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Quality Over Quantity: What Craft Beers Are Doing Right

Have you ever heard of brands like Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Goose Island, Great Lakes, or Bear Republic? If you haven’t, don’t worry, because it’s very likely that you will eventually. They’re just a few of the up-and-coming beer brands that have enjoyed a steady climb in popularity over the past several years, and they’re in a category all their own—a category called “craft beers.”

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy kicking back and relaxing with a rich, flavorful, full-bodied beverage once in a while, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. Actually, with Americans consuming 20 gallons of beer per capita on a yearly basis, I know I’m not alone! The thing is, I like my beer to have a little character, which is why I normally opt for some of those above-mentioned brands when it’s time to quench my thirst.

Fact: pale ales are delicious.

“But what’s a craft beer?” you ask. The short answer, of course, is that it’s the only type of beer worth drinking (in one blogger’s humble opinion, that is). Really though, a craft beer is just a brand that gets distributed on a much smaller scale than its industry competitors. Craft breweries ship less than 6,000,000 barrels per year, which, all things considered, isn’t very much. Budweiser ships roughly 30-million-plus barrels of Bud Light annually, and that’s just one of the beers in their brewery’s line. There’s really no getting around it—beer is big business. While some of the biggest brands on the block (Budweiser, Miller, and Coors, among many others) hold a majority of the market share, it’s important to know that the underdog brands—the craft beers—constitute a significant portion as well.

Craft beers are often notoriously higher in price because of their limited distribution and exposure, but offer a whole lot more bang for your buck, as brewers in this niche market usually strive to deliver a better product overall. These beers are well known for their complexity in terms of taste. They offer a good deal of subtlety, intricacy, and unique flavoring. In fact, craft beers tend to earn a great deal of notoriety among beer enthusiasts for their sheer flavorocity and deliciousnessness (those misspellings are intentional). This gives them their distinct classification as “upscale.”

Happy kegs make flavorful beer!

The most interesting thing about craft beers isn’t their superiority in flavor, however, but their continued rise in popularity. As evidenced by sales figures, the “growth of the craft brewing industry in 2010 was 11% by volume and 12% by retail dollars.” That’s no small feat. And by the way, the overall market share of craft beer jumped from 5.4% to 8.7% between 2005 and 2010, if that’s any indication of the direction that this portion of the market is headed, which by the way is up.

Heck, even Heineken is opting for a more sophisticated approach to brand marketing these days, with a video campaign that looks like it’s designed to appeal to the more savvy beer connoisseurs out there. If an already popular brand is looking to boost its sales by gaining esteem among beer drinkers in a more upscale market (as is the approach of craft beer brands), then others will likely follow. Take a look at Heineken’s ad:

 

Maybe we’re seeing the beginnings of a more refined era of beer marketing, and maybe that’s a good thing. One thing’s for sure, the craft beers have a lot to do with influencing the future of their industry. The most surprising thing about it is that they’re doing so without the benefit of multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns that include expensive video advertisements. They’re doing it by remaining delicious and dependable. They’re always a step ahead in terms of quality, and as any intelligent business owner already knows, a company’s success is contingent on the quality of its product or service.

Want to stay competitive in your industry? Take a hint from craft brewers: make sure that your brand is focused on delivering quality. When you’ve got that in the bag, then you can go ahead and focus on quantity.

What else can we learn from the craft brewers’ approach to beer?



Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.

Comments

  1. JPorretto

    Nice article Joe! As someone who likes beer for the taste and not necessarily the effect, I can really appreciate this. Do you happen to know what famous beers out there are craft beers? Leinenkugel? Blue Moon? Those are two of my favorite that I’m assuming are borderline craft beers…

    Annnnnd I’m thirsty now and this Gatorade ain’t cutting it…

    • Amanda

      “As someone who likes beer for the taste and not necessarily the effect”…Genius line Jeff! =) I am the same way, even though I still don’t really like beer lol. I’ll have 1 beer once in a great while. For the majority of times I drink, which isn’t often, I like the “girly drinks” instead.

      I am wondering about Sam Adams and Hacker Pschorr too, I think they’re both considered craft beers too. They are pretty yummy, for beer.

      • Joseph Giorgi

        Hacker Pschorr is delish, particularly with a lemon wedge! Good call, Amanda. :)

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Oh, Blue Moon. You’re so delicious with your orange slice.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Thanks, Jeff!

      Actually, the websites of craft breweries usually indicate that they are in fact “craft” breweries. So, it’s easy to look up. :) I’m not sure about Leinenkugel and Blue Moon, but I’m guessing that they haven’t strictly been “craft” breweries for a while now. They may not even be independent breweries any longer—they may be owned by a larger company.

      Side note: I <3 Blue Moon.

  2. cyberneticSAM

    Blah! Heineken is gross! Other than mention of that, this is a great post! Great examples! I like that consumers are taking initiative to experiment with new beer, though they are still mainstream beers, the beer companies are starting to take notice to the rise of local and small brewing companies. Honestly, I think that this is a brilliant plan for large brewing companies in order to help out their little brothers and make them look good: Large domestic brands should sponsor small brewing companies so that it will not only put small companies on the map but also benefit them when people see the sponsored by (INSERT BEER CO. HERE). I think that it would be a win-win. I do realize that small brews are the competition for large, but as we have seen in recent years, large beer companies can’t always touch the popularity of specialty brews. They’ll try by coming out with some new brew, and yet I feel they still fall short b/c they have one weakness: they mass produce domestic beer which (I feel) is all they really know. So much of the time if they want consumers to stay brand loyal I think they should swallow their pride and sponsor good American made brews!

    Also, that brings me to another point. There are a lot of major domestic beer companies that have outsourced their brews and yet still declare themselves as patriotic American beer, therefore selling a false image. I think they should be more honest about who and where parts or all of their companies are being outsourced. I feel that consumers are being left in the dark are brand loyal to a false image. Which is one of the appeals to smaller brew companies for that reason; you know what you are drinking and where it is from.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Great point about knowing exactly where a “small beer” is from when you drink it. That’s definitely part of their appeal.

      As far as outsourcing, that’s something I’d be curious to know more about. Do you know offhand which of the big breweries are outsourcing?

  3. Tony Promo

    Don’t forget about Bell’s in Michigan! If you see Oberon in the store, and don’t buy a six pack, slap yourself. (this coming from the guy who doesn’t drink)

    Good blog, Joe!

    “Thank you, microbreweries, for making my alcoholism seem like a fun hobby”
    -Jimmy Fallon

    • Amanda

      Great quote to throw out there Tony Promo! =)

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Bell’s is the bees knees—that’s for sure! I’m actually a big fan of their “Third Coast” blonde ale. :)

  4. Jana Quinn

    I am not a beer snob*, so a lot of the things you said in there about “subtlety,” “intricacy,” and “flavoring” sound pretty made up when every beer I’ve ever tried (including craft beer) has a taste range of “warm cat piss” to “warm cat piss with sand.” However, if you look closely enough at the products in any particular industry, you’ll find nuance whereas distance reinforces uniformity.

    But I digress.

    I think where you really hit the nail on the head is when you talk about craft beer’s advertising strategy. Instead of casting a wide net like a Budweiser or Coors (If you have a mouth, you should drink our beer!), these craft beer companies appeal to those beer drinkers who are a) interested in the social status that comes with the line, “Oh, you’ve never heard of Catpiss Mountain Ale? It’s really a misnomer, because it’s only made by an elderly couple in a basement bathtub in southeast Idaho. But I suppose you’re just happy with your ‘Bud.’” and/or b) people who are interested in beer beyond the product, i.e. brewing, comparing, history.

    At some point, advertisers need to calculate if casting a wide net and grabbing a smaller percentage of fish is going to give them a better return on investment than concentrating their efforts on a smaller but more targeted school and pulling in a higher percentage of that smaller number. It looks like craft beer is headed in the second direction.

    *I am a snob about a lot of other things, though.

    P.S. Please don’t link to Wikipedia as a source. It makes me sad.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      That’s a great way to put it. In marketing to smaller population segments, craft brewers definitely have a much better chance of developing a grassroots following and going from there. Of course, budgetary constraints don’t usually allow them to market beyond the local and regional level to begin with, so they’re kind of forced to establish themselves that way. They’ve got to start somewhere though, and they’re doing a good job of it.

      Haha. Believe me, I often hate myself for linking Wikipedia as a source. It’s just a quick way to make a quick point, that’s all. :)

      • Jana Quinn

        What kills me most about the link to Wikipedia is that the statistic you cited HAD ITS OWN CITATION.

        That’s like telling someone your mom told you that unemployment was down when in fact she had read it in a report: you have access to a perfectly good, respected source, but you’re choosing to say your mom said it… and I don’t know how this became about me insulting your mom.

        I’m sorry.

  5. amy

    My soul cried a little bit the day I learned that Goose Island was bought by Anheuser-Busch. I’m a 312 girl myself and I always enjoyed that I couldn’t find it anywhere else but around Chicago :( Oh well, I guess in this economy you have to stay ahead and the influx of capital Goose Island received would help them out long term. Still kind of sucks though.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I see what you’re saying. Yeah, Goose Island has become a major player in the past few years, and their being acquired by Anheuser-Busch may have something to do with that. It’s sort of a good thing for them though (from a marketing standpoint, anyway). They’ve still got the “regional appeal” thing going for them, but now they can expand more comfortably. Plus, now they may be able to put additional resources toward developing experimental and specialty brews.

  6. Amanda

    Is anyone else thinking that is a really weird commercial for a beer?

  7. Jill Tooley

    Top-notch post, Mr. Giorgi. You’re not only correct about the tasty craft beers you mentioned but also about the entire concept of quality over quantity in regard to the industry. I’m totally willing to shell out a couple extra bucks for a good-tasting beer if it means I’ll actually enjoy the taste and not regret it the second I crack open the bottle. We get what we pay for, and that cheap case of Icehouse is NOT the way to go when you want a quality drink!

    Plus, the craft beer market is open to moneymakers like tastings, tours, etc. Even though the main domestic chains do those things as well, it’s hard to believe that someone would pay money to taste Bud Light or Old Milwaukee at a tasting counter! It’s much more sophisticated to taste offbeat beers that you can’t find in every corner gas station.

    As you said: craft beer companies aren’t necessarily marketing themselves by pumping millions into sexy campaigns or commercials, they’re doing it by remaining delicious and dependable. There’s a big market out there for beer snobs (I’m slowly getting to the point where I can call myself that – one step at a time) and we tell EVERYONE when we find a good craft beer we love. I suppose that’s where word-of-mouth marketing ties into this whole thing as well! :)

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Tastings always go over well for craft beers. The public tends to forget what they’re missing out on by sticking to the reputable brands, and tastings are a great way to remind them. I’ve discovered a few fantastic brands through the tastings I’ve attended in the past.

      And yeah, the small beer brewers seem to know that the best kind of marketing campaign starts by having the best product. You never hear anyone talk about how much they LOVE Miller Lite and Budweiser and so forth—the only thing to love about them is the price. But it’s easy to get into conversations about, say, Buffalo Bill’s Blueberry Stout vs. Wild Blue. I’ve had that conversation several times.

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