"I have an accounting background, and nothing could be
further from advertising," says Liam Mulhall Co-founder Southern
Since no one else at the company had a marketing background
either, and the bootstrapped start-up could not afford an agency,
he had to figure things out somehow.
Unlike the US, Australia does not have many microbrews. The
marketplace is dominated by beers from just a handful of national companies. As a result, there is no distribution chain or precedent for smaller brewers to place bottles in pubs, restaurants and retail outlets.
Southern Cross Brewers had to crack into a giant market with no
apparent footholds or entryways for new suppliers.
Mulhall and his two Co-founders (neither of whom had any
marketing or brewing background either) decided they needed to
build a groundswell of marketplace demand, and get consumers
across Australia to beg their local pubs to carry the new beer.
Southern Cross Brewers could not compete with the millions
traditional brewers spent on advertising. Plus, they did not have a product yet. It had a name, Blowfly Beer, but the beer itself was still in R&D.
How do you get consumers to demand a product that does not
exist from a company they've never heard of?CAMPAIGN
Mulhall's inspiration came from the world of sports
"I read a story about a soccer team in Helsinki that hadn't won a game in ages, and they only had about 300 fans. The coach got
the fans involved. Every couple of days he sent them an SMS
asking them to vote on players." The tactic was so popular that
the team's wireless messaging list grew from 300 fans to more
"Now they're playing in the premiere league, winning games, and
involving fans as owners and members in every aspect of the
club," says Mulhall. "I thought, that's what we need."
-> Step one: 13-Week Pre-Launch Viral Voting Campaign
(Link to samples of all creative below)
Mulhall decided to get potential customers involved from day one. He launched a 13-week viral campaign on August 5th 2002.
First he sent an email to close friends and family (about 140
people in all) asking them to register as members on the new
Blowfly Beer Web site.
In exchange they would get the chance to vote on every aspect of the
beer and its advertising, plus when it launched, they would get a
single share of stock in the company for each six-pack they
purchased. Although the share might not be worth anything in
cash-value for a long time, it might help cement a fan's
emotional tie to the Company.
Mulhall's tips for conducting a consumer voting campaign:
a. Length of campaign
Mulhall choose a 13-week campaign because he felt that was long
enough to get people really involved, but not so long they would feel it was an unending process, get bored, and drop out. The goal was to build to a crescendo of excitement in time for the launch.
The tough part was coming up with 13 different things that
consumers might like to vote on. Mulhall's votes included:
- The logo
- The shape of the bottle
- The label art
- Location of the launch party
- Art on official t-shirt
- Billboard vs bus advertising?
b. Email autoresponders
People feel more involved when they get a fast reaction from a
company. Mulhall set up two autoresponders; one sent to new
members and one sent whenever anyone voted.
Emotionally, new members are the most likely to rush out and tell more people about the fun list they just joined. The new member autoresponder featured a P.S. offer telling them they
could get an invite to drink no-cost beer at the launch party in
Sidney by inviting "at least four mates" to also join the voting
c. Votes feature only two choices
"It's critical that you only have two choices," says Mulhall.
"If you have more than two, the majority won't rule. You want
people to think that at least half the time, their choice is
d. Enact decisions immediately
"If you take too long people think it's not worth it, they think
'They're not listening to me'," advises Mulhall. "We made sure
the very next week we announced what won and showed a picture of
it if possible."
On two occasions the Company discovered they could not honor the
voter's decisions due to unforeseen expenses. Mulhall quickly
emailed out a personal apology and honest explanation. Voters
seemed to like this a great deal. It gave them faith that the
their votes were taken seriously.
"It's amazing when you're in contact with customers and you go
back to them with your hand on your heart. They understand the
trials and tribulations of start-ups. We said, 'We know you
voted for taxi-tops, but it's too expensive. How about if we do
billboards now and taxis later? They said no problem."
-> Step two: Post-Launch Sales Growth Campaigns
At launch all members were invited to the party in Sydney, and to purchase the beer directly from Southern Cross Brewers via mail order. Mulhall's goal was to build enough sales (and enthusiasm) from direct response customers to bankroll the Company's expansion into pub and retail distribution.
He focused on four tactics to keep consumer excitement strong
after the beer launched in January 2003:
a. The Blowfly girls
Mulhall learned a valuable lesson about using pretty women in
marketing campaigns: Ask your female friends for their advice.
At first he hired actress/models from an agency, but found they
did not have the true enthusiasm or knowledge needed. "They didn't have the cheekyness or ideology. We wanted someone who could talk about beer and try to get some interest generated, not just stand there and look good."
Then his assistant, a young Irish woman, volunteered to take over and rounded up a few girlfriends. Clad in tight black, logo-ed, lycra tops of their own design, they began to appear everywhere Mulhall could think to send them.
- They flew up to the National Festival of Beer in Brisbane to
- they brought beer and cheer to the workers on site at a
competitor's brewery that was about to close down;
- and, every list member was promised that the Blowfly girls
would visit their own local pub in person, if that member
could convince their pub to carry the beer.
b. Branded deliveries
They can not afford a fleet of Blowfly trucks yet, but the team
did not let that stop them from branding beer delivery.
"We've got a car we've done up ambulance-style with Blowfly logos all over it, it's even got a siren. Whenever we make a delivery we wear white coats and jump out and run like a pair of lunatics in with the beer."
c. Distributing stickers... everywhere
"My brother's a printer so we’ve got thousands of them," notes
Mulhall. "We put them in every case of beer we ship to direct
buyers. We put them on the backs of pub toilet stalls, in
elevators, on the street. We try not to be too much of a
nuisance about it though."
d. Continued interactive member relations
The Blowfly Web site home page has a big Flash-arrow pulsing
toward the box to enter your email address to become a member.
Members can track their stock shares online, hang out in the
"Member's Lounge," register their opinions when the Company runs
occasional votes, and receive a fun regular email newsletter, The Blowfly Booze.
The initial email list of just 140 friends grew to more than 12,000 members during the 13-week voting period.
Mulhall's goal was to reach 5,000 so he was extremely happy.
- Although the Company is headquartered in Sidney, the Blowfly
girls were such a big hit at the National Festival of Beer in
Brisbane, that this summer Blowfly will be distributed at 28 pubs in Brisbane, six pubs in Sydney and three in Melbourne.
- Mail order to members has been very successful, about 50% of
the Company's income is from direct sales to customers.
- However, the people least likely to buy via mail order were
that initial group of 140 close friends who got the first email.
"They all registered but 20% of them never bought any beer from
us," says Mulhall. "My friends said, 'It's because we know you.
We figure we can get it anytime. I'm waiting for you to bring a
- When it came to voting, results were reversed. Initially about 50% of the list voted each week. "In the third week we had just over a thousand members, and we ended up getting about 500 votes back with very quick turn-around."
As the list grew to friends of friends of friends of
friends, the results decreased accordingly. "When it got over
five thousand people it dropped to about 33%, when we hit over
ten thousand it dropped to 25%."
- 27% of referrals generated from the friend-tell-a-friend form,
resulted in new members joining the list.
- The ambulance-style delivery van has resulted in orders.
Mulhall says the team have found notes tucked into their
windshield when making orders from other pubs owners who want to
chat with them.
- For every 100 unique visitors to the Blowfly Web site, 64 click on the link to go to the registration page. Of these 30 sign up as members, which is a very high conversion rate.
The growth is continuing apace. Southern Cross Brewers is
currently negotiating export deals with China, South Africa and
the UK. Plus famed Australian rugby player Phil Kearns has
joined the advisory board, and Reebok are nosing about for a
Not bad for three friends with no prior related experience, and
no outside investors, who decided to follow their dreams and
start a beer company.
Link to samples of Blowfly Creative from viral campaign, vote
results, newsletter, etc.: