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What’s your top priority for 2020? Doubling down on innovation and pushing out amazing new releases? Blowing out your signature festival or concert series to all new levels? Rebranding to complement some packaging upgrades? Great. Those are all wins in their own right, but should they really be your top priority? True, each of those have their own place and can certainly push the needle, but if you really want to make a lasting impact, the single most important piece of your 2020 agenda needs to be your Annual Business Plan (ABP). If it’s not (at the risk of sounding like your guidance counselor, accountant, or Mom), your priorities are out of order.

To be clear, when referencing an ABP, I’m not just talking about Excel sheets highlighting prior wins, trends, opportunities and forecasting. Rather, it’s that data along with a supporting 360-degree plan that includes marketing insights, research, programming, innovation, etc. All-in, these elements serve as a comprehensive business plan for the next 12 months – if not 18 or more.

“Getting our Sales and Marketing leadership teams to focus and buy-in to the concept of only having a couple priorities was on par with herding cats in a room full of laser pointers and disco balls, but we did it, and it immediately paid dividends,” said Lou Romano, former director of sales at Oskar Blues and the current president of Flying Fish Brewery.

“We developed plans to support these priorities. We kept relentless focus on these priorities. We made sure our distributors were on board with these priorities. I don’t think I’ve ever said the word ‘priorities’ more in my life, but I’m glad I did.”

We all know how difficult the landscape is right now: dwindling retail shelf space and draft lines along with a proliferation of breweries, categories, and SKUs. An equally challenging corollary is securing share of mind and support from distributors. We’ve all been part of painful ABP meetings that leave you wondering if the distributor even knew your name, much less listened to half of what was shared.

The fact is, if a distributor was turned off by your ABP presentation, you probably didn’t give them anything to tune in to. These guys sit through days, if not weeks, of ABP meetings, can you blame them for checking their phones, or checking out during your presentation? It’s like sitting through dozens of interviews with a bunch of mediocre candidates applying for a super-sexy job. Sure, it’s attractive and everyone wants it, but how are you going to leave your mark and be heard in an increasingly vocal and crowded room?

“Our successes at Oskar Blues showed that a great plan is aligned, thorough, and supported at every stage of the process,” said Chad Melis, former Oskar Blues marketing director and the founder of Turn It Up Media. “We worked closely with sales to focus our creative energy on a set of priorities. We eliminated distraction and elevated our game. I’ve sat through hundreds of ABPs and the reactions we got from our distributors once we made this pivot was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We knew immediately that we made the right decision.”

Ultimately, a successful ABP is one that serves as a prioritized, focused, and complete blueprint that both brewery and distributor buy into and believe will generate momentum, increased velocity, and unprecedented wins in the marketplace. It’s a key window for early to mid-life breweries interested in growing to show maturity, intent, and professionalism via achievable partnership opportunities with their distributors.

This is not an attempt to mute the importance of liquid innovation, limited releases, live music, entertaining events, and graphic evolution — a brief spin through the social mediasphere lends quick reinforcement to what we already know – these are the things fans and employees thirst for. Further, the aforementioned items do not need to be mutually exclusive from your APB, in fact, they absolutely shouldn’t be.

But remember, you have to keep priorities limited, plans comprehensive, and your focus narrow. You need to answer the what, but you’ve got to complement that with the where, when, why, and how. And you need to do it with a hyper-concentrated set of goals, a detailed blueprint for executing them, and a relentless commitment to the former and the latter.

As much as a killer new beer, outlandish party, or epic design shift may get the blood pumping and the crowd amped, if it falls outside any of the boundaries of what defines a successful ABP, you’ve got to let it go – pastry stouts, pyrotechnics, and 15-packs be damned. Those are all great, but isn’t it better to be selling high volumes of your beer in retail outlets throughout your distributor footprint 365 days a year? I certainly think so, but I guess that depends on your priorities.

The author, Dave Taylor, is a 19-year lifestyle marketing multi-tool, former craft beer marketing director, and contributor to the Turn It Up Media team. His opinions are subjective, but according to him, they are objectively spot on.

Turn It Up Media is a band of lifestyle marketers who specialize in the craft beer, spirits, and outdoor industries. With more than 40 years of experience spanning nearly every corner of the marketing world – including dozens in the land of ABPs, programming, and brand strategy – they’re an extremely efficient, crafty, effective, and creative solution. TURN IT UP


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