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Somewhere in the hopped-up history of craft beer, there will be an entire volume dedicated to SweetWater Brewing Company. Since 1997, the Atlanta-based beer makers have seen their brand grow from a neighborhood operation to one of the biggest craft breweries in the country. Recently, they invited the What’s in Store team to their headquarters to learn how they’re using MailChimp reports to track their newsletters’ performance, and how they promote their members-only beer club, Woodlands Circle.
Back in the day (April 20, 1997, to be exact), SweetWater brewed its first beer, the one that would ultimately become its flagship, 420 Extra Pale Ale. Five years later, they won Best Small Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival, the first business of its kind east of the Mississippi to accomplish the feat. In 2005, they launched their first-ever SweetWater 420 Festival. What was once a modest musical affair has since grown exponentially, now with an average attendance of 50,000 and headlining acts like Trey Anastasio, Widespread Panic, and The String Cheese Incident. And all these accomplishments culminated in SweetWater being named one of the Brewer Association’s top 15 craft breweries by volume in the United States.
SweetWater’s Vice President of Marketing Brian Miesieski says the company today is more of a lifestyle brand, and “with that comes all the extra work that we have to do to make sure to deliver that lifestyle through merchandise, events, our brand voice on social,” he says.
Part of that reach also extends to charity, where SweetWater has been a partner with the Waterkeeper Alliance for more than a decade. For Brian, these aren’t just good press mentions and opportunities to humblebrag—they’re principles the company is working toward every single day.
“You have to have events for people to experience the brand,” he says. “You have to walk the walk and donate to conservation charities and live the lifestyle.”
Along with all of their community involvement, Brian says, “of course there’s the beer,” which saw expansion and an appeal to a new audience with the introduction of The Woodlands barrel aging facility in 2016. With Woodlands, customers are invited to discover the “high end of SweetWater’s brewing portfolio.”
The Woodlands is the company’s barrel-aging program where the brewers produce small batches of beer that are on the funky-sour side. It’s a brand-new space adjacent to SweetWater’s existing brewery, and includes Woodlands Circle, the members-only bottle club. According to Tucker Berta Sarkisian, SweetWater’s Director of Communications, the opportunity gives longtime brewmaster, Nick Burgoyne, a chance to have creative freedom with his small-batch creations.
“It lets him be a mad scientist and play around with things,” she says. “It also gives the consumer something a little bit more serious to taste and play with.”
With so many moving product parts, the SweetWater team says the challenge is keeping their messaging streamlined. Whether it’s communicating with fans about the brewery’s year-round beers, seasonal releases, events, or merch, MailChimp’s reports feature is how the team stays on top on their marketing strategy.
“I love the ability to look at what our subscribers respond and don’t respond to, what subject lines lead to the most opens, when do we get the best open rates, what subjects lead to the most click throughs, what merch items sell best via the newsletters,” Tucker says.
The team has found success with their main mailing list, which has roughly 60,000 subscribers, but managing and curating the messaging for Woodlands Circle is trickier. The main list is run by Tucker and is intended to be fun and engaging for a wide audience, whereas Woodlands Circle newsletter is managed by their own team, and is intended to be informative and detail-oriented for that much smaller group.
But despite their differences in audience and tone, reports have provided Tucker and co. with the intel they need to make informed decisions in their marketing.
“Being able to deliver information and compelling content about all of those products in one place is crucial,” Tucker says. “Allowing the consumer to choose what to click on for more info, leads to a more informed consumer base and ultimately more sales.”