Last week we discussed how the big boys of the beer industry are managing the slow death of their cash cows, spending their time reinforcing what many people see as bad stereotypes of beer swilling fat guys hanging around in womenless environments, slamming down the same low flavour, low strength lager year after year. Or as the marketer will call them ‘high volume users’ and ‘rusted on loyals’
I wasn’t surprised that there ain’t much love for the ‘big beer marketing arseholes’ amongst the craft beer scene or anywhere else for that matter; advertising execs myself included and big corporations are right up there with real estate agents and bankers as the most hated people in society. It’s okay we are so shallow that it washes right over us. The beer wankers seem to think that the craft beer scene is some utopian land where everyone loves each other, shares a beer and the dreaded M word is never spoken.
I’m here to tell you that beer geeks are generally deluded (seriously, how many times have you heard a beer wanker complain because there are only 12 beers on tap at the pub and they’ve tried them all? I myself was guilty of this just two days ago) and if the micro breweries out there aren’t thinking about marketing then they are deluded too, and won’t be in business for much longer.
I know what you’ll say, ‘microbrewers are different it’s all about the beer, they make beer styles that they want to make, styles that challenge me, they use the best ingredients and they care about me, and hug me, and read me bedtime stories of brewers dancing through hop fields and IPA flavoured rain’.
Sure all of this is right (well maybe with the exception of the bedtime stories), brewers constantly claim they brewed ‘insert beer name here’ because that’s what we wanted to drink, but I assure you they won’t make a second batch if they can’t sell the first.
They will make challenging styles, but only because there is a market out there who want challenging beers, or they think they can develop one through marketing. Hell being ‘challenging’ and weird could even be your USP (unique selling proposition), it certainly seems to work for Moondog, they just need to hope like hell that the market for their weird shit is big enough and that they can remain the crazy kids on the block if someone more innovative and wacky comes along.
Of course we all know that the craft guys use premium ingredients, unusual hop varieties, don’t cut corners and have special artisan based techniques but this just classic premiumisation. And I mean this as a marketing strategy not a ‘James Boags premium’ way, although James Boags premium is actually psedu-premiumisation done by a major brewer.
The basic concept is this the craft beer guys can never compete with the big guys on cost, they can’t get volume discounts on ingredients, they can’t afford the economy of scale of brewing millions of litres at a time, they don’t have the distribution and they have no power negotiating with retailers like Woolies and Coles who dominate the alcohol retail in this country like a fourteen year old playing the in under 8’s.
What is the only arena you can win on? Taste. You have to produce a product that is different. I should mention here that your product doesn’t actually have to be better (beer taste of course being such a subjective thing anyway, and many people thinking a good beer is one that is easy to drink) it only has to be different, the fact that it costs more than VB will lead the customer to understand the product is better.
This is also why the microbrewing community should be happy that SAB Miller and Kirin Holdings are happy to stick with the beer swilling bogans. To be premium a) you have to have a product that you are perceived to be better than and b) the buyers of premiums beers need people (read beer swilling bogans) to look down on.
Oh and there is no point pretending that we aren’t all massive beer snobs. You know more about beer than the masses, you have a right to look down on them. Don’t worry, although no one will mention it out loud but proving that you are better than other people is the primary motivation why people buy pretty much everything. If people really wanted equality Communism would have worked. As an aside my high school debating coach once told me (and yes I am aware that this is the dorkiest sentence ever written) that I had a special skills for bringing either Nazis or Communist into all arguments.
Make no bones about it, craft brewers are marketers just as much as the big brewers are. It’s just that the big brewers are using big media to do it. Their market is huge and mainstream so they use huge mainstream media to reach it. If they sponsor sport they’ll sponsor the NRL or the AFL, if they want to get involved with music they will sponsor the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ national tour, when they run sales promos they give away fridges. Sure it’s generally impersonal and plays to the stereotypes, but they are mainstream product, that’s what you do. And yeah it feels irrelevant and out-dated because, for you (and me) it is, we have evolved into enlightened craft beer drinking guys, but before you judge them, remember they aren’t talking to you.
Craft beers use all the same tricks, just on a smaller scale. Sure they can’t afford to sponsor the AFL, (and let’s face it the wastage would be huge) but you might see a Mountain Goat logo on the Rockdogs jumper at the Community Cup, or they might sponsor a fundraising concert for a community garden, or give away special Goat packs for Christmas. And where VB uses television, Bridge Road use Twitter. It might look less sophisticated, but it is just as sophisticated as the big guys and it’s just as hard, if not harder because we think of small breweries like friends, we expect them to treat us special, all the time. And some breweries probably don’t even know they are ‘marketing’ as such, they are just running their business and talking to their customers.
So don’t hate the mainstream guys, without them craft beer would lose their point of difference. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are not being marketed to by the craft guys, it’s just that you don’t mind them talking to you because you like them and their products.
Next week – Could the Craft guys market better? What I consider the six pack of success for Microbreweries.