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Andrew Katz of Athletic Brewing speaks to students at Fuqua

“The two biggest stumbling blocks are first that people haven’t heard of us, and second that they think nonalcoholic beer isn’t for them,” said Andrew Katz, Chief Marketing Officer at Athletic Brewing Company, which makes a wide range of nonalcoholic beers.

But with AdWeek naming Athletic Brewing Co. one of the hottest brands of 2022, and with 80% of the company’s customers also drinking regular beer, it seems those stumbling blocks are being hurdled.

In a fireside chat moderated by I&E instructor Aaron Dinin, whose course Building Global Audiences teaches students to expand their online platforms, Katz shared his journey in the wellness, fitness, and food and beverage industries, along with strategies for content marketing, audience building, and leveraging brand ambassadors.

He described the company’s approach to amplification—embracing hyper-local face-to-face marketing, organized events, and digital marketing—as well as its social media strategy, which includes spotlighting spokespeople like J.J. Watt, defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals, and how Athletic Brewing Co. forges natural partnerships, such as those with ARRIBA and Justin’s.

Katz continually emphasized the importance of mission, saying that in the current brand-crowded landscape, customers only stick with companies whose values resonate with their own. In the case of Athletic Brewing Co., that means “positively impacting our customers’ health, fitness, and happiness while greatly impacting our communities and environment for the better.” Katz said companies have to walk the walk when it comes to mission, citing Athletic Brewing Co.’s 2% donation, for the sale of every product, towards protecting and restoring local trails.

“We have an opportunity to do positive things in the world,” Katz said. “And customers notice when we do.”

Andrew Katz, center, poses with students at a networking reception featuring Athletic Brewing Co. non-alcoholic beers
Andrew Katz, center, poses with students at a networking reception featuring Athletic Brewing Co. non-alcoholic beers

Following a Q/A, students gathered to chat with Katz at a networking reception featuring Athletic Brewing Co. beers. When Dinin took a photo of the group, he switched into professor mode. “Make sure your logos are showing,” he called, prompting laughter.

More Session Highlights

Find Your “Why”

Considering why marketing matters, Katz cited the ability to measure impact. “For me it’s creative ideas that deliver results,” he explained. “There are infinite choices out there in the world. You think about your brand all the time, but nobody else does. How do you, as a marketer, get people to care? They have to buy into something larger than the product.”

Set Yourself Apart

Katz, who has worked for more established brands—including Heineken—said that working for a startup comes with unique opportunities. “We get to introduce a lot of new people to our product. We’re building a foundational relationship with people. You’re also not constrained in what you do, because there’s no roadmap or playbook. It’s a lot of trial, a lot of testing and learning.”

Find Your People

In exploring the idea of finding the first hundred customers, Katz advised students to consider “what problem they have that you also have.” For Athletic Brewing Co., this question was, “I need to go find active people—where will I find them?” The answer was to go to road races, for just the cost of an entry fee, and simply to give away beers at the finish line. “People were asking, ‘Where have you been?’”

Discover Your Inner Influencer

Katz interrupted himself, during one response, to ask who among the audience considered themselves influencers. “Two people?” he said with a laugh. “No, you should all be raising your hands. You’re all influencers, you’re all creators.” Katz urged students not to underestimate the power of their authentic reactions and recommendations.

To parlay that into brand partnerships, he said, students should follow their strengths and interests. “Who thinks like you? Who acts like you? Who’s mission-driven like you?”