Sage Insights into Success of Stone Brewing Co.

Stone Brewing Co. has grown into the nation’s 10th-largest craft brewer by tapping into its customers’ thirst for freedom, one of six key emotional measures of values-driven marketing, Zenzi Communications CEO Sarah Hardwick told a group of San Diego business executives.
Hardwick described the six markers – freedom, purpose, tradition, pleasure, security and prestige – in a presentation hosted by Sage Executive Group, an peer advisory organization that bring together CEOs and top executives from across the region to learn and share ideas in shaping new directions for their companies.
Some of the most successful firms in establishing a brand identity, such as Chipolte and Nike, “make an emotional connection” by understanding and catering not only to the product needs of customers, but also to what is important to them – and the people they talk to personally and through social media. “”A brand is not what a company says it is. It’s what people tell each other that it is,”,” said Hardwick, who founded Encinitas-based Zenzi Communications in 2002.
Stone, which started out as a small craft brewery in San Marcos in 1996 producing about 2,100 barrels, has expanded to a major brewing facility combined with a specialty restaurant and extensive gardens in Escondido. Produced exceeded 213,000 barrels in 2013. It is now planning new brewing operations in the southern United States and in Berlin, the beer heartland of Germany. For Stone, “attitude is everything,” Hardwick said. It has built “an engaged and passionate audience” by fostering “a point of view” that appeals to independent-minded freedom seekers and is manifested in the name of one of its signature beers, Arrogant Bastard Ale.
The company, founded by brewing icons Greg Koch Steve Wagner, has put a premium on beer as a “passionate experience” and fosters its values in its own employees, who now number about 900. “Their employees are the most passionate representation of the brand,” Hardwick said, a fundamental reason that Stone trusts and builds its own identity.
In summary, Hardwick said “values are the missing link in making deeper connections” as companies seek to engage a diverse and often fragmented customer base.
Hardwick gave her talk at the quarterly networking event on Aug. 14 held by Sage Executive Group at Mintz Levin law firm in San Diego. It was hosted by SkyRiver IT.
Commentary on leadership from Stone CEO Greg Koch and on the Sage experience from Stone President Steve Wagner is available on Sage’s YouTube channel.
Chuck Buxton