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What Schlitz Beer Can Teach You About Your Marketing Messaging

Graphic of a man holding a glass of beer.

“It's not what you sell that matters as much as how you sell it!” — Brian Halligan, CEO & Co-Founder, HubSpot

It was the early 1900s. Schlitz beer was tanking in sales, placing dead last among its competitors. The company was so desperate to turn its sales around that it hired the famed Claude C. Hopkins, one of the great advertising pioneers whose impact can still be felt today.

At the time, beer manufacturers were all about selling purity, whatever that means. Nobody ever defined the term and Schlitz was no different.

Hopkins took a different approach and it changed everything for Schlitz.

The first thing he did was to ask for a tour of the plant. In spite of Schlitz’s lackluster sales, they were not lacking in technology. It was cutting edge for the time.

There were plate glass rooms with bubbling beer cascading over pipes. These rooms were pumped with filtered air which cooled the beer without causing impurities.

The brewery had expensive filters filled with white wood pulp to create a superior flavor. In fact, the pipes were cleaned in the morning before the beer made their way through them.

Schlitz also had its own 4,000 foot artesian wells to ensure the water was clean and pure.

Finally, at the end of the tour, Hopkins saw an illustration framed on the wall of a strange micro organism. When he asked about it, he was told that this was Schiltz’s pride and joy.

It was a mother yeast cell—the result of over 1,200 experiments—that had been selectively cultivated to create the distinctive Schlitz flavor. Every single bottle the brewery produced contained yeast that was descended from the mother.

Hopkins was stunned. But now here’s the kicker.

Hopkins asked why they had never made this process public. The staff shrugged and said, “Everybody makes beer this way.” The beer making process—the pure water, the cooling pipes, the yeast, the wood pulp—was no different from any other brewery.

Hopkins agreed but then countered. “Yes, but the first one to tell the public about this process will gain a big advantage.”

And that’s the point.

Let Your Marketing Message Gain the Advantage with the Public

You may think because your business offers the same service as your competitor you have nothing “different” to sell. I’ve seen this over and over again in my own work.

In Hopkins own words:

“The situation occurs in many, many lines. The maker is too close to his own product. He sees in his methods only the ordinary….That is a situation which occurs in most advertising problems. The article is not unique. It embodies no great advantages. There are few advertised products which can’t be imitated. Few who dominate a field have any exclusive advantage. They were simply the first to tell convincing facts.” Claude Hopkins

And I submit that your business is no different in that regard. You can’t see what makes it stand out from the competition because you work in it every day! It’s just business as usual.

That’s why it’s always a bad idea for a business or non-profit to write their own marketing copy. You’re just too close to it.

Schlitz wasn’t doing anything different from the competition. With Hopkins at the helm, the brewery didn’t just tell the world about that process, they told a story.

That story resonated with the public. Within a matter of months, Schlitz became the number one selling beer in the US.

The company took a gamble on telling a different story, one the public was hungry to hear. The result? For the next 50 years, the brewery enjoyed massive success.

(As a side note, Schlitz’s competitors were pretty miffed. They thought the company had “cheated” by telling this different story.)

No matter what you’re selling, you have a story to tell. It is not the same one as your competitors.

I promise you that. (Realtors, are you listening?)

Give People What They Least Expect

The public is hungrier than you know for a marketing message that speaks to them, that solves their problem, that shows them how to live better.

You can be that business that dares to tell a different story—a real story that resonates with your audience and motivates them to action. Just like Schlitz.

Your marketing message is the foundation of ALL your sales. Get it right and reap the benefits while your competitors grumble.

Set up a 30-minute complimentary consultation with me here.


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