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Raising Hell: Surly Brewing Brings Brand Advocacy To the Minnesota Beer Brawl

Breweries and advocates fight the proposed Minnesota excise tax increase.

On April 30th, Surly Brewing published a blog post explaining how they think the proposed state excise tax increase will affect Minnesota breweries, both large and small. Surly isn’t affected immediately by the proposal. They are exempt from the tax because they don’t meet the maximum production requirement (more on that later), but they realize that it could hinder their ability to grow, create jobs and expand. They promoted the post through Facebook and Twitter and it received a lot of attention. In the last paragraph of their post, Surly offered a humble call to action for their fans, but only if they are moved to:

Source Credit: Karl Pearson-Cater

“Thanks for listening, Surly Nation. We wanted to clarify the main points so everyone can form his or her own opinion on this issue, and act accordingly. If you plan to act, now is the time to be heard: “

The Surly Brewing fans who did agree amplified the message to their own networks. This is a great execution of brand advocacy:

The brewers at Surly aren’t the only ones concerned about the tax increase. Craft beer activist groups released articles arguing against the tax and dispelling common misunderstandings about the issue. Customers, home-brewers, micro-brewers, restaurants, beer distributors and liquor stores have also come out in opposition.

What I find most interesting about this issue is that the Minnesota breweries are encouraging their brand advocates to speak out on their behalf. Breweries like SummitSurlyFultonFlat EarthSchell’sBrau Bros and Lift Bridge have turned to social media to inform their fans and followers about this proposal, and ask for their help. As a craft beer enthusiast, this issue hit me right in the heart. Once I started investigating, I started noticing the effect that the advocates of these breweries were having on the publicity of this proposal — the conversation surrounding it has grown exponentially through two hashtags on Twitter:  #StopMNDrinkTax and #KeepMNBrewing.

In case you haven’t heard the details, here’s a brief summary. The Minnesota House of Representatives has proposed a bill for an act to increase the state excise tax on alcoholic beverages — liquor, beer and wine. This could mean a 600% tax increase for Minnesota breweries like Summit and Schell’s who exceed the maximum production amount necessary to be excluded from the tax (100,000 barrels). Minnesota breweries are not taking this lightly. In an interview for “At Issue” on KSTP, Summit Brewing Company CEO Mark Stutrud explained the effect of this tax increase on his brewery. Excise tax is paid for at the brewery, it is factored in at 9% of their cost, this tax increase would increase that percentage to 16%. Of course, the beer is then shipped out through distributors to retailers who will also need to compensate for this increase in price, ultimately costing the consumer up to $0.14 per beer.

This conversation on Twitter and Facebook made me realize that brand advocates are more than your cheerleaders, they’re your support system. They want to help you through the tough times just as much as they want to celebrate the good times. The Minnesota craft beer community is huge. We’re very proud of our breweries. This group of brand advocates are motivated to stand up for their favorite breweries when they need help — they want to, they’re not being offered anything, they just want to. Plain and simple, that’s advocacy.

It’s no secret here that brand advocacy is what we do at Ciceron. (And in full disclosure, none of the beer companies mentioned here are clients of ours. But we do drink a lot of these beers.) There may come a time and a place where everyone who reads this blog post will need to quickly fire up a base of advocates. Actions from your enthusiastic base can make change happen fast and furious (no pun intended). If your organization does not have these methods and channels to activate powerful voices then you, like our favorite craft breweries, may find yourself on the wrong side of an important development in your field or in the middle of a PR nightmare.


What would you have done in this situation? Leave me your answer in the comments below or tweet me at @Tiffani_Allen.

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