May 9, 2016

A Virgin’s Guide to the Craft Brewer’s Conference (CBC) 2016

As a marketer, I have attended various conferences in the last year. Actually, I’ve been pretty busy when it comes to conferences! Here is a list of everywhere I’ve been over the last year:

May 2015, San Diego
$2000 (free if you’re on EO Board)
Global Leadership Conference (GLC), hosted by Entrepreneur Organization (EO). I flew halfway around the world to spent 2 days with amazing global entrepreneurs. EO is a great organization and their dedicated to learning and growth is inspiring. I took away some great tactics from Jack Daly about building sales teams.

November 2015, London
International Sports Travel Agent Association.   Networking! The learning was horrible. We had someone from the International Volleyball Championships telling us about their event in Poland (that was too late to market). And I can’t remember any of the other speakers. But I was able to connect with a lot of leaders in the sports travel industry (many of whom I have known for the last 12-15 years). I was able to get a direct flight from San Diego, so it wasn’t too painful.

December 2015, San Diego
Brewbound, hosted by BevNet. By this time, I was back living in San Diego, so the commute was easier! Brewbound is an online leader when it comes to the business of beer. They put together a good agenda of speakers and I was able to network pretty well as I continued to learn about the world of beer. I didn’t have a bunch of takeaways.

February 2016, San Diego
The Traffic and Conversion Summit, hosted by, takes the cake as the top conference I have attended. Wow.   These guys are marketing ninjas. They’ve got speakers talking about everything when it comes to digital media and e-commerce. And they’re using facts and slides in their presentations that show conversions updated just a few hours ago! If you want to attend a conference where your head is exploding and you consistently feel like the dumbest guy in the room, I highly suggest you attend T&C Summit next year in San Diego.

February 2016, Portland
The National Sports Forum is a great event that bringing together sports professionals from around the country. There isn’t much of an international presence here. Its mostly sports teams, in fact. Aside from a great presentation from Nick Kelley (Anheuser Busch) there wasn’t much takeaway. It’s more of a networking situation (and a pretty solid tradeshow that featured a lot of new technology).

April 2016, Chicago
IEG’s Sponsorship Conference has been a staple in my calendar over the years, with my first attendance going back to 2002. I last attended in 2014. And I have to say, not much has changed in 2016. No new learning. In a conference whose them was Disruption, they featured keynotes from Taco Bell and Marriott. Leaders yes. Disrupters no. The organizers of this conference are all in their 40s and 50s and it shows. They are talking about the trends of the last 2 years – not where the business is going. Instead of talking about

Which brings us to my last conference in May 2016.   I recently traveled to/from Philadelphia to attend the Craft Brewer’s Conference (CBC). It was an event I’ve heard about for many years. I didn’t know quite what to expect other than lots of beer.

CBC boasts more than 13,000 attendees. At around $600 a pop, the Brewers Association is generating some serious revenue at the door (on top of sponsorships). Here were some key takeaways:

  1. Beer lubricates relationships. When it comes to strangers, I’m an introvert. So I’ve been attending a lot of conferences for someone who generally feels uncomfortable in a room with strangers. Beer (aka liquid courage) helps that.
  2. CBC is mostly vendors setting up booths selling to breweries.       If you’ve attended, you already knew this. I did not. So there is a company that specializes in packaging. And then there are like 40 more like him. Out of the 800+ exhibitors, there are probably only 30-40 principal categories. As a marketer, I was really interested in how good some of them looked from an aesthetic standpoint.
  3. There is lots of beer. I didn’t feel like a beer at 11:00 a.m. Then I walked past many tasting stations and by noon, I was rarin’ for a beer. There are several parties (official and non-official) that are very welcoming. Once again, the beer flows like wine (if you don’t get that reference, check out Dumb and Dumber).
  4. The learning is light. I attended a few sessions that were almost comedic in terms of their value. Surely the basics the speakers were teaching were already known by everyone in the room. In one particular session regarding marketing, an attendee wanted to know why his recent Facebook posts weren’t getting seen (and weren’t getting engagement). The panelists looked to each other, then suggested maybe his voice is too strong and that he should have someone else in his company write the posts to see if that brought about an increase in likes.       WTF? Do none of these marketing experts know that Facebook changed their algorithms? Its pay to play, and everyone knew that 6 months ago. Except the beer industry. I see big opportunities here. More to come.
  5. Everyone hates AB Inbev.
  6. The word ‘craft’ continues to be polarizing. The industry is on the rise, although at a slower growth rate.
  7. Breweries are so plentiful, which almost makes it hard to connect. I would love to hear from more actual breweries on innovations and (future) trends in the industry.

I run a beer marketing company, so ultimately, the CBC isn’t (directly) catered towards me. I don’t care how to get more fruit into saisons – so a lot of the content is not interesting for me. I think if you own a brewery, you have to attend the CBC. I think you should bring your team there. Let them socialize. Let them meet other breweries and understand trends and best practices.

The learning at CBC wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but I didn’t have a ton of great takeaways either. The stories were interesting, and the M&A team was high level and gave some really insightful tips and stories in their presentation. But to be honest, I am not even sure most of the people in the room even understood a lot of the metrics.

But I think having finance, marketing, sales experts speak is vital. And it doesn’t have to be within your industry. Why do beer conferences bring in someone from Tesla to talk about creating demand? Or someone from Coachella to talk about events and/or working with beers at high level events? Nobody is doing this.

I have found that most conferences work like this: they get speakers from their sponsors. It’s pay to play, which I understand. The problem is they get the subjects from the speakers 4-6 months before the actual conference.   And they’re talking about something in the rear view window. So by the time the actual conference rolls around, the speaker is talking about something that happened more than a year ago. I could care less about some success you had 18 months ago. Business is moving fast these days. Let’s look forward. Let’s talk about things that are happening right now. I don’t want a slideshow of how good you do your job, how beautiful your stadium or how well this partner/sponsor that you’re co-presenting with did.

Speakers need to consistently ask themselves these questions:

  1. what value am I giving the audience?
  2. Am I giving people clear take aways they can use in their business when they go home?
  3. Do I have engaging stories to accompany slides. My #1 pet peeve is when presenters read off their slides.

All this being said, I am looking forward to attending CBC in 2017 (in Washington D.C.)

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