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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Millennials and Craft Beer in the Digital Age

It's hardly a secret that Millennials are a force to be reckoned with in modern American business. They make up an increasingly significant portion of the 25-45 age group business covets and targets. This is as true of the beer industry as any other.

The problem for business is the Millennial demographic is not receptive to traditional marketing strategies and tactics. You cannot effectively reach them via print, radio or television advertising. One might argue that's because they are fixated on computer, tablet and phone screens. But never mind.

There are a lot of things businesses have to keep in mind with Millennials and plenty of places to find that intel if that's your thing. Generally speaking, these kids identify more personally and emotionally with brands than prior generations. They demand to interact and be part of the brands they respect.

The platform that makes this stuff happen is provided by the combined emergence of the smart phone and social media, which allow good and bad experiences to be widely spread electronically in the blink of an eye. This kind of instant publicity was unheard of 10 years ago. Today it drives the success of many businesses...and Millennials are heavily immersed in it.

When it comes to beer, Millennial tastes are vague and transient. They want to experience a wide range of flavors, which means they are receptive to inventive approaches and bizarre blends, and somewhat bored by traditional styles. In short, they are regularly looking for something new and different.

That reality is forcing suppliers and retailers to radically increase the number of available choices. A reliable industry source expects the number of SKUs on the market to double within 10 years. That's a significant increase given there are already something like 10,000 SKUs out there.

These changes mean chaos for big beer, whose leadership is dominated mostly by folks who have been around for 20 or more years. Age alone isn't the issue. The more serious problem is they are stuck in an antiquated mindset. Expensive ad campaigns and traditional media are yesterday's news...they fall flat with Millennials.

Craft beer is another story. Small breweries and pubs never had the luxury of using expensive, traditional media. Building a brand identity took years. Then came social media and the smart phone. Today, craft-centric businesses are leveraging the digital space and effectively engaging with the all-important Millennial demographic. Craft brands are being built quickly, almost overnight in some cases.

In other words, the brand building shoe is now on the other foot. Being small and unable to afford expensive advertising tactics has put the little guys ahead of the big guys in the digital, Millennial age. If nothing else, you have to appreciate the irony.

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