Conflicting Surveys Give A Few Hints As To Factors Consider When Buying Craft Beer

Conflicting Surveys Give A Few Hints As To Factors Consider When Buying Craft Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

There are many things to consider when you buy a beer, either on draft or in package. What do you look for first? Style, cost, brewery, description, name, label (either on the package or on from the brewery)? Mostly likely, everyone considers all of these factors to some degree or another, and the order can vary based on your mood, where you are, how many you’ve had, etc.

In all cases, the brewery has to consider the drinker as the top factor – it’s their money that the brewery is hoping to call their own. Names (both brewery and beer), label designs, style, cost…. everything is designed with maximum sales in mind. Sometimes they get it right on all counts; sometimes it’s a miss. What’s more, some factors can be great for some people and an absolute anathema for others.

Beer names and labels are usually at the forefront of these arguments. Beer names that can be seen as misogynistic – something that is easy to have happen since you most often have an overwhelmingly male industry marketing to an overwhelmingly male patronage. I’m not saying it’s justified or OK, it’s just not that surprising. Sometimes labels are seen as political hot potatoes, on both sides of the aisle. The recent upset about Lakeville Brew Crew’s beer names and their subsequent retraction illustrate that very much.

Often times, the labels and the names go together to form an over all impression. Controversial names often have controversial labels. Take the Gandhi-Bot from New England Brewing, a tribute beer for an individual that abstained from alcohol and was shown in robot form. Or then there was the Witches Wit from Lost Abbey. It wasn’t the double entendre of the name that came under fire, it was the witch burning at the stake that offended the Californian Wiccan community.

image credit: Fountain Square Brew Co.

Every decision a brewery makes with respect to the brewing and marketing of their beer can be impactful. If a brewery undertakes a rebranding, you can bet that tons of thinking, and probably money, are behind it. Metazoa Brewing has undergone a recent rebranding, with new logos merchandise when they expanded their canning and distribution efforts. Fountain Square Brew Co. was already widely distributed when the brewery took on new ownership and they underwent a significant brand refresh. Is this all a crapshoot? How can breweries know what factors are most important when bringing out a beer?

If only they had some research that told them what consumers consider most important when purchasing beer. In fact, there has been a considerable amount of research in this area, usually by marketing firms or by consumer agencies. The basis and methodology change for every study, as does the number of people queried or tracked, and the characteristics considered. Not surprisingly then, there is a lot of conflicting data between studies.

A study called Important Attributes Related to Craft Beer Consumption and a Survey Monkey report says flavor is most important, yet a 2015 Nielsen study says packing is most important because people are willing to try new things (meaning they don’t know their taste) if they find the packaging appealing.

Likewise, a Nielsen study from 2017 said that 70% of consumers show up not knowing what they want (thy make their decision at the shelf), so taste can’t be that big a deal. And because of this, the visual component is important, more even for women (75%) than for men (66%). Weirdly enough, that same survey indicated that the beer carrier ranked as the number one visual factor; I’m guessing that means the bottle or the art on the pack of bottles. I can’t see how the can carrier makes a difference, unless it is something unusual.

Second most important was information about the beer – so when you build a label, make sure people can read the description – or that they get it visually. In just a weird juxtaposition, Nielsen also found out the pictures were more important than text, so I guess the take home is that you get your beer description in visual form – since both of things seem to be important. The article showed an example to reinforce this idea; if you do it right, it should be able to stand the test of time – like Sierra Nevada, whose logo hasn’t changed since 1980.

Many cans of 14 Buck Chuck have been sold based on the label art alone. Burn ‘Em Brewery has quite a reputation for their art. image credit: Burn ‘Em Brewery

On the other hand, that same “Attributes” study mentioned above says that consistency (meaning reputation) and complexity are most important. Brand loyalty is very much a thing with craft beer, so you need to make it easy for your patrons to recognize your beers and to have a good idea of what they are going to be getting. Consistency in labeling and marketing does two things, it helps customers recognize your brand, but it, in and of itself, can generate brand loyalty. As one study in 2014 stated, “marketing and packaging cues may be generating brand loyalty and experiential differences between brands.”

What’s more, the Survey Monkey report said that being local was important, but another study said that ease of availability (greater distribution) were important for purchases. There are more factors at play here than a brewery can possibly track for a packaged beer, and here’s one more. If you add beer in a taproom to the equation, 73% say that being on draft is a big point, with aroma making up a large part of that. Therefore, is it paying off for people to have on site consumption packaged beer?

I think it is, some of this survey stuff is just hokum. Breweries do great with packaged beer for opening and consumption on site. It frees up taps for more draft, it increases choice, and it increases knowledge that packaged beers from this brewery are available. How can any brewery draw any conclusions from these disparate studies? For instance, a few studies mentioned price as a factor in buying beer, but none of the ones I looked at had it as a top three issue. Hmmm, since when has price not been a factor in the purchase of anything, unless your independently wealthy?

I think the results overall point in a couple of directions. Your marketing materials matter (description, label, packaging), and your notoriety is important too (being known in your area, to have consistent beer, to have good flavors).

However – no factor tracked in several studies was seen to be unimportant. You have to keep an eye on price, on ease of availability, on the styles you brew. Yep, everything matters and there is a group for every factor. It’s best to know your market, your customers, and those markets to which you wish to expand. Doing it all in house is cheaper, but will you have the knowledge to pull together all the research and ideas to maximize the chances to be successful with that beer? Maybe a marketing firm isn’t such a bad idea.

banner image credit: LA Times

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