Seeking an innovative way to elevate your tourism brand? A collaborative product might be just what your DMO needs to enhance your brand's image, reach, and profitability. Two Simpleview clients — Visit Athens and The Golden Isles Convention & Visitors Bureau — offered their insights on successfully forging partnerships with compatible brands.

Crafting the Perfect Partnership

The Golden Isles CVB created Georgia’s first co-branded, locally brewed beer  — Golden Isles IPA — which launched in November 2022 in partnership with Silver Bluff Brewing Co. The Golden Isles CVB and Silver Bluff were awarded the Al Burrus Award for Creative Expression at the 2023 Georgia Tourism Awards for developing a public relations initiative with the partnership and launch of Golden Isles IPA. 

Visit Athens partnered with Athentic Brewing Company to create Wide Open IPA which launched during a special community event on April 13, 2023. The beer was inspired by Visit Athens’s new tagline, “We’re Always Open,” which channels the creative energy and welcoming atmosphere of Athens, Georgia. 

Marcie Kicklighter, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications at The Golden Isles CVB, and Hannah Smith, Director of Marketing & Communications at Visit Athens, shared their best practices to identify the right co-branding opportunity for your destination. We hope this Q&A provides inspiration for your DMO to gain a competitive edge by harnessing the potential of collaboration.

Headshots of Marcie Kicklighter and Hannah Smith

How was the partnership established with your local brewery?

Golden Isles: We were thrilled to welcome Silver Bluff to the Golden Isles. They're deeply community-oriented, much like us. The brewery's name, Silver Bluff, symbolizes unity in our community. Their intentional approach resonated with us, as we aim to treat the Golden Isles as one cohesive destination. We share similar values, emphasizing community involvement and enhancing residents' quality of life. As a CVB,  it's really important that we give back to our community that not everything we're doing is focused on the visiting population.

Visit Athens: We chose Athentic because of their dedication to local events and collaboration with other creatives. This partnership aligns with our new brand's focus on the creative community. Athentic is a play on the town name of Athens, using "Athen'' at the beginning instead of "authentic."

Was the IPA a re-brand of an existing product or a launch of a new product completely?

Golden Isles: Golden Isles IPA was already a popular beer called American IPA. We collaborated with Silver Bluff, leveraging our marketing expertise to rebrand it. One thing that I think has been extremely beneficial for both of us is already taking their existing best-selling beer and then rebranding it with an already very well-established brand. 

Visit Athens: Wide Open IPA is not only an all-new beer, it uses experimental hops, which really captures the spirit of creativity in our brand and destination. The experimental HBC 1019 hop has received rave reviews as a “potent but pleasing mix of citrus, tropical, and stone fruits.”

A tabletop display of Golden Isles IPA with a QR code to learn more
Photo provided by The Golden Isles CVB

How was the product launch process executed?

Golden Isles: Since launching Golden Isles IPA in November 2022, this partnership boosted brewery sales by 70%. We integrated QR codes on cans for easy access to our landing page. Additionally, we utilized physical signage, table tents, and other pieces of printed collateral at local grocery stores, liquor stores, and bars. Simultaneously, we crafted compelling content for our landing page, highlighting the beer's story and its ties to the Golden Isles community. 

Visit Athens: Conversations began in early January 2023 to align the beer's launch with the debut of Visit Athens' new brand in April. We debuted both Wide Open and our brand at a beer launch party at Athentic, emphasizing our partnership rather than a corporate unveiling of our new branding. There was live music, of course, and we had a great turnout, with everyone from our mayor and local officials to movers and shakers of our performing and visual arts scene in attendance.

Where are your products available?

Golden Isles: In addition to its permanent tap at Silver Bluff Brewing Co. in Downtown Brunswick and restaurants and liquor stores across Georgia, Golden Isles IPA is also available online, and we've expanded distribution regionally and nationally. We've seen tremendous success in reaching new markets while maintaining our brand's integrity.

Visit Athens: Wide Open has stayed on tap at Athentic. There are also several bars and restaurants in Athens that’ve had good sales of the beer. We’re holding an Industry Night at Athentic to introduce Wide Open IPA to more bar managers and distributors to increase awareness and distribution across area bars, restaurants, and retail outlets. Wide Open IPA is available in 16 oz. cans in addition to draft.

What's next for your IPA?

Golden Isles: We're exploring merchandise opportunities and considering seasonal variations. Collaborating with other destinations statewide for special events opens up exciting possibilities for cross-promotion. We're working on developing branded coasters with the QR code for use in restaurants. We’d also like to develop merchandise for Golden Isles IPA to include branded pint glasses, shirts, hats, and stickers.  

Visit Athens: Wide Open IPA is the first in a series of collaborations, reflecting our focus on the creative community. We're taking it one step at a time, focusing on local businesses and artists, and will expand based on market reception. We're also focusing on increasing distribution and awareness through industry events and partnerships.

A six pack of Golden Isles IPA sits on a wooden railing in front a beach spotted with palm trees
Photo provided by The Golden Isles CVB

What promotional tactics have been used to raise awareness of your IPA?

Golden Isles: We leveraged our existing media relationships to amplify the beer's story through publications like Food and Wine Magazine and Travelzoo. Our visitor guide, social channels, and paid media campaigns also played a significant role in spreading awareness. This is an award-winning beer and now an award-winning partnership and that makes you realize the product is so much more than a beer, it’s a lifestyle. Silver Bluff has been able to share that story through the local brewery industry, on a state level, and now on a national level. 

Visit Athens: The Wide Open IPA has been used in gift baskets at the Classic Center Theatre so visiting performing artists will have a taste of Athens. We also make it available for visiting media that come on press trips and meeting planners that come for site inspections. We’ve also taken Wide Open IPA to the Georgia Society of Association Executives annual events where a lot of our meeting planner client leads originate.

A screenshot of a Facebook post from Cheers Beverage Shop showing 6 Wide Open IPA's stacked in front of a window 
Photo provided by Visit Athens

What are the keys to a successful partnership?

Golden Isles: Successful partnerships entail recognizing each team's strengths and allowing them to flourish in their respective areas. We brought marketing resources to the table, while Silver Bluff provided the product. It's crucial to align strategically and ensure mutual benefit. Be intentional and don't let financial concerns overshadow potential opportunities. Consider what product makes the best sense for your brand. Think creatively and explore diverse product opportunities that align with your brand's values and goals. 

Visit Athens: It makes a real difference that we are working with local makers and creatives and that it's really true to Athens. It's our logo along with something that was created locally and packaged using local art. I think that's what the local partners and visitors value as part of an authentic experience. Emphasize partnerships that reflect your community's identity and values. Adapt concepts to suit your destination’s unique offering to stay true to your community.

What considerations should DMOs be mindful of when creating a co-branded product? 

Golden Isles: I would implore any other destinations to keep in mind how valuable their identity is. It is important that for any branding product or opportunity, you're aligned with this potential partner strategically and have similar core values and missions. We were nervous to put our brand on an alcoholic beverage not only because this is going to represent our brand, but does it represent our destination? We began working with an attorney to establish a profit sharing mechanism, while also maintaining our brand integrity and considering any potential legal repercussions. I highly recommend any CVB or DMO looking to do a brand to work with a legal representative just to make sure you're going about it the right way and you're protecting yourself. 

Visit Athens: Shifting our mindset from marketing our destination to product sales was a new endeavor. We have not sold products directly in the past, so we're navigating point-of-sale options and building merch sales alongside product launches. Local businesses have embraced these collaborations which emphasize community value.

What additional co-branded products are slated?

Visit Athens: After the beer launch, we approached Condor Chocolates, a local Ecuadorian bean-to-bar chocolatier, for a collaboration. A mold with our logo on it was created for the chocolate bar, and a local artist did the package design featuring our logo, the red from our brand, and a QR code to our website. The leaves on the packaging are Gingko, the official tree of Athens. We soft-launched the chocolate bar at the end of October, and a public launch is forthcoming. 

This winter, we’re launching Wide Open Coffee to align with our brand in partnership with Jittery Joe’s, a beloved coffee roaster in Athens. We chose partners strategically based on their scale and distribution footprint. Once all products are launched, we'll showcase them and promote them as part of our authentic Athens experience. 

Cheers to Co-Branding

Visit Athens and The Golden Isles CVB creatively collaborated with local businesses to create unique products that not only reflect their destination’s identity but also contribute to the local community and economy. Both cases highlight the importance of aligning values, being intentional, and protecting brand integrity while exploring such partnerships.

Visit Athens staff pose for a picture with glasses of Wide Open IPA in front of a red umbrella

Photo provided by Visit Athens

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