For consumers who have grown up digitally connected and with powerful brands as the backdrop to their lives and culture, big isn’t always translating as better. As the global reach of brands extends, there’s a yearning for smaller scale industries who can transfer more meaningful values and experiences for modern consumers. This is something that the major corporations understand as they start to figure out a response. Emmanuel Faber, Chief Executive of French food giant Danone, describes the consumer ethos of Millennials: “They want committed brands with authentic products. Natural, simpler, more local and if possible small, as small as you can.” Not limited as a purely millennial concern, smaller-scale production, alongside a strong environmentally friendly and sustainable focus, is certainly driving multiple industries from food and drink, to fashion and travel. The growth of craft industries, which meets the sense of authenticity demanded by consumers, Millennials particularly, reflects this new consumer sensibility. Millennial attitudes towards brands and consumption is shaping contemporary culture. Consumers increasingly want something ‘real’, a change in consumer attitudes that is not lost on global drinks giant Diageo: “It is easy to see how this has been playing out in different categories over the past few years – the rise of craft beer, traceability in the fashion industry, and ‘locally produced single-estate’ everything.”
During the process of researching and interviewing for our book ‘Brand Crafted’, we made a conscious effort to try and gain as many perspectives as possible from those engaged with the craft beer industry, from within, and equally from the community around it (bloggers, journalists, bottle shop managers, and festival organisers). In trying to establish the essence of what was driving the success of the UK craft beer movement, one characteristic of the industry consistently emerged – authenticity. But what is authenticity and why does it matter?
Authenticity has been characterised as continuity (e.g. stability over time), originality (e.g. perceptions of creativity and innovativeness), reliability (e.g. keeping promises) and naturalness (e.g. perceived genuineness). The Journal of Consumer Psychology defines it as: “The extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.” Ultimately, “authenticity encapsulates what is genuine, real and/or true”.
Below we examine a few of the ways in which craft beer brands have developed an aura of authenticity.
Stories can be an incredibly powerful tool of engagement. Craft breweries understand, as organisations that have been built from the roots up, that there are legions of devoted craft beer fans who are willing to join them on their journey. Ultimately, storytelling is important for these living, breathing businesses, and a brewery’s ethos or authenticity is expressed through its beer: how its ingredients are sourced, its business culture and employees, and how the brewery is involved with its community. Stories are the most effective way to deliver the passion and commitment inherent in many craft breweries. Check out an excellent blog from Manchester’s Cloudwater that delivers the story of their origins and growth.
Craft breweries will intimately involve their consumers with every stage of product development (new styles and collaborations), expansion strategies (often through crowdfunding initiatives), meet the brewer events and brewery tours. The invitation is there to engage with the product and the people behind it. The open door policy, whether that’s through on-site taprooms or behind-the-scenes insight into the brewing process, breaks down the barriers between producer and consumer. The weekly brewery tours at Huddersfield’s Magic Rock Brewery are regularly sold out. Many breweries are ‘scaling-up’ their operations (production, retail, taprooms) through successful crowd-funding models. Craft beer aficionados can invest in and join the brewery on its journey. Recent crowd funding campaigns by Five Points Brewery and Verdant are perfect examples of sustainable funding and growth models by craft breweries.
Originality and invention
Invention and experimentation are characteristics of the craft beer industry as new styles, collaborations and brewing techniques are introduced. This evolution of brewing styles and flavours keeps things fresh and exciting for consumers. Alongside core beer ranges, most breweries will have some more experimental and short-run lines that invite exploration from the craft beer fan. The emergence of the Brut IPA style during 2018 demonstrates UK breweries exploring new brewing techniques and styles. Developing unique yeast strains, introducing imaginative adjuncts (flavor additives such as unmalted grains, fruit, coffee, tea etc) and barrel aging all contribute to a constant cycle of interesting and sought-after new beers.
Craft beer is an industry built upon collaboration not competition. Sharing ideas and skills is commonplace, as breweries work together to brew, host ‘takeover’ events and attend festivals. This builds a sense of community (or ‘movement’ as we describe in the book) and encourages an anti –competitive attitude. Breweries will work with and support each other if they feel that they share the same ideals and commitment to quality and craft. The strategic advantage of collaboration is expanding your awareness across the market or sharing the brewing expertise to branch into new styles, and improve output as breweries learn and move forward – which can only be good thing for the consumer, right? Have a look at how legendary US brewing pioneers Stone linked up with 3 UK breweries to develop four distinct and ground-breaking IPA recipes for the IndyMan beer festival.
Ultimately, your view of what is ‘authentic’ will be a subjective one, but there is increasing recognition that the nature of craft industries more widely, is one where authenticity is rated as a major quality of the businesses involved – something that is heightened by the craft beer industry’s challenge to the grip of global ‘big beer’ brands.
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