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5 Marketing Lessons Everyone Can Learn From Beer

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Most of us know people who claim to think better with their “beer goggles” on. But beer marketers who make that claim might just be right. Their fresh, data-driven insights might just blaze a trail for a wide variety of other products that need Millennial spending to thrive in today’s intensely competitive sales environments.

One of the world’s oldest beverages is undergoing a Big Data-driven marketing makeover to respond to the whims of the multitudes of Millennials—expected to become the largest cohort in America sometime this year. And among the many startling revelations about why we drink a certain beer—or none at all—is that Millennials don’t play by the same rules as previous generations did.

Lots of Brand Marketers Could Learn from Beer

The lessons they’re learning may well revolutionize beverage marketing, becoming the standard playbook for building new markets and engendering customer loyalty in the near future for many other, non-beverage products.

“Unlike previous generations, which identified as ‘a Bud man’ or a ‘Coors drinker,’ Millennials are always looking for an interesting new experience, something different every few weeks,” says Chris Taylor, Ph.D, director of the beverage management program and associate professor at the University of Houston.

And unlike previous generations, who typically settled on a brand choice for life in their youth, “They’re the generation that buys the ‘mixed six-pack,’ which is a package of six different brands of beer,” he says.

But the problem, according to Taylor: “You can’t build a brand selling one beer at a time. And even restaurants and bars are trying to keep up by constantly changing things around for new experiences.”

Many Brands Are at Risk, Not Just Beer

And it’s not just beer where Millennials are breaking the rules. Marketers of many different beverages are encountering similar difficulties, as well as purveyors of other consumer goods.

“They don’t buy the same food over and over. They don’t care about car brands. And the better off they are economically, the more they seek out what’s new and different—and the less loyal they are,” Taylor explains.

Millennial marketing experts also worry that the current reluctance to pick a brand and stick with it might be more than just a temporary phase. It has long been true that in-person beer sales in restaurants and other recreational venues eventually result in lifetime loyalty, but it remains to be seen whether those who don’t “settle down” to a brand in their 20s and 30s will ever do so.

Maybe, marketers fret, there’s a window of opportunity to develop brand loyalty, and they could miss it. Once Millennials start having families of their own, it’s less likely that they’ll spend as much time in restaurants and sporting events, when those activities start to conflict with the kiddie birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.

In addition, beer sells for a much more tightly constrained price than, say, wine or Champagne, which can sell less but make more money by commanding higher prices for premium brands.

So what’s a marketing director or CMO to do about the Millennial Meltdown in customer loyalty? This question—and how to use new data-driven technology to answer it—could have broad implications for many different enterprises, from beer to big-box retailing. Here are some of the lessons they’re learning that could offer a way out of the Millennial brand-loyalty meltdown.

1. Focus on individual customer data, not broad demographics.

Many experts agree that if there’s a way out of the Millennial Meltdown, it lies in smart, machine-learning use of data rather than relying on the broad generalizations of the past. There might be many different ways to reach many different types of individuals—often referred to as “mass personalization” or “personalization at scale”—who could be coaxed into experiences that build brand loyalty.

“It’s kind of ignorant to characterize all Millennial men as being the same. Companies are now picking up on different behaviors in their marketing,” says Scott Taylor Jr., assistant professor at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

His research on beer shows that “some beer brands are succeeding by not just relying on age, sex, or income, but on things that bring people together in social environments. Not only are they discovering beer, they’re discovering community.”

And they’re doing it by looking at psychographic behavior—such as connections to a city, hobby, or region.

“Wine has been doing this since creation, with sparkling wine associated with the Champagne region, for example,” says Scott Taylor.

“So if I’m a consumer, and I perceive Dos Equis as culturally relevant to my experience consuming Mexican food—however inappropriate that may be—I might be more inclined to buy more, even pick some up in the store,” he says.

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