Altering Marketing Strategies in Pandemic

Leap Day seemed to be the day that Earnest Brew Works was turning the tide in new releases. The Toledo, Ohio brewery produced a beer called “Leap Beer,” a strawberry lemonade sour to be sold in 16-ounce four-packs.

For co-founders and brewers Keefe Snyder and Scot Yarnell, a beer release event was still fairly new. The brewery had only done a few specialty releases since starting the idea in June 2019 with a raspberry Hazy IPA, Sea of Tranquility, to honor the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. It had been mostly quarterly releases since most tied into a theme around some that happened near the date of the release. Most sold out after a few weeks. So the brewery only would make one seven-barrel batch of the releases.

So at the end of February, the brewery picked Leap Day for a Leap Beer.

“We are in a part of the state where it’s very uncommon for a beer release itself,” Yarnell said. “There’s not many breweries that push them. We just don’t have a customer base that gets all excited about a beer release.

“But that’s been our goal since we started doing these 16-ounce, four-pack releases, like a lot of breweries do. We want to get that excitement and get people lined up … sell it all out on the same day. And we just could never do it.”

The can release was set for 2 p.m. and with no line outside and just a few people showing up to grab some cans at the start, Yarnell continued on with his day and ran some errands.

“I get a call at about 2​:​30 ​that ​we better get somebody in here right now​,” he said with a laugh. ​”No one showed up right away. They ​all ​waited​ ​until 2​:​30. ​Then we sold out in the next four hours. It was unbelievable.​”

That gave the brewery confidence to double-batch its next release, a maple syrup/coffee variant of its popular Crunchy Hippie Brown Ale.

​​”We got a really cool label design with a double​-​batch can run scheduled ​and ​all that​,” Yarnell said. “Then COVID​-19​ hits.

​”​So now, we’re sitting on twice the amount of beer, we were going to ride the coattails of the success of last can release and hopefully blow this one out​.​ Have people lined up​.​ It would have been awesome.​”

Instead, ​the brewery decided to not push the release publicly to avoid having that sort of line outside where keeping guidelines put in place in the state would be difficult.

“A line with six-feet between people would be ridiculous,” Yarnell said. “Do the math, space people out six feet at a time for that many people?”

The brewery is located in a residential neighborhood, so attracting that sort of attention may have been very negative at the time of the release in early April.

“We didn’t have a problem selling it in three weeks​ but I did not create an event on Facebook​,” Yarnell said and instead relied on word of mouth from consumers​. ​”​Normally whenever we can a beer like that, I’ll take a video of it ​ — ​a few 10-second videos —​ ​and let people know what we are canning right now. You know, just get people going. None of that happened. I don’t even think I put a real post on Facebook​.”

As Ohio starts to re-open to outdoor seating, the brewery has continued to slow-roll its marketing aspects to not over-crowd the area and instead let consumers share via online or word of mouth. And it’s worked.

“We made the same amount of money. Sold the same amount of beer,” Yarnell said.

Snyder adds that the brewery is canning more of its more popular draft beers along with what would normally be in-house seasonal releases as well, which also sort of downplays a canned release on a certain day.

More promotion is happening and the brewery’s mug club, “Earnest Regulars,” is given a heads up of releases again two days before the general public.

The brewery is planning for a slower summer though as Snyder admits it’ll be awhile until people treat the Earnest taproom like they used to treat it.

“The people that would be spending the most money on those types of things also have a lot of catching up to do with their favorite places that have been closed,” he said about other restaurants and bars that are just now reopening with outdoor service allowed as of May 15.

“We actually think we might see less of some of our good customers right now because they’ll be spreading the love around to all the places that they couldn’t go to for the past two months.”

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