In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.



Owner and head brewer, Alpha Brewing Company


Background:  

Alpha Brewing Company is a St. Louis-based microbrewery launched in 2013 that specializes in barrel-aged and sour beers. Its downtown tasting room features a variety of bottled beers and around 14 brews on tap.

The Mistake:

Underestimating the power of the internet and social media platforms.

Alpha Brewing opened in April 2013. In February 2013, I opened a Twitter account for the brewery and immediately proceeded to get into a Twitter spat with some local home brew clubs and beer enthusiasts.

It was a really bad marketing decision. The biggest mistake was underestimating the power of the internet for good and for bad, I suppose. It’s funny to me now. But, for about a year and a half, every time I did anything, it was under a microscope.

The misstep was the first comment I made. I read this article titled “10 American Cities that Brew the Best Beer” and I retweeted it because St. Louis wasn’t included, but Chicago was. And one of the major breweries cited for craft brewing was Goose Island, which was an Anheuser-Busch brewery [as of 2011]. So I was saying that it’s not an accurate claim to say an Anheuser-Busch-owned brewery is a craft brewery.

I didn’t know at the time that a couple of brewers from Goose Island had come to St. Louis to start up a brewery called Perennial. And it grew from there. So I was immediately at odds with some local brewers in St. Louis before we even opened.

Maybe it’s about growing into your britches.

The Lesson:

Instead of focusing on putting out a good product and standing behind it, I was essentially just trashing other brewers in town. Making jokes on social media and being sarcastic on the internet in general are some of the worst ideas you could ever have. Our marketing now on social media essentially focuses on what beers we make, when they are available, taking pictures of them – being more positive about what we do instead of pointing out the errors in stories about other businesses or other businesses’ marketing.

I would tell any new entrepreneur that they should be really careful with what sort of marketing they put out, what sort of brand image they want. There is a fine line between being a little aggressive or even being the bad boy on the block and just being a [jerk], which is not going to get you many new customers.

It also depends on how long you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing. There are other breweries that do a lot of really aggressive marketing. But it’s a lot of self-deprecation and I didn’t see that at the time. I thought they were just being really sarcastic – sort of funny but aggressive. But, when I tried it, it did not work. I think it had something to do with the fact we weren’t even open yet. So maybe it’s about growing into your britches.

Shortly after the whole fiasco, the marketing department of another brewery in town had a meeting with me and set me straight on how to run a marketing campaign for a brewery, especially in St. Louis since they are here and they know the market well. Most of the brewers in town, we’re all in the St. Louis Brewers Guild, so we’re all friends and go to 100 festivals a year together. I think it was just a really nice professional courtesy they extended to me. I wrote an apology letter to all the people I offended, but it’s taken quite some time to repair our reputation.

Follow Derrick Langeneckert on Twitter at @DLangeneckert and Alpha Brewing Company at @AlphaBrewingCo.

Photo courtesy of Derrick Langeneckert.

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