Case Study: In-House Marketing Campaigns for Catawba

Catawba Brewing launched the Passport Program in January 2017. The 7-barrel pilot brewhouse in Asheville, North Carolina had just been operational for a few months at that time.

Brian Ivey, the brewery’s Marketing Director said the team saw it as an opportunity to challenge themselves with a commitment to brew at least 52 different Small Batch beers for the year.

“We thought it would be fun for our customers to know they can look forward to a new beer coming out on Thursday every week,” he said. “And, in the process, we get to experiment with recipes and explore beers styles from around the world.”

So the brewery created a Passport Program and has expanded it to its new taproom in Charlotte as well.

BREWER: How have you seen the program grow?

IVEY: Initially, we were able to establish a core group of Passport participants mostly through word-of-mouth. Customers in Asheville and Morganton (North Carolina) would see our new Small Batch releases every week, and they’d want to know why people are bringing their passports to the bar, and why they’re getting stamped by Catawba staff. Then, when we reached the point of handing out prizes and inviting our Passport regulars to private beer tastings, that certainly didn’t go unnoticed.

In Year 1 of the program, we were kind of feeling our way along. But after seeing such an enthusiastic response, we’ve devoted more time and effort to marketing it this year, trying to spread the word to a larger audience. Last year, we had three participating locations (Asheville South Slope, Asheville Biltmore Village, Morganton) at the time it started in January. But we’ve since added a fourth tasting room with our new Charlotte brewery, so we’re excited about bringing the new location on this year. We anticipated growth in Year 2, but it’s exceeded all expectations – we’re already looking at having to reprint booklets, after thinking we’d ordered enough to last for the entire year.

BREWER: What sort of materials do you create for it and how to you promote it?

IVEY: The passport booklet itself has been customized this year, with information about the nine geographical beer regions we intend to explore in the months ahead. Also, we send out a bi-weekly newsletter, which has educational details about the Passport beers. That way, people are learning about the history of the styles as they’re trying them. We provide spec sheets to our staff, also, so they’re prepared to speak knowledgeably about the beers. Otherwise, we’ve focused our marketing efforts through Catawba social media and local beer media — both print and online publications. In the tasting rooms, we’re promoting the Passport Program with posters and digital advertising, so it’s pretty hard to miss now.

BREWER: With Charlotte coming on board this year for it, how do you feel having previous runs of this will help your brand grow in that region?

IVEY: We learned a lot last year in Asheville and Morganton, so we anticipate a seamless transition bringing Charlotte on board. One of the big things is just making sure we have enough beer to last for 2-3 weeks at all locations. We’ve found that most of our Passport holders set out to get all 52 stamps, so we want to give them a fair chance to do that, even if they go on vacation for a week and can’t come to the tasting room. Fortunately, in addition to adding a tasting room in Charlotte, we’ve also added another brewhouse there. So, that’s going to help us increase volumes of Small Batch beers to satisfy greater demand.

The number of people who have signed up for the program in Charlotte over the last two weeks has really been amazing. They’re obviously excited to see what the Passport Program is all about. And that only inspires us to continue delivering interesting new beers that make people want to come back to Catawba every week.

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