Today we’re sharing insights from Great Notion, a brewery with an unusual and innovative approach to beer marketing and sales. We met with co-founder and CEO Paul Reiter to discuss how Great Notion stands out from the crowd, and what other breweries can do if they want to run their business more like a tech company.
Great Notion’s tech-inspired approach makes even more sense when you consider Paul’s journey to co-founding the brewery. Originally in digital marketing himself, he ran a hip-hop record label until a move took him and his family to Portland, Oregon. He pivoted to work in sales for a tech company, eventually earning his MBA as well. When two of his neighbors who were into home brewing invited him to try their beer, the seeds for Great Notion brewing were planted. Paul would go on to found the brewery with those same neighbors, co-founders James Dugan and Andy Miller.
Each of the three founders focuses on one aspect of the business: James on beer innovation, Andy on the science of beer production, and Paul on marketing and operations. Paul acts as CEO and CMO, running business operations as well as a small, in-house marketing team. And their marketing team has to be creative and dynamic, because Great Notion takes a different approach to beer sales than the rest of the industry.
What Makes Great Notion Unique
The most obvious difference between Great Notion and many of its competitors lies squarely with its sales. Great Notion does 90% of its sales direct to consumers. So much so, in fact, that Paul calls them “almost more of an e-commerce company than a brewery.” At the beginning of the pandemic, they launched an app to drive direct sales. They’d been working to develop the app for almost a year and a half, so when the pandemic hit and they were ready to launch, they took advantage of the rapidly changing commerce landscape.
Great Notion’s app allows customers to buy beer directly on the app and have it shipped to their door. They worked with illustrator Chad Eaton to create characters for the app and coordinated packaging design to make their brand look seamless. Why do they have an app at all? “It focuses on keeping our customers excited about our beer,” Paul told us.
Another creative team took on the role of designing the animation for their video game. That’s right — they have a video game. While the app’s main revenue generation comes from e-commerce and fulfillment — getting sales from customers — the games keep them on the app. They have an archive of past beers viewable on the app, each one with its own specially created character and backstory. Exploring the beers on the app can lead you to unlock different secret games. There’s also a competitive element to the app; customers can rise through the ranks by posting pictures of their beer on Instagram or shopping through the app.
Despite the significant costs associated with designing and developing their app, Paul said that it was certainly worth it for Great Notion. “We’re definitely seeing the ROI on it,” he told us. “We’ve got lots of engagement on the app.” And engagement is, of course, one of the most valuable drivers of sales — and one of the most difficult to facilitate.
What’s Coming Next for Great Notion Marketing
“We’re definitely hoping to add some of the games we’ve been working on for well over a year,” Paul told us. Adding new games to the app keeps people engaged on the app and on social media. They’re also working on creating a referral program to encourage people to refer their friends to purchase beer through their app.
With several taproom locations in Portland and Seattle, Great Notion is also looking to broaden their geographical reach. They’d like to expand brand awareness to customers who aren’t local but who can still purchase beer through their app, as most of their customers already do.
Key Takeaways From Great Notion’s Approach
Hire Great People
…and keep your current employees happy, Paul said. Great Notion sees hiring and retaining creative, hard working people as the key to thriving even when times are tough.
Work With the Experts
Sometimes you just don’t have the manpower or expertise to do something in-house. In those cases, Paul says, it’s well worth it to outsource the projects to an agency or contractor who has the experience to get things done quickly and efficiently. Even though they have a great in-house marketing team, Great Notion outsources some of their design, advertising, and app development to outside firms. “Sometimes you even get better, more creative ideas from someone who’s outside the business, as opposed to someone who’s already on your team and may be too creatively burned out to come up with new marketing ideas.”
Balance Growth & Relevance
Because they don’t regularly distribute their beer and instead make all beer sales either through their app or their taprooms, Great Notion is keenly aware of the pressure to stay relevant. Their path to growth relies on opening more taprooms and reaching more people through their app. It’s always a challenge to find a way to grow organically while staying true to brand values. Which is why they place such a high value on hiring “young, smart people” — because the Great Notion team knows that creative ideas come from people.