Is Beer An Emotional Purchase?

I'm not saying you get all teary-eyed when you approach the beer cooler at your local package store. I'm talking about the impetus that got you there in the first place, and the factors that go into the 6-pack or pint you end up purchasing. It's a much bigger question than you might think, and there's more happening in your head than you'll ever consider at the moment of purchase.

My work as a writer, strategist, and consultant to my clients (in the beer industry and beyond) has taken me down an incredibly interesting path, assessing the factors that predict and/or significantly affect consumer behavior. Your behavior. My behavior. The reason we do what we do. By the way, this is "marketing" in its most pure definition. Identifying those factors and aligning what's important to you with the brand, product, or service that you're being shown. Finding the most effective tenor and resonance with the consumer, and leveraging that connection toward a specific goal. This is all very high level, but bear with me.

I've said it before, but beer is important. It's not, in any circumstance, a means to an end. In some of the most important ways, great beer is a journey that folks embark upon for the sake of it, eschewing the idea that there's even a need for a destination. It's experiential. You generally drive in your car to get from point A to point B. You might drink a beer to catch a buzz, and I feel you on that, but generally you drink a beer because engaging in the drinking process is the most important part, and catching a buzz (which could be crudely equated to arriving at your destination in the car analogy I just made) is just a side-effect. It's a modern cultural pillar and an important part of many communities, as much a social cornerstone as anything else. Most importantly though? It's fun. This is the key factor and the stickiness that I like to leverage when assessing brand strategy. What's great about beer? It's full of great stories and it's a relatable, important topic to a lot of consumers out there.

I don't want to sound too robotic here though, because I really f$%king love beer too.

Meta-session on marketing has now concluded, but it roughly segues back to my original question. Is beer an emotional purchase? Or rather, do we engage ourselves in the beer world based on emotional motivators?

I don't have a massive database of empirical evidence backing up my point here, but based on my perspective and my work, the answer is yes. Beer is actually incredibly motivated by emotion, if I'm honest. Everyone who works in the beer industry knows this too. I don't think there are a lot of breweries out there are currently losing sleep over this idea, but it's an important consideration, and you can find obvious examples all over the place once you take a minute to define them.

They've recently painted a outrageously large target on their back, so I'm going to pick on Budweiser for a minute. I've got nothing against them, for the record, mostly based on total apathy for their brand. In their infinite wisdom, they're using the time-tested strategy of "throw it all at the wall and let's see what sticks", all in order to identify the emotions they can leverage that will drive purchasing behavior. They're losing market share. They're losing customers. They're sales are dropping. Abandon ship right!? Maybe. But I can see why folks are confused. They spend an unbelievable amount of money on television ads, promotions, and sponsorships to keep their brand in your face at all times. Go to a baseball game and their with you. Watch your favorite Sunday night football game and there they are.  While this definitely works, the ROI on the particular strategy isn't what it used to be, and it's only going to get worse. Why? Because they are, in short, trying to be all things to all beer drinkers, and their totally confusing their customer base. In one video, they're taking a hacksaw to the entire idea of "craft beer", but on the other side, they're buying craft breweries faster than anyone else. They've got heart-wrenching ads that appeal to their American roots, but then completely backhand the idea of progress in the american beer industry through their various PR activities. They're not helping themselves. Their brand has the emotional self-control of a 16 year old teenager and frankly, it's only gotten worse in the past few years.

The Harvard Business Review, which is one of my favorite publications, recently did an exhaustive study to help identify and develop the lexicon for marketers looking to emotionally connect brands with their consumers. They knew that companies were aware of the importance behind an emotional connection, they just didn't have the vocabulary to define it properly. The sparknotes version of the results is simple. Emotional drivers were present and accounted for in every purchase and every industry. We bought nice cars because we wanted to "feel a sense of belonging". We chose to bank with certain financial institutions because we wanted to appear "socially responsible". The study uncovered obvious and not-so-obvious information about consumer motivators behind purchases we all make every day.

Beer is the same way, whether we choose to define the vocabulary or not. We drink craft beer because its delicious, to be sure. But even more than than, we participate in craft beer. We love the idea of it, and the story behind it, and the evolving process that got it to this point. We go to brew fests to try beer, but we also spend $75 on an afternoon of drinking because we want to be emotionally satisfied by the experience. 

Craft breweries and the industries participating in craft beer will try to find ways to connect their brand with your emotions. They do it because it works, and they do it because you crave it. I crave it. I feel good about. I want more of it. So do you. They know that forging that emotional connection with customers adds infinitely more brand value than short-term sales, promotions, or cheap shots at your competition. It'll make for a helluva show in the next 10 years, and I plan to be front and center for all of it.

- Chris