CMO Of The Week: Lagunitas' Paige Guzman

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If you want to get a glimpse of what the next few years of craft beer trends might look like, stop by the flagship taproom for Lagunitas in Petaluma, California.

If you want to get a glimpse of what the next few years of craft beer trends might look like, stop by the flagship taproom for Lagunitas in Petaluma, California.

Among the dozens of beverages on tap, you’re bound to find a whole range of flavors that are tested on the spacious property before branching out elsewhere - if they do at all. There’s an experimental line of hard teas under the name Disorderly Teas (including yuzu lemon and mixed berry flavors) whose kegs are constantly running dry, and a spinoff of Little Sumpin’ Ale called Juicy Beats that’s also proving to be an early hit.  

And then there’s others that may cater to more specific tastes. “We have a sushi pilsner that’s literally made to taste like you’re eating a sushi roll with seaweed in it,” says Paige Guzman, Lagunitas Brewing Company’s chief marketing officer.We probably put 40 to 60 different products out over the course of the year, and there’s so much stuff we never bring to market.”

For Guzman, just being able to safely host guests at Lagunitas’ signature taproom to get real-time insights into how their products perform with consumers has been the first sign of relative business as usual since she joined the beermaker last July in the thick of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Northern California wildfire season that led to additional closures at the location. “When I joined, we thought [COVID] would be over by the fall, and then it wasn’t. So I was constantly trying to maneuver both staffing as well as budgeting to forecast the future and crystal ball it.”  

Those prolonged impacts on Lagunitas’ business, which was predominantly based on on-premise consumption pre-lockdown, forced Guzman and her team to rethink their entire marketing strategy. Though the brand wasn’t much of a spender in traditional media, its investments in live events like music festivals had to be reinvested into online platforms, resulting in a tripled digital spend for the brand. “And luckily for us, the Lagunitas consumer over indexes in online delivery platforms — the Drizlys of the world,” Guzman adds. In fact, Lagunitas ranked No. 10 on Drizly’s top-selling beers in a recent sales report, outranking larger-scale brands like Heineken. “That’s amazing when you think about how big in size our brands are,” Guzman says.

And as she brings new products like Lagunitas’ first nonalcoholic IPA to market, Guzman will continue to look for ways where the brewer can punch above its weight. Brand Innovators caught up with Guzman from her home office in Northern California to learn more about her success with online delivery platforms, launching its first “Doggy Boondoggle” campaign with new agency of record Canvas and which consumer trends are here to stay when it comes to beer drinking. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Brand Innovators: What did Lagunitas' business look like prior to spring 2020, and what pivots or innovations did you put in place once you joined the company last summer in the thick of global lockdowns?

Paige Guzman: I’ve had the privilege and fortune to work in alcoholic beverages the majority of my career, working at Beam Suntory and Constellation as a marketer. And at either of those two companies, I would have killed to have the on-premise placements I have at Lagunitas. The strategy was always about how widely available you were with on-premise. But unfortunately with COVID, that became our Achilles heel. When your brand has been built on on-premise and suddenly that gets taken away overnight, what used to be a boon for us became an immediate challenge.

So many of our marketing programs were rooted in connecting with beers and friends in-person, whether it was our taprooms, concerts in our amphitheater, large-scale events like the the Lagunitas Circus at the Petaluma Fairground — all that was gone. We couldn't touch it. We had to take the marketing playbook, throw it out the window, and say “Where do we go from here? How do we manage all of the unknown?” 

Thankfully, we have an in-house creative team, and we have a marketing budget that we were able to re-deploy against a lot of ecommerce and digital marketing. We put a lot of money toward Drizly, Instacart and paid media online in order to pull us through the pandemic, and we’ve been able to reap some of those awareness rewards because our whole mission at Lagunitas is to make new friends but keep the old. We have tremendous adorers that have loved the brand since 1993, but we also have a lot of newer flavors like Hazy Wonder that have a broad appeal and brought new consumers to us. 

Did you experiment with virtual events in those initial stages of lockdown to try to recreate the taproom experience remotely?

I learned a long time ago that if you can't do things well, sometimes you just shouldn’t do them. We didn’t try to create virtual happy hours or things like that, but we did some community giving projects where we sponsored a couple virtual concerts. But as consumers got tired of that, the whole idea of “virtual everything” got worn out pretty quickly. We recognized we had a bigger opportunity to have a more consistent visual identity online for our brand. 

We launched the Beer Speaks campaign, so that whether we were talking about Hazy Wonder or our flagship IPA we had a consistent visual identity. We partnered with Facebook to do a brand lift study to see how we could do more performative creative, and it has overperformed for us and we’re really happy with the results. Instead of everything being its own unique snowflake, there's an overarching theme that pulls the Lagunitas brand together and that’s really important.

Another big trend we saw during COVID was that consumers didn't have the opportunity to treasure hunt — to wander through a store, spend 30 minutes in a Bevmo on a Saturday afternoon. And if you can’t do that, consumers start to rely on known brands, look for something in your Instacart that you know is a sure bet. The third thing I would point out is we worked on getting larger pack sizes for a lot of our brands. We launched a 12-pack on Hazy Wonder, and we relaunched the visual identity of Maximus to make things recognizable for the consumer.

What are some creative ways you’ve supported the bar & restaurant community as that sector starts to reopen at scale?

We spent our time during the pandemic planning so we could come back strong as soon as it was allowable. We came back very strong with the first-ever national Pride program in June, which was the first time Lagunitas has supported that at a national level. The purpose for our brand is “there’s a seat at our bar for everyone,” and the way we’ve brought that to life is we partnered with GLAAD and made a $10,000 donation to their mission, and created an on-premise plan to support it. 

The second thing we planned for is IPA Day, which is happening on August 5. It’s an existing holiday — I didn’t make it up, I promise — and since we’re the number one IPA in the U.S. and globally [according to 2018 global figures and 2021 domestic figures from Nielsen], it’s a great opportunity to assert our leadership position there with on-premise promotions and digital promotion to welcome everyone at our bar.

What market research or consumer trends led to the national rollout of Lagunitas' first nonalcoholic IPA last December, and how has it been performing so far?

No one is immune to the headlines of the emerging consumer trend in nonalcoholic products, everything from Lacroix to Heineken Zero Zero to kombucha, there are a lot of consumers that either want to break or moderate their consumption. That was a big global trend where we've seen 43% of Americans that have purchased nonalcoholic beer. And for me, nonalcoholic beer — I drank it when I was pregnant with my two children but it tasted terrible. I still have five of them in my house somewhere. We have this consumer global trend of nonalcoholic products, for a brand whose bread and butter is IPA, there wasn’t anything that tasted good in the IPA category. 

So our brewers, our beer magicians have been playing around the last couple years and they came up with something over a year ago that we put in our taproom which is where we test in a light way what the consumer response to products are. It's one thing to be able to brew something just for the taproom, but another to scale it for national distribution. How do you take what makes Lagunitas great, and put it into a larger production nonalcoholic product? It takes some time. We spent some time doing that, using the same hops and English crystal malt that we use in our existing products and we created this product that had real flavor and taste and it is going gangbusters. It has exceeded our expectations, and we will continue to look for new ways to bring new products in that category because there’s demand.

Are there any particular regions where you see that product overperforming? 

We do very well in California, and we see success nationally. It also gave us more opportunity to talk about our Hop Water product, which has been a product of ours that we launched a number of years ago and we now have the number one and number two craft nonalcoholic products in Nielsen. Hop Sparkling Water is zero calories, zero gluten, zero sugar, so it’s hitting on a lot of other consumer trends. We never really had a place for Hop Water within our portfolio, our sales teams would present it and people would be like meh, but now that we have this huge trend with nonalcoholic, we can do big displays with the nonalcoholic IPA on one side and Hop Water on the other. We like to say there’s an IPA for anyone, anytime, anywhere.

What inspired your upcoming Doggy Boondoggle campaign and contest? 

We like to say “Lagunitas and dogs go together like Lagunitas and hop.” Dogs have been part of our brand story since forever. They’ve been on our labels since 1993, and we had a dog friendly taproom before dog friendly places existed — not because we thought of it, but because people just started showing up with their dogs. Our employees bring their dogs in the office, not the brewing facilities. Even our fermenting tanks are named after brewers’ dogs that have crossed over the rainbow bridge. When I joined the company, one of the first questions I asked was, “How do I get [my dog] Lulu on a tank?” And they said “We don’t really want to tell you what has to happen for her to get her name on there.” [laughs

But my point is, dogs have been intrinsic to who we've been as a company for years. I don’t know that I could have gotten through the last 18 months without my dog — taking my dog out for walks has been my mental sanity. So I spoke with our teams and said, “Let’s throw parties for dogs. It seems silly, but they've contributed so much to all of our lives that it feels very natural to throw parties across the country.” If you need heartwarming on social media, look up the hashtag #LagunitasDogContest and you'll see the stories of how dogs have contributed to people’s lives the last 18 months. As marketers, we’re always looking for what's the next big thing, how do you make your next big trend. But to tap into a feeling and sentiment with Lagunitas and dogs is magic from a brand perspective.

What new or emerging consumer behaviors from this past year do you think are here to stay even after in-person business reopens at scale?

Consumers have gotten used to the convenience of buying their groceries and food online. I don’t think that's going away, there will just be more people that stick with that if you can just hit “reorder.” I also think to-go beer and cocktails are here to stay. You’re seeing legislation pass in California and Texas, and that's great for us. You can pick up a can of Lagunitas when you get your ribs from a local restaurant and that helps our local business partners make more margins, so we’re here to support that. 

And we also support consumers wanting to look for brands that are consistent and high quality. If you’re shopping online, you’re not always going to do more exploring, so when we’re trying to introduce our brand or more consumers, we have to have really succinct messaging — more functional vs. emotional. Also with Doggy Boondoggles, we’re legitimizing that campaign by making a donation to Best Friends Society. It’s the same thing as donating to GLAAD, we can't just slap our logo and take, we need to give back to underserved communities whether it’s dog shelters or the LGBTQIA+ community.


Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

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