Brent has the highly enviable role of Creative Director at Boulevard Brewing Company. You could say he’s a writer by trade, but that would be limiting given his breadth of experience spanning multiple roles, industries, and time zones. Either way he offered me beer when we talked, so he’s alright with me.
You’re joining Boulevard at an interesting time. What’s the opportunity as you see it? And how does branding and marketing play into that?
It’s an incredibly exciting time to be here, not only as a marketer but also as a long-time fan of what they create. The dust from the merger is just settling, new alliances are being forged, new plans made, it’s a true transition but one that will be so good for Boulevard and Kansas City. Duvel brings new distribution channels on the coasts and in Europe that Boulevard didn’t have before. We offer them similar advantages. They love that we’re a true American brand and want us to keep being ourselves because that’s what appealed to them in the first place. They afford us the ability to expand, as we’re currently doing on Southwest Boulevard for more fermentation tanks, which means a stronger Kansas City presence and … more beer!
Marketing and brand work are hugely important now because Boulevard never really spent much on them in the past. They had primarily let the product do the talking and focused successfully on sales channels. Like barbeque, they grew low and slow. We now have the awesome opportunity and ability to more vocally tell our story and better define the brand in terms of what we are and who we’ll be moving forward. We get to introduce ourselves to new people while reassuring the faithful here at home. There are also so many more new ways to reach and interact with beer drinkers now. I feel quite fortunate to be able to help them do that, this is the kind of thing someone like me lives for.
You know everyone in KC is paying close attention too, right?!
Of course. That reality never escapes me. But it’s also thoroughly motivating. We know people here really, truly love this brand and embrace it as their own. We respect that immensely and won’t let them down, while we also work on seducing the as-yet uninitiated in other areas with all we have to offer and all the good Kansas City represents. Which is all the more fun for me to say as a non-KC native who’s looking at helping us expand back to my home state of California.
You’ve been a part of Boulevardia since it’s inception. Can you give us a little behind-the-scenes of how it came to be?
I was at Bernstein-Rein back in 2006 with an assemblage of some of my favorite people / creatives in town, most of whom are still in town doing amazing things. Boulevard had originally asked if our interactive team could create a game for them, but as we started thinking about it, I realized Boulevard was distributed in just 11 contiguous states at the time and that it could be their own “country within a country.” So we pitched this idea of their new nation: Boulevardia. A rewarding place where only we the fortunate locals could partake in our fountain of youth and truth, Boulevard Beer.
We thought it could be a unique way for Boulevard fans to bond with the brand beyond the actual product. A rallying point and fun way to celebrate our beer and the midwest. There were so many legs to it. It was at a time when separate microsites were popular, so we created an incredibly robust and interactive site, made posters, all kinds of things. Later, Boulevard Marketing Director Jeremy Ragonese thought it would make a great basis for a festival. Initially it was going to be a music festival at Crossroads KC. It morphed into its current form and the concept still works nicely. We worked with Whiskey Design to bring the new Boulevardia brand to life and they did a fantastic job creating this beautifully consistent look across numerous executions.
Food and beverage has been a niche of yours for some time. What keeps you interested?
It’s eating and drinking, if you don’t like those things you’re already dead. I love both and started my previous business Stir and Enjoy because if I was going to do something on my own, I wanted it to be based around something of which I never tire. The food and beverage realm is inherently interesting, particularly now where you’re seeing so many smaller, independent craftspeople and manufacturers enter the arena, innovating and creating really interesting new products. There are scores of blogs and websites and Pinterest boards bursting with gorgeous packaging and brand design. The best part is it never stops. People will always be looking for something new and compelling and there will always be people trying to meet that demand.
How do you approach F&B differently than other industries?
The hardest part is that many food and beverage people, from manufacturers to restaurateurs, often don’t have much budget for brand positioning and design. They’re often too caught up in just making and selling their product. Which is tough because it’s even more vitally important to them and you only get one real chance to make a strong first impression. I dealt with a lot of people who were trying to right old wrongs after they realized it hadn’t gone well the first time.
However, the advent of social media has been a game changer. It has enabled food and beverage people to promote and build buzz for their brands even without a budget. For them I would argue that social channels are more important than traditional at this point, in part because they empower the brand’s fans to help with the promotional workload. I can’t tell you how many times I got a client to forgo, say, a print ad in favor of social outreach and coordination. Two former clients of mine, Celina Tio (Julian, Collection, The Belfry) and Erin Brown (Dolce Bakery) are particularly effective on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They’ve developed their own strong online personalities, which has helped measurably drive business.
How do you stay current in order to nudge brands in a new direction?
You can’t let yourself get jaded or too set in your ways. Our industry, our minds, they’re not wired to work that way. Change is a constant, you adapt or get run over. My drive is to always be relevant. Which means keeping up on what moves people and how people behave. I don’t always love social media, but I know it’s inescapable and I better be up on what’s happening and how those channels work. I occasionally like to get out of my comfort zone and really try to know and socialize with people of different ages, interests and ethnicities than my own to keep my life and mind fresh. I keep pushing myself to learn new programs. I’d like to learn some code, if even just to be more conversant in that language.
What is your latest epiphany?
That we’re in an age when the power balance has shifted. Where power used to be concentrated in traditional structures, positions and public figures, it’s now far more dispersed among the populace. Particularly through social media, anyone can feasibly get famous or help take down a brand, even a government, overnight.
My other one is that perhaps I was meant to be in Kansas City after all. My family and I almost moved home to San Diego last year. That plan fell apart and then the brewery transition and this position happened. I’m now more committed than ever to this town.