I went to dinner with my wife recently, and I felt like having a nice, cold beer.  When our waitress came to the table, I asked if they had one of my favorite beers; a Sam Adams. I happen to really like the taste of that particular beer. Turns out the restaurant didn’t serve Sam Adams.  I went down the list of beers that I know and like, and it turned out that they didn’t serve any of them.

What they did serve was a variety of IPA beers. For those who don’t know what I’m referring to, IPA stands for “India Pale Ale.” It is defined as “a hoppy style of beer within the pale ale category.”  Some popular local Maryland IPA’s are known for their rather colorful names, such as Flying Dog Dead Rise, Stillwater Classique, Union Craft Duckpin, Jailbreak Big Punisher, and many more.  Seems like a new IPA beer with a funny IPA beer name is born every five minutes. I’m quite sure some of these beers might even be tasty, but how would you actually know?

I suppose you could ask the waitress, as I did, but it’s almost impossible to get an answer that provides any help whatsoever. When I did ask, I got the following response:  “Oh, it’s hoppy, with a nice barley taste, and a touch of fruitiness.”

Well, that certainly explains it.  I tried pushing a little harder, by calmly telling the waitress that I had no idea what a “hoppy” and “nice barley” beer would taste like.  I asked her if she could compare the taste to any beer I might actually know. When I got a shrug of the shoulders and a vacant stare from my waitress, I knew what I had been suspecting: she had no idea what the beer tasted like.

I think they would have been better off calling this product what it truly is: A mystery beer… and therein lies the problem. I know I’m going to step on some toes of true beer drinking aficionados, but I believe the IPA Emperor has no clothes.  It’s time to speak up.  Disagree? Well, imagine for a moment, if we marketed and sold other products this way:

  • Imagine if we ordered our meals this way. “Just bring me a box of food with a unique, funny name that means nothing to me and surprise me.”
  • Imagine if we purchased books this way. “Forget the authors I typically like, or the genre of books I tend to enjoy.  Just bring me something with a blank cover, and charge me for it.  I’m sure I’ll like it.”
  • Imagine if we tried to sell ourselvesthis way. “I’m quite sure I can help your company.  I’m talented in my own unique, mysterious way. Trust me.”

Now tell me what that tastes like!

I’m not against taking risks or trying new things now and then, but there’s a bigger message here.  Successful companies do not make a mystery out of what they are selling. Successful companies are often extremely forthright in letting us know what problem they are addressing.  We need to be cautious – verycautious – that we never market anything the way an IPA beer is currently being marketed… unless your goal is to brand your product as a mystery item.  If that is your goal, drop me a line and tell me how that’s working for you.

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