over a pint or two.  There are few things better than two squads having a hard hitting game then sharing a pint or two afterwards in celebration of a match well fought.

The post game beer-up is central to the social aspect of club rugby and therefore a beer sponsor seems like a logical choice.  So with that you understand the rugby-beer connection so I will continue. I set out to secure a beer sponsor that we could enter into a partnership with. Along the way I ran into a number of issues. Most of the bigger breweries were already spoken for and the smaller ones did not have enough money to invest in this kind of venture. This brings me to the business side of this equation. Why do beer companies advertise? Obviously they do it to attract more customers and increase sales. The trick is that not all money spent on advertising will translate into increased sales, and some advertising money is better spent than others. I believe that I put together a very attractive package for potential brewery partners and it goes as follows. I was looking for a $1500 sponsorship over 3 years (estimated life span of jerseys) and in exchange the sponsor would get their name and logo on our club jerseys (which are worn in games played from Niagara to Windsor) and beer exclusivity at all of our club events. Translation is that all the beer consumed by our club would be the sponsor’s product; a rough estimate has this around 10-15 kegs over a season.

After looking for some time I came in contact with Railway City Brewing Company located in St. Thomas, Ontario. Their product was new to our sponsor bar (The Blue Moon in Petersburg) and we thought it would be a good partnership because we would be able to help their product gain some traction in a new market. We had a few meetings and set an agreement that they would donate some cash to use each year for the 3 years of the deal.  This money would cover some of the jersey cost. Everyone was pleased with this at the onset. The brewery had a wide product offering and seemed open to the idea of a club tour of the brewery and pursuing a long, sustainable, and mutually beneficial relationship. Once the deal was made I was glad, especially because all of my time and effort had paid off.  I was buying Railway’s product when I went to the LCBO, took towineman there on my recommendation, and went for a 3 hour drive one day on a whim just to do a tour, see their facility and test all their products. I was telling friends about the company and their products and recommending it every chance I got. Word of mouth is powerful advertising.  It’ free.  But it’s also quick to react to changing winds.

After the first year of our arrangement with Railway our club had exceeded expectations for sales at our sponsor pub and everything seemed to be going well. When the start of our next season was approaching I contacted Railway to get the second installment of their agreed upon sponsorship and to touch base. To my surprise Railway informed me that they would not be sponsoring our club in the coming season. The only reason given was that there was no money available for it. This left our club with jerseys that had a sponsor’s name and logo on them for a brewery which was no longer sponsoring us.  This, as you can imagine, left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, especially when we had agreed on a 3 year deal.

Now we get to the heart of the matter.  At the end of the day Railway’s actions took an opportunity that was set to be very positive and turned it into a negative. If Railway City had fulfilled the 3 years and then decided not to continue my stance would be much different.  Now nobody from our club purchases Railway’s products anymore, at our pub or from the LCBO.  I no longer purchase Railway’s products, nor endorse them. When I am asked by those to whom I had previously recommended Railway I am quick to tell them of my experience.  I do not wish Railway any harm but I do have a negative perspective of them, one that I would not have had they fulfilled our terms and then decided to go their separate way.  I relay this story as a tale of brand loyalty and public perception gone bad. Small and new breweries have a difficult task to be profitable in a marketplace that is so highly competitive and has such large players that have seemingly endless amounts of money to spend on advertising. Public relations and good will can be a way to gain an advantage or even a foothold into specific markets. To begin with I had no knowledge of Railway but I do like small breweries and brands so they were neutral in my books. When they were sponsoring our club their brand was seen as very positive.  However at the end my brand loyalty and my perception of Railway had turned negative and that is the lasting taste this company has left in my mouth. Again, I do not wish Railway City any ill will, but I will also not be purchasing their product any time soon.

If you like this post, support our guest writer in his Movember efforts here.

For more information on Railway City Brewing, check out their website.

– Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

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