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BrewDog, maker of the world’s strongest beer, Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%) grew their business by 200% in the 2009 recession. Despite a tank-load of constraints. And they’d only been going two years!

The word constraint has negative connotations. A quick look in the thesaurus provides us with synonyms like restriction, limitation, hindrance, impediment, obstruction.

It implies a lack or deficiency. Not enough time, not enough money, not enough resources.

Today we live in a world of even more constraint. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to pile up. Marketing budgets have been ravaged. Staff are being laid off, so there are fewer people to do the work. Offices are off-limits depending on alert level and working from home has novel limitations.

What’s more, the world we market to has drastically changed. Your data from a few months ago is now out-of-date. Reports show that consumers advanced in their adoption of digital by the equivalent of five years in just eight weeks. The mass switch to digital channels demands rapid responses from businesses in order to seize opportunity and curb threats. Buying habits have changed as people focus on health, shop from home, and drop brand loyalty in favour of availability and cost.

It can feel crushing at times. But can constraints actually be good for us?

Look at it this way. Dr Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham on a bet that he couldn’t write a children’s book using only 50 words. He accepted the challenge and wrote one of the best-selling children’s books in history. Without the constraint of 50 words, the story wouldn’t exist.

Constraints drive creativity. They inspire innovation and uncover hidden talents. They force us to make choices we otherwise would not have thought about. Constraints make us think harder and differently.

For us as New Zealanders, this has long been ingrained in our culture. A little number 8 wire fixes anything, right? It’s in our makeup, that resilience to do anything bigger and better despite constraints – or because of them.

“We haven’t got the money, so we’ll have to think.” – Ernest Rutherford

If you’re feeling the constraints laid on by the global virus pandemic, read on to be reminded that you can flip seemingly crushing obstacles into creative gifts.

Take BrewDog brewery. The UK business got going just when the recession hit in 2008 but they managed to thrive with innovative thinking. It’s an inspiring example of turning constraints around and using them to your advantage – and how standing against something can be more powerful than standing for something.

BrewDog’s beginnings

A couple of guys with a passion for craft beer wanted to share their passion with the people. Driven by a disdain for market-dominated beer – in their words, “mainstream, industrial, monolithic, insipid, bland, tasteless, apathetic” beer – they set out to disrupt the industry with little money and no budget.

They differentiated themselves not just with their product but their ethos of going against the established order, taking a stand as the punks of the brewing world.

They started BrewDog in 2007 filling bottles by hand and selling at local markets. By their second year BrewDog was Scotland’s largest independent brewery. The growth was unreal, but then they took a hit. Enter the global recession. Banks weren’t lending money, people were panicking. How could they continue to grow in the middle of that?

‘Behave your way into being noticed’

With a lack of money blocking the usual advertising channels they had to find another way to stand out from the competition. As Adam Morgan says in his book about BrewDog’s success, “If you can’t spend your way into being noticed, one of your strongest strategic options is to behave your way into being noticed.” Drama gets attention.

From the get-go they stood out. Their attitude toward the state of the beer market was clear in their first brew, named Punk IPA with the tagline “Post Modern Classic.” They were edgy, anti-establishment, and ready to upset the status quo.

And they did. They brewed what was then the world’s strongest beer at 32% and called it ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin.’ They created the world’s most expensive beer and packaged it in roadkill (‘End of History’) and fermented at the bottom of the ocean (‘Sunk Punk’). They projected themselves naked on to the houses of Parliament and made a special beer for the Olympics (‘Never Mind the Anabolics’).

They launched a crowdfunding program called Equity for Punks, selling shares in their business online, and their “anti-business business model” started booming.

Their concepts inspired excellent visuals for social media and online platforms where money isn’t an issue. The ability to engage and connect is the currency, and they had that in spades.

Anti-establishment success

BrewDog grew by 200% during the world’s worst recession. The budget constraints they faced allowed them to free their thinking and make a bold stand against the status quo. They shunned traditional methods resulting in an average growth of 167% per year from 2008 to 2013, while many businesses were suffering the effects of the recession.

Today they have five breweries, bars around the world, a global reputation – and no sign of stopping. They continue to revolutionize the world of business by introducing concepts such as The Unicorn Fund, where they pledge to give away 20% of their profits every year – 10% to their team and 10% to charity – and by breaking the world record for Equity Crowd Funding.

It’s not just about beer anymore. BrewDog smashed the status quo and wrote the narrative for a whole new category, all because of constraints that could have finished them.

Drama is the game changer

The guys at BrewDog took full command of drama and used it in their name, products and story to gain worldwide attention. They surprised with something different and aroused curiosity about what they would do next. They stood up against tradition, in effect making their ‘mainstream’ competition obsolete as they created a new way to run things.

Humans are drawn to drama, conflict, tension. These are the drivers of the storytelling engine. The intensity of drama leaves a lasting impression and embeds in our memories. It arouses an emotional response and allows us to put ourselves in the story, feel the stress and tension, and want to stick around to find the resolution.

Using drama in marketing is a key strategy that doesn’t require a lot of resources. What it takes is creativity and dedication to make it work. It’s far easier to splash out with big money and buy up the advertising spots in the usual channels. But what’s more memorable? A flashy expensive ad or making a stand against something?

The world knows Greta Thunberg, a teenager, because she stood up for the environment. History is full of examples of people famous for standing up against convention. What they have in common is a powerful story driving them to rise above constraints, using drama to make their voice heard.

Will your brand stand up?

Especially now, with the constraints laid on by Covid-19, we have an opportunity to utilize drama in marketing to work around limitations and gain traction.

People want to feel again. They want to connect. Lockdown forced everyone to slow down, take a breath, and evaluate. The world changed for everyone. We are all presented with new threats, new opportunities, new constraints and new ways to break the mold. It’s up to us to act and flourish or give up and stagnate.

What will you do with the gift of constraint? Can your brand take a stand against the status quo? Can you use drama to turn the tables and rewrite the narrative?