business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Seattle Times reports that last Friday, a tap was turned on in the city of Bruges, Belgium - a tap that connects to a two-mile pipeline capable of carrying 1,000 gallons of beer per hour "from one of the country’s oldest still-operating breweries in the center of Bruges to a bottling plant on its outskirts."

The creating of the pipeline by De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) brewery got a lot of attention when it was first announced almost two years ago. The goal was to avoid using tanker trucks to run the beer back and forth, since that traffic could have a deleterious impact on the city's aging infrastructure, not to mention being expensive; the theory was that if so many other of life's necessities - water, electricity, cable television - could be carried via pipes, why not beer?

But what I found intriguing about the project - beyond the obvious - is the fact that much of the $4.5 million needed to build the pipeline was raised from people who were promised that in exchange for their largesse, they'd get free beer.

According to the story, "Backers are to be rewarded 'with free beer for life in proportion to their contribution ... For example, someone that only made a small investment will get maybe a pack of beer every year on his birthday. But someone who paid the maximum amount may receive up to one bottle of beer a day for the rest of his or her life.”

Again, beyond the obvious appeal of this program, it seems to me that there is something important to learned here. De Halve Maan got not just customer loyalty, but investment ... and it likely will reap the benefits of those investments for years in terms of repeat business.

It can't and won't always be with beer pipelines or even crowdsourcing. But brands of all sorts have to find ways to make consumers feel invested in their products and services ... to feel that they are part of the business in a way that transcends simple transactions.

One way - and Eye-Opening way - is to build a beer pipeline and get customers to pay for it.
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