Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why Leave the Telling to Everyone Else

If you're a fan of Ani DiFranco, you'll know that lyric. It isn't really a life-guiding statement for me, but more and more it seems like a good idea. Why? I don't fully know, but it just seems necessary - and not just for beer. Reading a few blogs today got me thinking...

First, there was Jay's bit on Cognitive Branding, which was really about another story, but as Jay tends to do, it all made sense in the end. The premise had a lot to do with A-B's marketing success, or what makes their marketing a success - specifically related to Super Bowl ads.

The other post was by Lew as he passed on a story about Don Russell and his overall contribution to Philly's beer scene. I read the piece and learned a few things about Don, being a younger guy in the beer blogging/writing world there's a lot I still have to learn about those I casually know (or know of). You can also add to this pile of thoughtful contemplation yesterday's post by Lew encouraging all to check out Pete Brown's Blog, which I have now and then, but without any real dedication.

Anyway, where am I?

There are great beer writers out there, and beer bloggers who warrant the attention they get. Each with their own drum to beat, stories and information to pass on. They're not leaving the telling to anyone else, and we're the better for it! Imagine a world where all our beer knowledge came from A-B ads, or where everything we know of food comes from restaurant chains. We're inundated with crap, everywhere we turn there's misinformation, half-truths and "spin" - retelling stories in a way that meets an agenda. I guess you don't really have to imagine too hard if you were around before this maturing anti-industrial culture - which I hear pre-dates the internet!

The world needs your story everyday, and that doesn't mean we need your words on another blog (necessarily). You don't need to be the fool nobody wants to be around, but each of us (I'm assuming a bit about the PBN audience) has something to say when it comes to beer, food, life. Why leave the telling to the Industrial Brewers, or even Jay, Stan, Lew, Pete or anyone else for that matter? Here's a few things you can do to find your voice.
  • Ask restaurant managers why they don't have a local craft beer on tap. Be polite, but direct. Restaurants around the country have wine lists designed to impress, with a beer corner for those who just gotta have a beer - you know, the corner with B/C/M. In these places you won't find Ernest and Julio Blush wine, so why do they insist on carrying the industrial swill that does little for the community, offers little flavor and doesn't really go well with the 20 dollar plate you're going to enjoy? Ask, challenge, engage.
  • Do the same with grocers, corner shops and office parties. Too many grocers carry "what sells" when it comes to beer, but again carrying wines galore. Challenge that notion a bit, again as diplomatically as you can. Best selling wine in the US is something like Franzia or E&J Gallo, nothing any wine person would be proud to serve at dinner or to friends. Point that out, tell them that just like higher-end wines you expect to see beers of variety, character and depth. If it's a good buyer, they'll listen. Face it, they've really got little to lose and often welcome the suggestions - and your word may mean a whole lot more than the same exact words coming from the brewery reps that get paid to make face-time with this guy.
  • Don't be a dick. This may seem counter to what I mentioned above, but you'll earn little points in a real life situation if you make a scene, belittle anyone for their taste in beer or disrespect someone for not catering to your consumer needs. I've witnessed too many 'beer geeks' rail on a guy who is just out to have a good time, or servers who have no control over what's on a menu. Oh, and telling someone they're going to lose your business is just silly, boycotting an establishment rarely gets anything done except make folks happy to see you walk away. While telling your story, remember who you're talking to and who you represent.
  • Oh, if you don't like that last line, know that when you speak for better beer, you do represent a community of beer enthusiasts, the better beer industry and people who have the same end goals as you do (we all want the better beers on the shelf, on the menu). In a way I'd call us ambassadors. If you're out only to represent yourself, well that's your thing. Maybe you only want to see the beer you want because you want it - and I suppose that's fine. But for me I speak because I assume the only beer-sense someone has is what they've seen on TV. Trust me, I have enough good beer at home to live a merry beer-rich life. I know that the fine brewers of the world don't have the marketing budgets the industrial brewers have, so I see myself as their way to communicate to people outside their brewery.
Now, I know that not everyone is really cut out for this sort of advocacy - and trust me when I say that is more than OK. I just know that many of you have the ability, and even the desire to speak up sometimes when you feel it's necessary. For those in the latter group, I ask again - Why leave the telling to everyone else?

About the Image: No explaining that one, it wasn't anything close to what I was looking for, but seemed only mildly inappropriate for this post.