Marketing Teamwork: How to Engage Your Wholesalers in Brand Building

Brand building and marketing that will help your brewery STAND OUT and SELL MORE is not a solo endeavor. It requires teamwork. To catch the attention of the consumer and build a fan base requires sustained, coordinated efforts by your sales and marketing team, your distributor/ wholesaler, and the retail accounts where your beer is sold.

The farther you are from your home market, the harder it is to get your distributor involved and engaged in your marketing efforts. Simply demanding involvement and dictating the approach to building your brand in their market is not enough and can lead to conflict that will harm your efforts.

Below are a few tips for creating a coordinated marketing approach with your distributors:

Make sure your Distribution Agreements address your marketing efforts.

Your Distribution Agreement (DA) is basically like wedding vows (as well as a prenup) that lays out your expectations. You want this relationship to last over time, so setting the ground rules from the start is important. Often times in a DA, marketing is only mentioned briefly and with very few specifics. This is a mistake because it leaves things open to interpretation and provides wiggle room to shift the complete burden of marketing back onto you. Instead, here are a couple critical elements to include in your agreement:

1. Create a per-case marketing spend based on depletions from the wholesaler (cases equivalents sold out their door).

Often this is a dollar figure that is matched by both you and your distributor. For example, $0.50 per CE sold of matching funds giving you a total of $1.00 per CE as a marketing fund for the year. For POS, items are often sold to the wholesaler from the brewery at 50% of cost, thus covering the matching commitment. So if you are a 50k CE supplier, you now have a $50k marketing fund.

It can also be beneficial to lay out a timetable that starts with a higher dollar figure per CE in your first couple years in a market when you are getting established, and then tails off a bit as years go by and you become more of a household name.

2. Be specific in how that marketing fund is allocated.

Do not let the spending be up to the sole discretion of the wholesaler. Instead, establish a mutually agreed upon yearly strategy and plan during an Annual Business Plan (ABP) meeting. A great way to do this is to create buckets that specify where the money will go: e.g. $15k for POS/POP, $10k for event sponsorship, $10k on tastings and in-store promotions, $3k on printed materials, etc.


Involve your partners from the start.

Do not completely formulate your marketing plan without input and then force it on your wholesale partners. Each wholesaler is unique, and is better equipped for certain types of marketing approaches over others. Likewise, different markets come with their own set of laws, regulations, and social norms. Try to have as consistent an approach as possible across your footprint, but it is critical that you engage your wholesalers as you create your plan. This includes asking them what kind of POS they think works best in their market. Ideally, this engagement occurs before your ABP.

Don’t show up empty-handed.

Bring samples, renderings and sell sheets for the marketing items you intend to use for the next year to your ABPs, and provide them each time you create a new POS item. This can help you get presale commitments from your wholesalers prior to placing your order, allowing you to right-size your order from the start. This approach helps avoid the pitfalls of tying up funds by over ordering or missing opportunities by coming up short.


Continually monitor marketing progress with wholesalers throughout the year.


  • Request monthly inventories of POS items and establish par levels and reorder points.
  • Create target lists of key accounts where you need/want marketing presence, and track progress for placement of POS in those accounts.
  • Establish POS placement targets within any sales incentive programs you agree upon. This will help make sure those sales made during the incentive are not a one-off occurrence and those locations continue to turn for you in the future.

Brand building is not easy, but it is necessary and more successful when you have buy-in and commitment from your wholesale partners. Setting contractual expectations early on with your distributors and following through with engagement and planning will help your marketing efforts and allow your brand to flourish in each market you launch. You are not in this alone and everyone from the wholesaler to your POS vendor benefits from your success!


Darin McGregor is the VP of Sales and Marketing for Antigo Zeon. He joined the company after working in craft beer for more than 12 years following a successful career in journalism.


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