Brewing up buzz: Tips from a beer label victor

Building buzz around a brand can be challenging for a small business. Lucky for New York-based Newburgh Brewing Co., it had Betsy the purple cow on its side.

Last year's winner of CNBC's Battle of the Beer Labels, Newburgh's eye-catching design paid homage to its local roots. Betsy's appearance on the Cream Ale can helped the brewery fend off much larger and better-known competitors, including Founders Brewing, Victory Brewing and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

Newburgh Brewing Company beer
Source: Newburgh Brewing Company
Newburgh Brewing Company beer

For Newburgh, founded in 2012, the Battle of the Beer labels was a cost-effective way to generate some attention for the company — something that's particularly important for small businesses operating on a tight budget.

"When you have a chance for free PR it's very important to spend the time to get it," said Paul Halayko, chief operating officer and president of Newburgh Brewing.

Ahead of this year's competition, which kicked off Monday, Halayko revealed the brewery's winning playbook. And while the lessons were used to take home the "most loved label" crown, they can also be applied to other small businesses looking for a low-cost way to boost their brand.

Use size to your advantage

Halayko said one thing that benefited Newburgh Brewing was its size.

"We're small enough that, while we have other things going on, we could still devote a lot of attention to this," he said.

"If you put us into contrast with much larger craft breweries that have to give time and attention on social media to any number of events, promotions or other things going on, they can't be as singularly focused as we were."

Don't get stale on social media

Like many small businesses, Newburgh Brewing is active on social media sites including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, using them as a low cost-way to engage its customer base.

While Halayko credits social media as the biggest factor in getting the word out for Battle of the Beer Labels, he said the key is never getting stale.

"We weren't just posting a picture of the Cream Ale can over and over again with the same picture," he said. "We were taking it with us to different places, snapping clever photos, and we were lucky to have friends, family and supporters of the brewery who were doing the same thing."

Utilize your network's network

While Newburgh Brewing worked to actively engage its own network, it was able to multiply that effect by asking fans, friends and family to engage their own networks.

"We got all kinds of people that we are friends with to start plugging it within their own network," Halayko said. "Guys I used to work with at JPMorgan were getting the office to vote, [and] our accounting firm was getting everyone to vote through a daily office email reminder."

"Having them feel like it's their campaign, too, builds on the community aspect of it, because people feel like they're a part of it," he added.

Engage the crowd right in front of you

While Newburgh was active in cultivating its online networks, it didn't ignore the potential audience that was right in front of it.

"We utilized our taproom, which is a giant open space and has occupancy for almost 300 people, to help get out the vote," Halayko said. "It's often very busy and generally there are a lot of people in it, which means a lot of potential votes. "

Newburgh "plastered" the taproom with "Vote for Betsy" signs. Halyako said he even recreated the iconic "Hope" poster from Barack Obama's presidential campaign, featuring Betsy.

"It might seem like a small thing, but you're talking hundreds if not thousands of people over the course of the weekend coming into our taproom, seeing those signs, and hopefully voting and spreading the word," he said.

Build on your relationships with local media

Since the day Newburgh Brewing was founded, Halayko said, the company has prided itself on always getting back to people quickly.

"When local media reaches out to us, we are always quick with a response," he said. "Because of that we have great engagement with the local media here in the Hudson Valley. They follow us on social media, they subscribe to our email distribution, so they were aware of what we [were] doing."

That relationship paid off in 2015, when Newburgh was featured in a variety of local articles as the contest advanced.

Rally the local community

For Halayko, building a sense of community around the brand is what craft beer is all about. And events like Battle of the Beer Labels provide an opportunity to tap into local pride.

"We always say nothing delights us more [than] when we hear someone refer to us as 'their' brewery," he said. "That means we are a fabric of the community, and when you tap into that sense of community, you have those people out there pulling for you."

"That's a huge thing."

Voting for this year's Battle of the Beer Labels kicks off Monday at 10 am ET.