Has beer gone flat?

Has beer gone flat?

As beer sales continue to plummet and consumers rush towards flavoured ciders and craft beers, it’s easy to blame tax hikes and changing tastes for the decline of the beer category.

Yet by looking at evidence from our annual study into Brand Desire, we see a more surprising truth coming to light; could the beer brands themselves be the reason for the sales plummet?

Our Brand Desire study covered tens of thousands of consumers across a three year period. Over 20,000 consumers from the UK market responded to questions about how they think, feel and act towards brands, to make up a total ‘Brand Desire’ score for each.

The beer category performed abysmally; its average desire score falls below telecoms brands and barely overtakes the financial services category. The only brand that scored above the cross-category average was Guinness. This very low desirability shows an incredible disconnect given it is a category associated with fun, social occasions.

Perhaps even more worryingly, when asked to assess individual brand personalities, upon compiling the results we could see incredibly little differentiation between how brands were seen in the consumers’ eyes. Almost all of the brands fell into personality territories split by sub-category lines – the lagers all cool and sociable, the ales all reassuring and respected.

Moreover, when asked what media touchpoints had influenced a respondent’s opinion of a beer brand, an average of 38% of people said their view was not influenced by ANY media. Beer brands are blending into the comms clutter, underperforming in making people notice what they say and do.

So perhaps the sales decline of beer in the UK is more to do with the low desirability of the brands themselves than we’ve perhaps attributed it to, which although shocking, poses a huge opportunity for brands. We’re seeing brands like BrewDog managing to stand out against this bland background and make huge gains. Brewdog is shaking up the lager category, with truly innovative and high quality products and a disruptive ‘punk’ ethos. Consumers haven’t given up on beer; they just need a more compelling reason to buy into the category, which very few brands are currently giving.

So how can the beer category regain its desire and sales?
Learning from the rules of Brand Desire and looking across categories and markets, we’ve uncovered three principles for how beer brands can make a bigger impact.

  1. Give people a reason to buy
    beyond a ‘refreshing taste’. Have a genuine ambition that will inspire your internal and external audiences. Surely there is a space for another beer brand which has a higher ambition beyond getting people to relax or have a good time?
  2. Continuously re-evaluate and innovate
    your offering to ensure your brand has a real role in people’s lives. Whilst many beer brands relish in innovation, with a stream of new flavours and packaging concepts, few of these have made a real differences to people. Focus on creating desirable innovations that support your purpose and add value to your customer’s lives.
  3. Build connections through a clear personality
    The clearer you are about who you are and the more coherent you are across touchpoints, the more memorable and desirable your brand will be - as long as it’s a personality your audience wants to connect with.  Differentiate on personality to stand out in a sea of sameness.

Beer marketers have a big challenge ahead of them, but an equally big opportunity to grab back market share and grow the category. By looking outside their category for inspiration, we can easily see beer trending again.

Damian is Managing Director of Clear Ideas, a global marketing strategy business. Find out more about their work here.