Oh dear, beer: Five ways beer brands can reclaim their mojo.

Author: Phil Flickinger

In recent years, we’ve seen the beer industry get thoroughly thrashed. It’s painful to watch—many of us worked on major beer campaigns at formative points in our careers. We’ve developed soft spots in our hearts and palates for numerous popular beers. Beer advertising? It used to be adventurous. It used to be funny. It used to be fresh. Now it’s just rudderless.

It’s understandable. The industry has experienced a series of challenges that have shaken its once dominant position in the beverage market. A shift in consumer preferences has seen many opting for alternatives like hard seltzers, ciders, and even non-alcoholic beer. This shift, coupled with the global rise of craft breweries, has intensified competition and fragmented the market, diminishing the stronghold of larger beer companies. Additionally, the beer sector has been further beleaguered by economic downturns, changing regulations, and supply chain disruptions, especially during the pandemic.

The industry is hurting. Here are five ways beer brands can reclaim their mojo:

  1. Make life hard for hard seltzers. Gen Z decided beer was uncool and gravitated to hard seltzers. Instead of fighting back, many major brands acquiesced and launched branded seltzers. (Spoiler alert: these products taste like defeat, with hints of desperation.) There are signs that hard seltzers are on the ropes. It’s an opportune time for beer brands to lure consumers back, and maybe take a shot or two at hard seltzers along the way.

  2. Stop copying, start innovating. IPAs fueled the craft beer boom, but as their popularity soared, so did brewers’ risk aversion. The result was a proliferation of sameness, and IPAs became passé. There are a vast number of hops varieties with nuanced flavors and aromas—and hops breeders are hard at work making more. Your North Star should be “flavors people have never tasted”, not “fads”.

  3. Bring back branding. Beer ads used to set the bar for creativity, but now brands have become risk averse. The industry has become obsessed with tactics over big ideas. Bring back slogans people proudly wear on t-shirts. Bring back brash Super Bowl ads. Bring back campaigns that get good coverage for good reasons.

  4. Get out and talk to your consumers. Beer brands are spending too much time perusing numbers looking for answers, and not enough time pursuing customers looking for inspiration. Organize ethnographies with beer drinkers. Go on shop alongs. Spending time with your biggest fans won’t always lead to epiphanies, but it will enable you to channel them when it comes time to make decisions.

  5. Embrace Non-Alcoholic Beer. It’s gaining share. Thanks to recent innovations, brewers can make a product that doesn’t compromise on taste when the buzz is removed. 1 in 3 adults are trying to drink less alcohol; maybe some of them are your loyal fans. Why not meet them with the perfect product?

If you’re a beer brand looking for a little help, we’d love to chat. (Over a beer, of course.)