Beny Ashburn was a marketing professional who for fifteen years created commercials for companies like Beats by Dre and Sonos. Teo Hunter worked in entertainment product marketing, packaging, and design (also for Beats, Universval, Paramount, and Warner Bros.) Between the two of them, they were helping these brands get millions of views.
There came a point when they decided to do this kind of work for themselves. And the industry they chose? Beer.
Black people love beer
Teo was a lover of beer. But not just any beer. Quality, craft beer. He had a palette for fine ales, sours, IPAs, and Belgiums. He passed this love of beer onto Beny, who eventually fell in love with the culture surrounding craft beer.
But they noticed that there weren't any strong craft beer brands in communities of color. Seeing a void that needed to be filled, they started the BlackPeopleLoveBear handle on Instagram, and it took off from there. They would start a premium craft beer label with communities of color in mind, and seven years ago Crowns & Hops was born.
They believe that what they're doing is bigger than just beer. “Most communities of color have only been introduced to or marketed to nothing but poorly made commercial beer,” Teo says. The irony is that people of color have been involved in the making of beers and fine fermented drinks for thousands of years. “Some of the oldest recordings of beers in hieroglyphics you see black woman in fermentation,” Beny shares.
It’s about the culture, not the color
Despite their recognition that there hasn’t been any prominent presence of craft beer in communities of color, the marketing and production of their brand is not geared towards “people of color” per se. When asked if it is, Beny answers, “We market to dope culture. It was really important for us that looking at the cans, you didn't necessarily say, 'Oh, that's a black beer.' There's no black beer. It doesn't really make any sense. It's the same four ingredients across all beers, just brewed in our various ways. What we wanted people to identify is that's a dope-ass label. That's a cool-ass brand. Who is that?”
Teo adds his two cents on the topic. “I think that's why we lead with culture is because beer doesn't have a color. You know, I think people have asked us like what type of beers do you brew for black people?' Great beers!" Whether you’re black, white, brown, whatever, they wanted to create something that spoke to people.
Launching with Instagram
Beny (who is the “dope” CEO) and Teo (COO and head of brewing) started their entire brand on Instagram. They understood that they could use Instagram to connect with people in a way they never had before.
Beny would plan out their feed creating squares in Google docs. But it was the advice of a marketing consulting company out of Canada who said they should be strategic around everything they do related to social media. They were encouraged to find a tool that would allow them to plan out their feed. Once they found UNUM, they haven’t turned back. “It has been a complete saving grace for us,” Beny says.
Teo expands further. “We use it for freaking everything. Use it for ideas, use it for new concepts; use it for promoting and raising money. We literally use it for everything you can possibly think of as it relates to social media. It's really like our compass. It has been invaluable."
They share copy and visuals via UNUM, and have meetings twice a week where they go through and review their feeds. They are both still very much hands-on when it comes to planning and publishing their social media posts.
Given the kind of work they’ve done for global brands, paired with the success of their own craft beer brand, we couldn’t end our interview with them without getting some advice. Their best advice can be simplified down to two words: consistency and authenticity.
"Be considerate about your posts, and ensure that they are authentic to your brand, your mission, your voice,” Beny advises. “And then step two is that once you start to pay attention to your audience responses and you know the overall direction of your brand, as you grow, then do your best to create consistency and some kind of a template or a guide in the things that you're posting. Because people love to get familiar with seeing the same types of posts, maybe different creative, but the same, overall template."
When it comes to consistency, a huge part of it is putting yourself out there. They say that sometimes people wait for perfection and they don't do anything. But you have to post.
"Consistency is key,” Teo continues. “I think so many people get stuck on what they think will work, what they think won’t work; what will get likes, what won't get likes. And then they just freeze. And I think what UNUM allows us to do is to get all that thinking out at once, make sure it looks beautiful and then just go!"
He continues. “We had a digital strategist tell us that hesitating is a reason why a lot of people never see their success realized. They're always waiting for someone to validate it. They're always waiting for someone to say it's okay. So, to that point, the last piece of advice I would give it to just be 100% your authentic self. There's enough of everybody else—there's enough of everybody doing the same dances, the same conversations, the same hashtags. Make up your own hashtag; make up your own phrase. Be authentic. Be you. Because that will ultimately be your point of differentiation. You're going to come up with your own fun things that people are going to gravitate to, and then someone will be copying you. So just trust yourself and be consistent."
Expanding the vision
Over the past few years Beny and Teo have been able to get their beer on the shelves of major shopping outlets in California, Nevada, Arizona, New York, and Atlanta. But now they are looking to take the Crowns and Hops brand to a new level of ownership.
They are starting an equity crowdfunding program for their communities, something you've never seen before. "It isn't something that's offered to our communities very often,” Beny comments. “Especially as it relates to a product that you're already purchasing and you're already consuming. Now, you get to go to the store and say, 'I'm buying something that I own.' which is amazing. And it's a hundred percent a step forward for communities in the building of generational wealth, which isn't conversations that we're necessarily raised to have."
"A mind stretched by a new idea can never return to its original form."
That quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes is one of Teo’s favorites. He and Beny feel it’s their responsibility to stretch the minds of others with new ideas. Between the expansion of their brand, and their continued use of UNUM to create a “dope-ass” IG feed, I have no doubt that millions of minds will be stretched by this dynamic duo.