It’s long been one of Pennsylvania’s best kept secrets: With more than 30 breweries, cideries, distilleries, and wineries, Cumberland Valley — a scenic hotspot in the south-central portion of the state — has a hoppin’ beer scene.
So five years ago, when the craft brew craze shifted into full gear, Visit Cumberland Valley decided to let the cat out of the bag and capitalize on the trend by creating a beer trail experience for locals and tourists alike.
The plan was simple: By logging onto Visit Cumberland Valley’s dedicated beer trail website, beer lovers accessed an exclusive mobile passport that guided users to a collection of curated watering holes to visit and enjoy. When visiting one of the businesses, participants simply checked in on their smartphones and followed a prompt to earn points toward prizes like T-shirts, sunglasses, and logged coolers. “We targeted older millennials and Generation X craft beer enthusiasts within a two-hour driving distance of Cumberland Valley,” says Ashley Kurtz, the tourism bureau’s marketing manager. “Our beer trail features around 30 locations, so it makes a perfect weekend getaway for this audience.”
The beer trail was an instant hit: With assists from mobile partner Bandwango and marketing partner Carvertise, The Cumberland Valley Beer Trail continues to lure droves of hopheads (that’s slang for beer enthusiasts) to Cumberland Valley each year. How does the bureau continue to keep enthusiasts coming back for more? Here are four lessons learned for marketing a beer trail or similar experience:
Get the most bang for your marketing buck.
“Our beer trail advertising budget is limited, so we focus our paid ads on highly-targeted digital placements to craft beer enthusiasts,” says Kurtz. In 2022, the bureau added an out-of-home component by deploying fleets of Uber and Lyft vehicles wrapped in the Cumberland Valley Beer Trail’s colorful branding to roll through the streets of Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia for a three-month campaign. Drivers of the attention-getting vehicles, which included the message, “Cheers to a weekend getaway” and the beer trail’s website, also gave cards to passengers emblazoned with a vanity URL where they could go to plan their experience. Kurtz says those who saw the vehicles rolling through their city’s streets took notice, with many sharing photos of the cars on social media. “And it was a major bonus that some of the rideshare customers were on their way to or from a craft brewery!” Kurtz says. Another way to generate buzz is to engage influencers, says Emilie Harris, VP of sales and marketing for Bandwango, a company that provides digital solutions, such as gamified beverage trails, to destination marketing organizations. “You’ll get clicks on digital display ads, but the real engagement is in your storytelling.”
Expand your audience.
Don’t assume that the audience for beer trails is exclusive to craft beer connoisseurs, advises Harris. “Breweries are well-known family friend locations, and now they offer more beverage variety than ever before,” she says. “Cast a wide net in your marketing efforts.” Indeed, Cumberland Valley’s more than 30 tasting sites include a variety of different types of breweries, ranging from family-friendly farm locations with picnic tables to more traditional taprooms. Additionally, Kurtz said she found success promoting the trail at the participating locations throughout the trail. “Having branded, printed material on-site is really important” to keeping enthusiasts — well, enthused, she says.
Keep a close eye on ROI.
With few marketing dollars to spare, Cumberland Valley decided to work with Carvertise because of its attention-getting, interactive medium — and the fact that the company’s reporting mechanisms provided trackable ROI, which is historically difficult in the OOH space. And in the case of the three-month campaign it ran in 2022, the ROI was undeniable: During the campaign, Visit Cumberland Valley saw a 201% spike in traffic to the beer trail website from Philadelphia residents during the campaign; and a 215% percent spike in traffic from Washington, D.C. residents. Additionally, a survey of beer trail users in 2022 conducted by the bureau found that over half participated in the trail for the first time in 2022. “Carvertise brought the best of OOH placements in terms of value, reporting and flexibility,” Kurtz noted.
Don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Cumberland Valley adds new locations to its beer trail experience every year, along with some fun new finds on its website. Last year, for example, since the theme of the Beer Trail was the 1990s, it included a playlist full of throwback jams from the era (like “Mr. Jones” from Counting Crows) that visitors could listen to as they traveled around the valley.
The bottom line: When marketing a beer trail, or any type of destination experience, keep things interactive, memorable and