Tim Annis, MBA Student and Marketing Consultant at Capital Brewery

Last Call by | Nov 2015 | Issue #106

Interview an MBA student, and you’ll get used to terms like “product category” and “household penetration.” But Tim Annis is far from the dreaded suit-and-tie stereotype. He’s a beer geek, who couldn’t believe his luck when his professor at the Wisconsin School of Business announced their assignment: develop a branding strategy to revive Capital Brewery in Madison, Wis. Annis’ classwork earned him a marketing consultant gig with the brewery. He graduates in May—prospective employers, get in line.

Describe the work you did for this class.
Going into this project, it was clear that the craft beer industry had a strong ‘brand community,’ where people really identified with craft beer. Obviously, craft [breweries are] making extremely high-quality beer and that is part of [its] increased popularity, but I definitely think there is more to it than that. This industry represents creativity and, maybe, a sense of rebellion against the boring beers that we’ve known for a long time. …

From a background standpoint, Capital Brewery began in 1986 and was known for creating some of the best German-heritage inspired beers. In recent years, Capital’s growth has stagnated and [it] hasn’t been able to exploit the rapid growth of the local craft beer industry. … Two themes seemed to rise to the top, exploring how to grow by: 1) appealing to a younger segment and 2) [determining] where/how to expand their market.

What were your suggestions?
For the Twin Cities market, we suggested step-changing their way back into the area by running a Sunday border run [from Minnesota to Wisconsin, where beer is sold on Sundays]. … In the long-term, our recommendation was to work with a craft-specific distributor. As for continued growth in Chicago, which had been a bright spot for Capital, we saw an even greater opportunity here with Illinois outpacing the growth of other Midwestern states in craft beer consumption at the time. We built a marketing plan that included a sales toolkit for restaurants, [a] social media campaign, and a promotional emphasis on Capital’s seasonal lineup.

As for my classmates’ projects … some examples include: leveraging Wisconsin pride in a more intentional way as a brand asset, packaging enhancements to improve on-shelf performance and brand recognition, expanding annual on-site event offerings to improve [the] traffic and profitability of the biergarten, expanding into craft sodas … and focusing on underleveraged products in the Capital portfolio that have consumer preference.

How does Capital Brewery fit into the bigger industry picture right now?
I think Capital’s situation is representative of many of the more tenured craft breweries out there. There has to be a constant, strategic push to stay relevant and exciting to new consumer bases to grow household penetration. … There is no magical formula for staying successful in the space, but innovation and experimentation is certainly a way to improve your chances.

As someone who’s new to the craft brewing industry, what’s your impression?
My impression is that the best craft breweries have a strong product innovation pipeline and that they are able to command the intangible ‘cool’ factor that exists in craft beer today. Obviously, a flagship beer [that’s] a smash success is incredibly important, but it is only a part of the strategy. They aim to surprise and delight beer fans regularly and aren’t afraid to take risks. But they’re not random risks; they stay close to their customers and can anticipate what they want. One thing that surprised me, mostly due to ignorance, was how much of a factor distributors play in the success of breweries.