Membership

How an Association's Big Failure Built Member Momentum

By / Dec 20, 2017 (Handout photo)

The Brewers Association set a lofty, mostly tongue-in-cheek goal to raise more than $200 billion to take down the Goliath of the beer industry. The crowdfunding campaign was a giant fail, but it was a major win for member engagement.

Sometimes it’s OK to fail.

I learned this last week at ASAE’s Technology Conference & Expo as I listened to some hilarious FailFest stories, and even a few song verses, told by association executives who have experienced the harsh reality of failure—but found a sympathetic, forgiving audience at the conference.

One story that would have fit FailFest perfectly is the saga of a recent Brewers Association crowdfunding campaign, whose failure seemed predestined from the get-go. The “Take Craft Back” campaign, launched in October, was BA’s attempt to raise more than $213 billion in crowdfunded contributions to buy out its members’ behemoth corporate competitor—the antithesis of the craft brew business model—Anheuser-Busch InBev.

I’m sad to report that BA fell far short of its goal, but it did manage to scrounge up an impressive $3.8 million in pledges. On Friday, BA admitted defeat with this video:

BA failed from a fundraising perspective, but the campaign was a major win for engagement. About 12,000 “beer backers” pledged their support to the campaign, says Julia Herz, BA’s craft beer program director.

“We’re grassroots and scrappy, and our goal with this digital campaign was to move it from our brewers outward,” she says. “We have yet to do the audit, but it’s fair to say that we had strong buy-in from our community of members. And it went beyond that, trickling all the way down to the consumer level.”

A few elements of “Take Craft Back” are worth studying as takeaways for your next big engagement campaign:

Start with members to spark a movement. BA members have been increasingly concerned about buyouts by “big beer.” While most breweries in the United States—98 percent—are small and independent, craft only has a 12.3 percent market share. To spark a movement to protect and promote craft brewers, a member campaign made sense, starting with brewers who acted as social ambassadors and resulted in a ripple effect. “This campaign stems from the voice of our members, but the outreach and messaging also proved to work with many beer lovers, retailers, and consumers,” Herz says.

Leverage digital media on your own terms. The campaign drew millions of video views on YouTube. “Social media shares of #IndependentBeer had incredible metrics too,” Herz says. “The numbers were beyond anything we have ever seen.” And while BA could have leveraged one of many popular crowdfunding platforms, like GoFundMe or Kickstarter, the association decided to create a site of its own that gave BA more control over functionality and more data about who was coming to the site.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. The Take Craft Back movement was rooted in humor and had entertainment value as well as a serious advocacy message. When BA announced the campaign, even Anheuser-Busch InBev said in a statement that it could “take a joke.” Appealing to emotions and getting people to laugh was essential to the campaign’s success, Herz says, “because at the end of the day, beer is good, and beer lovers should enjoy what they want.”

Create alternative routes for action. The most admirable part of the Take Craft Back movement was its strategic approach. On the surface, it looked like a silly fundraising effort, but it was a member and public engagement campaign in disguise. BA collected thousands of signatures and a new trove of data. The initiative also provided alternative paths to action, including encouraging members to use a brewer’s seal on packaging that will long outlive the campaign. About half of BA’s members—approximately 2,800 breweries—are using the seal in some way, Herz says.

“‘Take Craft Back’ might be wrapped up, but the spirit of it still lives on in the spirit of the craft brewers’ seal,” she says. “We put a really good foot forward, and now we’ll continue to build off that brand from here.”

Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. More »

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