Wisconsin School of Business helps Capital Brewery tap into craft beer markets

August 27, 2015 By Peter Kerwin

The craft beer market is booming, which is good news for Capital Brewery, one of Wisconsin’s first craft breweries and an iconic Madison brand. But the craft scene shifts quickly, and to keep up, Capital recently enlisted help from the University of Wisconsin—Madison.

Last spring, MBA students from the Wisconsin School of Business completed a case study on Capital Brewery as part of a brand management course led by Tom O’Guinn, a professor of marketing. The students considered how Capital, a well-known brand with an established local market share, could position itself to capture more growth in the expanding craft beer market.

Capital Brewery’s Bier Stube

“A few years ago, craft beers were only four or five percent of the market, and we’re now seeing a wave of growth that started on the West Coast and is moving our way, with that market going to 25 to 30 percent,” says Scott Wiener, president of Capital Brewery. “We needed to capture that growth opportunity.”

O’Guinn’s class broke into eight groups, each tackling a different aspect of the marketing challenge facing the brewery. The company opened up its books, allowed students to speak to local distributors, and provided a rare look at its financial issues and manufacturing challenges.

The students developed detailed recommendations around five issues: expanding distribution in key regional target markets; creating a marketing strategy for Capital’s Middleton-based facility; elevating its flagship Wisconsin Amber; identifying the Capital Brewery consumer and best marketing approaches; and examining the untapped potential for craft soda.

Capital Brewery is now in the process of implementing the recommendations and has hired two of the MBA students to assist with the rebranding and expansion effort. Tim Annis was hired as a consultant to help implement expanded distribution strategies and efforts to target the millennial market, and Daniel Antivilo was brought on to make improvements to the company’s website to support expanded social media efforts.

“It’s a collaboration that will allow us to take advantage of a unique opportunity to grow our business and expand our brand.”

Richard King

“This project gave Wisconsin MBA students a chance to see the economic impact of their ideas and to help one of the oldest craft breweries in the state compete in a rapidly changing market,” says O’Guinn. “As a result of this partnership, the MBA students were able to tackle a real-world problem and get a better understanding of the challenges business leaders face on a regular basis.”

Wiener and Richard King, a shareholder and director at Capital, say the company was impressed with the caliber of data analysis provided by the students. “The students came up with important, relevant insights that will allow us to expand our presence in a growing craft beer market while remaining true to our brand,” he says.

“It’s one thing to have a gut feeling, as many of us did, about how to proceed in a time when our industry is changing,” King adds. “But it is so valuable to be able to partner with the Wisconsin School of Business and work with these MBA students, who have great professional experience and a tremendous understanding of the latest marketing trends and tools. It’s a collaboration that will allow us to take advantage of a unique opportunity to grow our business and expand our brand.”