Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wisconsin's Brewer's [sic] Guild

Ability to recognize proper grammar aside, what do you see as the role of the Wisconsin Brewers' Guild? It might help to know what a Brewers' Guild is, first. A "Guild", in its simplest form, is merely an association of craftsmen (craftspeople? craftspersons?).

An association for what end? Ah, well that's the question we're looking to solve. Why are we looking to "solve" this "problem" - another good question. Well, I suspect they might be interested in hearing what you have to say. I'm sure that the Guild has its own ideas of what purpose it holds for its members. But a nice check on whether that matches expectations might be useful, eh?

Associations exist for any number of reasons. Perhaps one of the most obvious is to pool resources. In the case of guilds, this can be monetary resources where a common fund is established to help pay for common costs. A classic example of a common cost is legal and lobbying fees to represent the guild and/or its members before legislative and judicial bodies.

But, it can also be a human resources pool, where labor is shared amongst those in the pool. This is commonly the case for apprentices in an industry; low-labor is pooled to ensure proper training in a broad application of areas and to determine fit with any given master.

Guild members might also pool raw materials. This is especially useful where a given raw material can be scarce or have scarcity problems; it can also be useful where there are particular advantages to group purchasing.

But there are other purposes that guilds can serve as well. For example, a guild can be a quasi-legislative body instituting its own rules for membership and production and thereby establishing norms that may differ from actual law. This is seen primarily in the European wine industry where, what began as guilds, associations establish production requirements for wine receiving a particular Appellation of Origin or Designation of Control. For example, the Champagne Guild determines what is, and is not, Champagne. Another example is the Business Software Alliance ("BSA") that enforces Software Licenses on behalf of its members - when you click "I Agree" you are agreeing to a set of rules different from (but fully within) the actual laws of the United States. The BSA undertakes to draft model licenses and enforces those agreements on behalf of its members. These are examples of quasi-legislative functions for guilds.

A guild can also serve a quasi-judicial function for resolving disputes amongst its members. This keeps such disputes out of the public eye and reduces tarnishing the industry's name because of petty squabbles. A good example of this is the NFL and NFL Players' Association, or really any League and/or Players' Association, where the Association itself metes out punishments for violating League rules.

A guild can also be a marketing body. This is a subset of the pooled-resources function but is a specific and rather large subset. In this case, members of an industry pool cash resources to market on behalf of the entire industry. This only works well if membership in the association is "mandatory", otherwise those paying members of the guild advertising on behalf of the industry would benefit, but so would those choosing not to become members of the guild (and, not contributing to the cash pool), so you have a free-rider problem. This can be a very effective form of marketing since it doesn't focus on the product differentiation of a specific producer (often seen as self-serving advertisement) but rather product differentiation for a whole class of goods and/or services. For example, "this is why Wisconsin beer is better than 'outsider' beer". A great example of this is the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board's "Wisconsin Cheese" brand and marketing. Indeed, this kind of branding often goes hand-in-hand - Idaho Potatoes being another classic example.

So, as you can see, a guild can serve a lot of functions. Which of these functions might be appropriate for the Wisconsin Brewers' Guild? And does the Brewers' Guild effectively meet or serve those functions?

One place that you can find out at the Wisconsin Brewers' Guild Technical Conference on February 19th from 8am-1:30pm. This opportunity is not only a good example of pooled resources (education), but also the marketing function (via the Wisconsin Beer Lover program) that a guild can perform. So, if you're interested in seeing the benefits of an association of people around a common industry, you should sign up for the Conference (rates are pretty reasonable, actually).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.