Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Social Media Tips for Breweries

I don’t profess to be an expert at social media by any stretch but as I’ve been accused of being a serial tweeter, and I follow a lot of breweries, here are my thoughts on what makes a brewery effective on social media.


Should you follow everyone that follows you on Twitter?

·       I’d suggest either following every individual (real people, not eggs) that follow your brwerery or following none of them. If you follow some people and not others, you risk offending some of your beer fans. You don’t have to use your brewery Twitter account to read anything other than your mentions and you can use another personal account if you want to follow people and businesses to interact with.

 What about a website – should you bother?

·       YES. Yeah yeah, we know you have a Facebook page, but that isn’t a good substitute for a website. Not everyone is on FB and depending on how you set it up, clicking on the link from Twitter doesn’t always work. You’re excluding some of your customers if you don’t put some basic info on a website. The website doesn’t have to be fancy, but a short write-up about who you are is important to your customers. Address, hours of operation, and if you’re feeling really randy, keep an updated list of your taps and/or growler fills. I bet you’d save a lot of time tweeting people your list if you could direct them to your beers on tap/growler fill web page. Heck, go wild and put the link in your twitter profile. Boom.
A real example of the horror

·       Interact with your customers. Respond to their tweets/messages whether it’s a positive or negative experience they’ve had. Keep your responses classy, of course.

·       If someone is being a jerk, troll, offensive etc., block their ass. You don’t have to put up with that crap just because you’re a business.

·       If a customer has a legitimate issue, try to fix it (i.e. replace the beer). A lot of goodwill can come from replacing a bottle of beer, if warranted.

·       During business hours, try to respond to tweets within 2 hours. I know this can be tough but if someone is on the go and wanting to know what’s on for growler fills, they’re going to want a speedy response.

·       For your Twitter profile: include your street address, website and hours of operation. Saves you from getting multiple tweets asking for this information because frankly, we’re all lazy and don’t want to google it.

·       Have a sense of humour. Ok, not everyone can be Brew Dog and pull off funny and sassy all the time, but tweeting like you have a hydrometer wedged up your arse doesn’t really make you one with your beer drinkers.

·       If you have the time and resources, search your brewery/key words to see what your followers are saying about your beer. You may get some less than desired feedback, but if you really want to know what your customers think, you might find worthwhile comments. Of course there will be crap amongst the comments that should just be ignored (yuck, this tastes like a pine tree! *anonymous Bud drinker) but it’s worth a quick search.



·       I don’t suggest retweeting Untappd check-in unless they actually say something positive in their comments. Seeing that so-and-so drank “x” beer from your brewery is just spamming your followers. If you want to acknowledge the tweeter, Favourite their tweet or reply to them directly. The only ones that will see that are you and the tweeter. Spam be gone.

·       Look at your mentions every morning and then promptly RT the whole lot of them. Having a string of RT’s on ones timeline is mildly annoying no matter who it comes from. Maybe be selective in what you RT or RT them throughout the day rather than all at once.

·       Send a programmed thank you DM to new followers. Gee, how personal.

·       Post a tweet that links to Facebook. Not everyone has FB and often, the link asks you to log in (which I never do). So unless you don’t care if the message is seen, try to post FB and Twitter messages separately.
·       Let just anyone have access to your social media accounts. Emotions can get the better of all of us and the last thing you want is a twitter fight. Keep the accounts locked down to those you explicitly trust to use good judgment.

One final though, enjoy your time on Twitter and Facebook interacting with your beer fans. It may be somewhat time consuming, but I suspect you’ll get great satisfaction knowing that people love your beer and want to praise you. Interacting with them will only strengthen the goodwill and believe me, that comes in handy just in case one of your beers bombs. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Trademarks - The Gloves Are Off in the Craft Beer World

From the latest issue of BC Craft Beer News

Riddle me this – you have legal documents, promises and potential name changes. Is this a wedding? Nope, it’s a brewery being hit with a cease and desist letter for allegedly infringing on someone’s trademark. The craft beer industry is generally a friendly one but when it comes to this, breweries are protective of their name. Dogfish Head recently shared that they spent more on trademarks and trademark enforcement in 2013 than they did launching the company in 1995. That’s a lot of coin.

In the past, breweries didn’t necessarily name their beers by anything other than the style (pale ale, honey brown ale, pilsner etc.). Craft breweries have changed that and these days, you need to be a marketing genius or comedian to name a beer. And there are some creative, funny and weird names out there thus, coming up with a unique beer name is getting harder every day.

Breweries are going after their peers for using a similar name – à la Bear Republic suing Central City for the use of Red Racer, which was too close to Racer 5 IPA and Red Rocket Ale for Bear Republic’s liking. It wasn’t an issue until Central City started to export to the USA and now, you’ll find Red Racer marketed as Red Betty in the US. Guess who won that battle. It appears that this dispute got quite snippy as Bear Republic (or their counsel) responded to court documents calling Central City’s attempt to “resurrect its claim for cancellation of the Red Rocket registrations cynical and vexatious.” I don’t know about you, but I had to look up vexatious and in lawyer-speak, vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought, regardless of its merits, solely to harass or subdue an adversary. Now now, play nicely little Bear.

There was a rather loud public outcry in 2012 by local beer drinkers when Steamworks’ owner Eli Gershkovitch, who owns the trademark for Cascadia, was trying to stop local brewers from using the name for their beer style. The term Cascade/Cascadia is synonymous with the Pacific Northwest and this has morphed into a beer style – Cascadian (lager, dark, pale, IPA). My learned colleague, Barley Mowat, brought this to light on his blog and in the end, the trademark dispute went away (somewhat) quietly without more threats of infringement suits. Eli also owns the Nitro trademark in Canada – I wonder if that’s going to be the next battle.

The latest local breweries to be slapped with a cease and desist, or perhaps some other less legal form of notice, are Parallel 49 and Lighthouse. J.R.R. Tolkien’s people somehow noticed our friendly neighbourhood brewery and felt that Parallel 49’s Lord of the Hops, complete with wizard imagery on the label, closely resembled their illustrious series and thus, people may confuse the beer with being connected to the literary classic. Uh huh. Ok. Seems a bit silly, doesn’t it? One can understand when the names are the same/similar and they compete in the same industry, but when you’re comparing hobbits and beer – that’s a wee bit of a stretch in my opinion.

In Lighthouse’s case, a quick search on the CanadianIntellectual Property website shows that Okanagan Crush Pad Winery owns the trademark Switchback. An educated guess would lead one to believe that they are the parties that kyboshed Lighthouse’s Switchback IPA trademark (which has been abandoned) and have forced Lighthouse to rebrand their spectacular IPA. Ok, it’s a similar industry (wine vs. beer) but again, I don’t see how this could be confusing. I couldn’t find a wine called Switchback at the winery and it appears to just be the name of their vineyard. So what’s the harm in sharing the name when it’s not related to a wine? How can this be a confusing mark? Play nicely in the sandbox lessons 101 to start in the fall, winery.

So how does a brewery avoid being threatened, sued and the cost of legal action/rebranding? Well, you can certainly get some legal advice from a trademark lawyer. Tim Lo, partner with Smart & Biggar, is a trademark agent and lawyer who has assisted a number of breweries secure their trademarks. Before choosing a new trademark, he recommends that you research to see if that name is being used in the alcoholic beverages industry. In addition to searching the publically available databases of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), searches should also be conducted using popular search engines. Other possible avenues for searching are government liquor board websites and popular beer apps/websites (Beer Advocate, RateBeer, Untappd).  

After being satisfied that the trademark has not already been taken, meticulously document the first use of your beer/brewery name (i.e. from social media platforms, news release, blog post, article, beer event etc.). While trademark registration is still the best way to secure your rights, you may be able to successfully oppose a trademark application if you can prove you used the name publically first.

Use it or lose it. If you have a trademark registration and you don’t use the mark in the public domain for over three years, you run the risk of losing rights to that trademark.

While retaining an experienced trademark lawyer may assist you to negotiate the trademark process, one can obtain a trademark registration on their own. The CIPO and USPT O websites contain information on filing an application and the registration process. While you can’t always plan for the Hobbit infringement, you can do your due diligence to try to protect your naming rights.

You build up brand loyalty with the name of your beer/brewery and changing it means you have to re-educate your customers with the new name. This can mean a loss in sales thus, your best defense is to do your research before selecting a name and to make sure it’s unique to the industry.