Who Drinks Beer and Why

February 11, 2019
Julie Myers, Freelance Writer
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Beer copywriters need to understand why people drink craft beer, not how it is made. Consumer motivations are more important than the mechanics of beer-making.

There are two types of craft beer writers: beer journalists and beer copywriters.

  1. Beer journalists write in-depth articles on craft beers and the industry.
  2. Beer copywriters create brand stories, beer names, packaging copy and other marketing texts.

Beer journalists require extensive knowledge of craft beers and the craft beer industry. The North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW.org) lists 158 members, most of them beer reviewers and journalists.

A list of beer copywriters is at the bottom of this article.

Millennials drive the industry

According to the Beer Institute, consumer preference for beer over other alcoholic beverages dropped to 49.7% in 2016 from 60.8% in the mid-1990s. Mainstream beers have been hardest hit, but they still account for 70% of all beer consumed in the U.S. Increased craft beer sales haven't come close to making up for the declining sales of mainstream beer.

Although millennials are driving craft beer production and consumption, they are also choosing wine and spirits over beer.

All craft beer drinkers say their reasons for choosing non-commercial beer are:

  • They think craft beer tastes better
  • They want locally made beer
  • They want to support independent brewers
  • They enjoy trying different beers

Millennials and brands

Millennial consumptions of craft beer falls fall within a broader context. Angela Woo of Alter Agents, a market research consultancy, summed up millennial buying behaviors in a 2018 Forbes article.

  • 60% of millennials choose brands that are an expression of their personality and make them feel good about themselves.
  • 50% of millennials choose experiences over material goods.
  • Millennials as twice as likely as GenXers to try new brands; they have no brand loyalty even though a brand has been reliable.
  • 30% of millennials wait for a peer recommendation before trying a new brand; they ignore brand marketing and pay attention to social media and product reviews.
  • 50% of millennials want marketing to be personalized and targeted to their interests.

Millennials and related trends

When brewers focus on taste, they miss the real motives that drive craft beer drinkers. To understand the reasons millennials consume craft beer, we can look at two related phenomena: third-wave coffee and craft spirits.

Third-wave coffee

Third-wave coffee shares many characteristics with craft beer. It began as a reaction against commercial coffee like Folgers and the over-roasted coffee marketed by Starbucks. Like craft beer, third-wave coffee consumption is driven by millennials who enjoy being in the know, experimenting with coffee flights, and displaying one-upmanship about coffee knowledge.

  • An affluent hipster consumer
  • Knowledge base used for social one-upmanship
  • Third place spaces that foster a sense of belonging

Craft spirits

In 2013, MediaPost noticed the rise in small-batch bourbons, whiskeys, and single malt Scotches. This rise could be traced back to millennials who were choosing craft spirits over big distributors based on four attitudes:

  • Desire for exclusivity (hard but not impossible to find)
  • Preference for local
  • Nostalgic longings
  • Appreciation for distillation process and passion

Craft beer psychographics

An extensive 2013 study found there are two types of craft beer consumers: experienced and beginners. Experienced craft beer drinkers can be further segmented into the following groups:

  • Explorers – do not care about educating themselves on the science of craft beer making, but want to try to flavors and go to breweries and they identify with craft beer culture (largest group of craft drinkers)
  • Enthusiasts – identifies with the passion and history of craft beer making, gains sense of prestige through beer knowledge, proud of contribution to local economy.
  • Loyalists – loyal to certain beers or brands, influenced by location and convenience, know what they like but do not invest effort in learning about beer making

Reasons for choosing craft brands

Millennials want a beer that is hip, exclusive and reflects their own values including social responsibility. They choose beers without loyalty in order to have new experiences. When a brand becomes too mainstream, it is no longer hip.

  • Craft beer fosters a tribal sense of belonging though tasting flights, brewery events, and beer festivals.
  • Enthusiasts enjoy the bragging rights that come with knowing about craft beers and brewing.
  • Explorers and Enthusiasts enjoy experiencing the many varieties of craft beer and are brand promiscuous.
  • Loyalists are often loyal to a specific style, but not to a specific brand.
  • Only the most extreme Enthusiasts care about the science of brewing and can discuss the merits of different beers.

All craft beers claim taste and quality. Although great beer taste alone isn't enough to sell your brand, shitty taste is enough to kill it.

You'll only succeed in the long term if the beer is up to snuff.

Jason Notte, Crash Course in Beer Marketing

Craft beer is self-expression

Millennials have their own ways of expressing themselves. Craft beer is one of them. As Olivia LedBetter points out in Barkley, drinking brands perceived as authentic "helps millennials express their own individuality."

Craft beer drinkers believe drinking craft beer is hip, adventurous and different. Because of this belief, most craft beer drinkers describe themselves as being educated, independent, open-minded and willing to try new things.

Craft Beer and Consumer Behavior

This motivation isn't new. Journalist Lew Bryson describes similar feelings he had when switching to microbrews in the 1990s.

But mostly I wanted to be different, special, like many of us do. I wanted to like things that others didn’t know about, wanted people to come to my home and see things that weren’t like every other house. There was the camaraderie of being part of the Beer Tribe, an in-the-know clan that at that time was truly small....Therefore, examining myself, I drank non-mainstream beer because it was different; because it was local or political; because it made me part of a special group; and because I liked it.

Lew Bryson, All About Beer Magazine

Craft beer is tribal

According to a study of craft beer buyer behaviors, craft beer is most often consumed in a social setting, such as watching sports with friends. eating out, or at a party. It is part of belonging to the group. Knowledgeable enthusiasts gain bragging rights. One survey respondent said, "Peer pressure and how you want to be perceived in social settings are big influences."

Craft beer is rebellious

The "quirkiness" of craft beer tastes also appeals to younger demographics who see themselves as challenging the status quo. Price and recommendations from peers also influence brand preference.

Craft beer is social

Students at Western Washington University did a comprehensive study in 2017 that examined the consumer behaviors of craft beer drinkers. They found that social connections are an important motivator in craft beer purchases.

Marketing craft beer

Craft drinkers expect better quality, but quality is not a brand differentiator. Differentiators include the brand story and location of brewery, level of social responsibility, unique events and experiences, and sense of community forged in person and digitally.

Most craft drinkers cite taste and quality as important reasons for preferring craft beer over commercial beer. This dovetails with the reason craft breweries exist – to create better beers – and how most crafts are marketed.

[Mass] beer is marketed, on television and in print, by making you think you’ll be cool or get the girl with their product.   Craft beer is marketed, mostly not on television, on its merits as a beer, with emphasis on flavor and the ingredients that went into making the product.

The Beer Snob

Channels

Most independent, small breweries rely on brewery events, local partnerships, and user generated social media to market their beer.

  • There is no budget for traditional marketing and advertising. Millennials see traditional marketing as unauthentic, anyway.
  • The best channel for a craft beer is social media, such as Instagram.
  • Brewer events provide shareable moments and forge real connections.
  • Peer recommendations are very important in trying new beers.

Brand elements

Craft beers originally positioned themselves against mass beer as "better beer." But it is extremely difficult for craft beers to differentiate themselves from each other. Brewers attempt to differentiate themselves based on product attributes such as quality and style. This approach does not resonate with most craft drinkers.

Your brand story is expressed in your design and copywriting. Your brand story is the mythology you want prospects and customers to believe about your brand. It has to represent your values and vision as a company.

Beer experiences

Craft beer consumers are brand promiscuous because they enjoy the adventure of experiencing many new beers.

  • To be successful, a brewer must produce a varied portfolio of beers, even if that portfolio is limited in production or by seasonality.
  • Half of craft drinkers said they chose to visit a tasting room rather than a traditional bar because of the ability to sample a variety of beers via flights and because the atmosphere is friendlier.

Third-place experience

Starbucks perfected the coffeehouse as a third-place experience. Millennials are finding the same social outlet at brewery and brewpub events such as tastings.

  • A recent study by Harris Poll  showed 66% of millennials believe attending live events and experiences make them "more connected to other people, the community and the world" and they're willing to invest in them.

Social connections

Connections can be made face-to-face or digitally. Millennials enjoy interactive digital connections and apps that improve their beer experience.

Ideology

A brewer's brand story must be unique. It must express values that a millennial wants to be identified with. This means being having a commitment to the social good and giving back to the community.

Geographical roots

According to Nielsen Information, information about where a beer was produced mattered to consumers, but heritage and brewing claims did not. Likewise, illustrations of hops on labels did not register positively with consumers. New Giarus, which sells only in Wisconsin, has become an outstanding success based on its positioning as "the state beer.

Locally made

According to a 2018 study by the Brewers Association. consumers associate "locally made by an independent brewery" with "quality, freshness and taste." Craft drinkers also want to support local small businesses.

  • UC-Davis Ph.D. student Jarrett Hart found that craft drinkers have very broad ideas of what local means, and that study “participants identified beers from across the country and even internationally as being local.”
  • Most craft drinkers do not realize large commercial breweries have been buying out iconic regional and local brands. In 2017, the 15 most popular craft beers were either produced or owned by macro brewers like Molson Coors.

Independently owned

Of necessity, most craft brewers began as small, independently owned operations that depended on the local community for survival.

  • According to a UBS Evidence Lab survey, only 30% of craft drinkers feel independence is important in a craft beer.
  • Almost half of Americans don't care at all if a craft beer is owned and produced by a macro brand like AB InBev.
  • A 2017 survey by Brewbound and Nielsen found that independent ownership did not affect how consumers chose a beer.

Brewer Association seal

Buyouts by macro breweries have created murky waters for the craft beer industry. In response, the Brewers Association released a label in 2017 to make it easier for consumers to identify beers produced by "small, independent brewers." The label signifies that craft brewers have "turned the industry on its head" by creating new beer styles. The label has been adopted by more than half of U.S. craft breweries – but according to a recent study, the label has meaning only for consumers who know a lot about craft beer. The average craft drinker does not care about independent craft certification.

Passion

Every brand seems to claim that passion for producing a quality product and for providing good experiences for its consumers is a key motivational factor that drives the employees who run the craft breweries....it is usually a reason for starting the brewery.

Craft Beer and Consumer Behavior

Humor

Humor is rarely used as a differentiator, but some brands weave humor into their personas to attract and retain customers. Humor resonates most with Loyalists and may be lost on Enthusiasts and Explorers.

Premium pricing

Limited availability justifies premium pricing. Premium pricing contributes to a perception of quality.

  • Tired Hands Brewing Company has developed a cultish following for its fruit-forward IPAs, with hundreds lining up at the tiny brewery to buy a new release of three 4-packs for $75.

Beer differentiators

Beer quality

All craft beers claim higher quality ingredients, with many using organic ingredients. Although quality separates craft beer from macro beer, it does not provide a brand advantage.

Beer batch size

Just over a decade ago, craft beer was referred to as microbrews. The term implied that "better beer was specifically the result of small batches rather than big ones; a useful tactic at the time for positioning the better beer market against the macro giants such as Anheuser-Busch."

Batch size resonates with Enthusiasts, who immerse themselves in acquiring craft beer knowledge. Explorers and Loyalists are indifferent to this differentiator.

Beer recipes

Typically, brewery recipes are secret. However, many beer brand stories focus on the heritage/legacy of a beer recipe being passed down through generations. This does not resonate with craft drinkers.

Beer style

Beer style refers to the type of beer – IPA, double IPA, stout, porter, etc. Many breweries attempt to differentiate themselves based on style, stating they have the best style or a unique variation of a style.

No defining style

There is no such thing as a specific craft beer taste. The Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade group for craft beer producers, says innovation is the hallmark of craft beer. Craft beer brewers either give new twists to historic beers or develop styles without a precedent.

Traditionalists see the kind of experimentation craft brewers are known for as an affront to beer making. Traditional beers have four ingredients: water, malt, yeast, hops. Heavy hops are seen as a coverup for mistakes, not a virtue, and add-ins like vanilla and coffee have no place in traditional beer making.

Some of these complex stouts and porters and stock ales, they throw everything in them but the kitchen sink....Forty years ago, I did not see this coming. Bitterness was a bad word, especially among female beer drinkers.

Bill Moeller, master brewer

Shift to lagers

Craft beer began as a rebellion against the flavorless yellow lagers produced by big commercial breweries. By 2016, consumption of bolder craft beers had dropped; at the same time, craft lagers showed double-digit growth.

  • First-generation craft beers were bold IPAs and stouts. These beers are easier to make than lagers but their boldness made them an acquired taste.
  • Beer journalist Jason Notte has pointed out beer brewers are shifting from bold flavors to "fizzy yellow beers" (lagers)
  • The Brewers Association opened the door by welcoming light lagers and pilsners to the category of craft beers.
  • Big breweries with the financial means to produce light, cold-fermented beers bought stakes in established craft brands like Goose Island and Founders.

Beer awards

Awards resonate with Enthusiasts and Explorers – the majority of craft beer drinkers. Beer is relatively cheap and consumers make fast decisions when buying craft beer. Awards are one way to assist in the decision process.

Packaging

Overall, 71% of craft beer drinkers say they like to try beers with bold or interesting packaging. Package design has a stronger influence on women than men. And packaging design is more important than the copywriting.

Bottles vs. cans

A 2016 study by the Glass Packaging Institute found that beer drinkers think glass bottles provide the freshest taste. They also perceive it as a sign of quality, which goes back to the days when imported and premium beers were in bottles. Brewers prefer cans. Cans keep light out better than bottles, are well-sealed, and now have BPA-free interiors. They are also easier to ship and stack. As more brewers use cans instead of bottles, consumer acceptance of cans will improve.

Labels

An eye-tracking study by Clemson University for Craft Brewing Business found that metallic film labels caught buyers' attention more than other materials – but clear labels won the greatest fixation duration. There is a strong correlation between fixation duration and purchase.The study, done with Avery Paper, examined the ways in which labels influence purchase behavior and perceptions of beer quality.

Among the West Coast beer packages, the study found that consumers engaged most with illustrations and logos, and less so with package copy. In terms of equity differentiation, the beers that were found to appear distinct did not feature hops imagery. Among the East Coast beers, consumers tended to notice and engage with unique brand logos and unusual package carrier graphics, label and bottle colors.

Convenience Store News

GutCheck is a market research consultancy that can help craft brewers weed out guesswork. Here is a study on beer labels done for Alpine Dog.

Craft beer demographics

The persona of the craft beer drinker is a 35 year old, educated and affluent white male who lives in the suburbs and is either single or married without children.

Around 40% of the drinking-age population consumes craft beer at least several times a year, but only 7.3% had a craft beer in the last month.

Craft beer drinkers by age

Craft beer is often thought of as a hipster phenomenon. According to the Brewers Association, an industry trade group, 57% of weekly craft beer drinkers are millennials, 24% are Gen Xers and 17% are Boomers.

Craft beer consumption by age

21-24 year olds 38% once a week
35-34 year olds 38% once a week
35-54 year olds 43% once a week
55-64 year olds 69% once a month
65+ year olds 64% once a month

Craft beer drinkers by gender

For years, craft beer was a male dominated industry rife with sexism. In 2017, the Beer Association issued an edict to its members that heavily discouraged the use of sexist beer labels and misogynistic beer names like Leg Spreader.

Today, weekly consumers of craft beer skew 29.1% female and 68.1% male – but new craft drinkers are coming aboard at nearly equal rates. Currently, women consume 25% of craft beer production and 39% of the world's overall beer production.

Although craft beer is attracting more young women and a greater diversity of drinkers, consumption still skews toward white male millennials with high socio-economic status.

Bart Watson, Brewers Association

Craft beer drinkers by ethnicity

Non-Hispanic whites account for 86.3% of craft drinkers. Only 13.7% of craft beer fans belong to minorities. Some data suggest that Hispanics are beginning to embrace craft beer consumption.

Craft beer drinkers by socio-economic status

According to Nielsen, a weekly craft drinker is typically male, in his thirties, and makes between $75,000 and $99,000 annually.

Bottom line: Brewing claims are less interesting to the average craft beer drinker than stories about place and unique values that millennials want to be identified with.The brand story is most influential when it is expressed visually in packaging, but copywriting on the packaging/website can amplify this story.

Find a beer copywriter

If you need a beer copywriter, you can hire a solo freelancer or work with a company.

  • Solo freelancers are usually more affordable and will treat you like a Big Kahuna, but they may not have the design and development resources to deliver a complete project.
  • Ad agencies conceptualize and execute full branding and marketing campaigns.
  • Design firms tend to be stronger with, what else, design. They may lack the integrated marketing abilities of an ad agency.
  • Public relations agencies focus on providing social media campaigns and editorial coverage.

If you have a nice budget, here are some advertising and public relations firms that work with craft brewers:

  • Blindtiger Design , a design consultancy does branding and marketing for the craft beer industry
  • CODO Design works with breweries and food artisans; they put together an informative Craft Beer Branding Guide
  • The Brandit, a design firm that specializes in branding craft beers
  • EGC Group, a marketing firm for craft beer and other industries that works on a performance-based model
  • PH3, Almighty (acquired by Connelly in 2016), ECG, McKann, Baldwin&, 72&Sunny are all examples of ad agencies that either brew or have brewed their own beers
  • Campbell Consulting provides public relations services to craft beer makers, events, and growlers along with other lifestyle and tech categories
  • Remedy PR also provides media relations services to lifestyle brands, including craft beers
  • DRink PR provides public relations consulting for the beverages industry

If you just need a writer, a Google search turned up a few beer copywriters:

  • Rick Hasz, a student in the AWAI Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting who has almost no copywriting experience
  • Brad Fruhauff, who has a Ph.D. in English literature and is a self-taught copywriter
  • Thomas Damon (he is unnamed on the site; I looked at an alt tag) who is a self-taught emigre from the corporate world
  • William Thomas, a British foodie who focuses on food and beverage copywriting
  • And there is, of course, me

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ABOUT BRAND STAMPEDE
Brand Stampede LLC is the rebranded identity of MiamiWriter, a copywriting consultancy founded in 2000 by Julie Myers.
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Briefly...

I am a Florida-based freelance copywriter who works with clients across the U.S. and globally. My specialty is creating voices for experiential brands and using them consistently across digital and traditional channels. I have been a copywriter for 30 years and have loved (almost) every minute of it.

To solve a problem, begin by looking at it in new ways. Asking new questions will result in new answers.

If you have questions, drop me an email. If you are in a panic give me a call (but email is usually a better way to go.)
Julie Myers | Copywriter
[email protected]
+1 386-868-2215
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