Do we really buy craft beer for the taste…or is it the story it tells?

The first craft beer pub that I ever set foot in was the wonderful Porterhouse in Dublin.

Now this was way back in the mid 1990s when there was no such thing as craft beer anywhere; no matter what pub you drank in, the range of draft beers on offer was identical: Heineken, Carlsberg, Guinness or Smithwicks and perhaps, if you were very lucky, one or two others in long neck form.

Unsurprisingly then, this was a truly golden age for the big global beer brands; the pub industry was at its peak — coffee shops were few and far between whilst the Irish pub was still seen as the only option when it came to socialising — and there was very little choice for the consumer who was just happy to drink whatever was available. Furthermore, with access to enormous advertising budgets, like expert puppet masters the global beer brands were able to control the market (high barriers of entry), determining what the beer drinking consumer would buy.

So against this backdrop, it’s remarkable that a pub and micro-brewery, brewing beers with funny names that no-one had ever heard of before, should even dare to set up shop in the heart of Dublin’s Temple Bar; why did they think people would go to a pub to drink beers they’d never even heard of when they could instead frequent any pub in the entire city and get a pint of Heineken or Carlsberg which is what they had drank for as long as they could care to remember?

We all like choice because choice broadens our horizons

Choice is always good… makes us step out of our comfort zone and try new things!

We always like to have a choice in anything we do or buy; if there happens to be very little choice then we’ll happily choose from what’s available to us but as soon as new choices are presented, the temptation to try anything that’s new is always stronger than the urge to resist.

That’s because most of us want to move beyond our comfort zone whenever the option is there to do so. Why? Simply because as humans our nature is to be curious, to explore new ground, to test new things, to seek out new challenges, and to push back the old boundaries of familiarity.

This is exactly what the Porterhouse did; and in the process, set about re-educating (or perhaps just educating) beer drinkers about the true possibilities of beer. And of course, while most people thought they were crazy to even think that anyone would want to try out new beers that they’d never even heard of before, they thought they’d be crazy not to simply because they had a vision for what the world needed.

Beer is no longer seen as just Heineken or Carlsberg

Crucially of course, as well as thinking like true innovators, the Porterhouse guys were also brave enough to act on their convictions.

In doing so, they set about changing the way that Irish society thought about beer; where previously beer was simply Heineken or Carlsberg, now there mission was to show people that actually it was so much more than this; that it came in different shaped, different sized glasses, as a high alcoholic volume /strength option, or in a light and easy drinking style, in dark colours, in shades of red colours or in light, crisp, golden yellow colours.…

Above all though, what they did more than anything else was shatter the myth that beer came as a one-size-fits-all product.

The thing is, every craft beer is different — and different is good

Think of how many different craft beers sit on a shelf in your own local off -licence / liquor store / bottle shop. Now think of how many more you can find online or as you travel to different parts of wherever it is you live. There are hundreds upon hundreds. Literally.

But how come? Why is there suddenly a market for so many different kinds of beer?

Because we all love a good story, and that’s what we’re really buying…

Yep, when we buy a craft beer, it’s not actually the beer that we’re are buying at all.

What we really buy is the story that the beer tells:

Where it’s made, how it came about, who was behind it, what it’s made from, how it looks on the shelf, what the label design is like, what the bottle looks like, to the person who holds it in the palm of their hand.

Without even realising it, we all love a good story; so much so, in fact, thatwhenever we buy anything, we buy the story first and the product second (because the product is usually not as interesting or as different as the story told on the packaging is it?).

Big brands are trying to stem the tide of craft

So where does this leave the one time big beer brands, the brands that held the beer market in the palm of its hand for decades?

Well increasingly they recognise the massive power shift that continues to take place in the beer market globally.

For one thing, the power of advertising is nowhere near as strong as it once was; back in the good old days the big brands could not only influence but control consumer behaviour through advertising.

But not any more.

Instead, in this ecommerce age, choice is unlimited, and truly global; as a result, everything now comes down to the issue of brand trust.

Crucially, this trust can’t be bought (through advertising) however; it can only beearned through brilliant storytelling, brilliant customer engagement and clever intuition of what the customer (or target customer) wants.

Of course, as with any good story, to achieve this trust, the story must be believable, engaging, relevant, exciting and different; today’s savvy and social beer drinker won’t buy 6 cans of a particular lager just because a billboard or TV ad suggests they should; instead, they’ll buy the beers that they feel gives them exactly what they want at a particular moment in time.

Really, the crux of the matter is that craft beers are micro or, at their very biggest, SME businesses. Because of this, the consumer they are aimed at sees them as being fundamentally different to the big brands; they’re not in it for the money (at least that’s the perception), they’re not corporate entities, they’re honest and they’re in it for the love of the beer.

Or to put it more succinctly, their stories check out, the consumer believes what they say, the consumer trusts them.

And that’s essentially why and how the craft beer industry has successfully interrupted, disrupted and transformed an industry that for years allowed no one else into the game.

So how can the big brands get back in the game?

Well, for their very survival, they want no, they need, to get a slice of the craft beer action; they can’t stop the revolution so the only other option is to try to somehow become part of it.

Guinness Golden Ale — Guinness is trying to get a piece of the “craft” beer pie

And they are certainly trying: Guinness Hophouse 13 lager, Guinness Golden Ale and Guinness James Gate Limited Stout, are just some examples of how they are now trying to transform their offering.

But there’s a pretty major stumbling block in their path…

But the problem is their story just doesn’t add up….

The narrative just isn’t right; their story simply doesn’t check out. A bit like the Dad trying to become hip just so he can show the kids that he can be cool too, it’s simply not real, it’s not believable and it’s just too contrived.

The fact is that Guinness (Diageo) or Heineken, to name but two, are global behemoths famous right around the world for doing what they do. They created their incredibly stories over decades but the problem is that the story is simply no longer what it once was and you can’t un-tell a tale.

The fact is, the game has changed utterly; the old advertising model has changed, society has changed, consumer behaviour has changed, the drinks people drink have changed …..craft is now the new cool, small business is the new big business, craft is hip, small and edgy, craft is anti-establishment, craft is the very antithesis of the big brand culture.

No amount of marketing and advertising spin, no amount of investment in creating beers that look like they are craft beers will change perception or how the new consumer thinks; the bottom line is that global brands are simply not and cannot be compatible with the values, ideologies and ideals of the craft beer community.

So where will it all end? Who knows but perhaps the craft revolution is only just beginning…..