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May 13, 2021

How to Brew a Strong Beer Brand: Insights from BrewDog

by Elena Prokopets

In 2021, they say you need 100 true fans to run a successful business — be it selling comics art, or craft beer. BrewDog took that concept to a gritty test and built a competitive craft beer brand, fully backed by the power of community. A company of over 100,000 stakeholders, BrewDog is now competing with “household name” players such as Budweiser, Heineken, and Carlsberg across markets.

Considering that the global market for craft beers is poised to cross the $200 million mark by 2026, other brands too may want to up their marketing game. So what stands behind BrewDogs’ success?

How BrewDog Became the Fastest Growing Alternative Beer Brand in the UK

A self-funded startup, BrewDog had a whirlwind journey to success. That includes several world records, a beer museum, and pint brewing at the bottom of the ocean. Born in the Scottish highlands in 2007, BrewDog turned its unapologetic quirkiness and punk-ish vibe into a brand story that appeals to audiences across the globe.

James Watt and Martin Dickie, the founding duo, got a strong head start at the local market. The craft ales were a hit among Brittons and soon enough the team needed to upgrade from additive brewing to a pro-level distillery. In a contrarian spirit, the team rejected the idea of traditional funding — more business loans or venture capital. Instead, they offered their brand fans to chip in to support their favorite brewery. In 2009, BrewDog issued the first round of shares.

By 2011 BrewDog founders had gotten really good at stunning their fans. They dispensed beer from a modified deer's head (it looks less morbid than it sounds), brewed the beer at the bottom of the ocean, opened bars across the country, and grew business volume by 200%. All the stunts attracted over 5,000 shareholders and £2.2 million in funding.

(BrewDog Union Square Bar. Source: BrewDog)

The money went straight to business. BrewDog once again upgraded its distillery, opened several bars in the UK, and started shipping the brewski to 55 countries. In 2016-17 was full of some sizzling successes too. BrewDog broke two world records:

  • Did the highest ever crowdfunding raise (twice!)

  • Had the most consecutive years in the Sunday Time Fast Track 100

As of 2019, BrewDog’s Punk IPA ranks as the number one craft beer in the UK with sales volume growing at 25% per year. BrewDog also had a strong growth momentum (30%) in two new markets — France and Sweden — where they primarily sell online.

Through all those years, the key element to BrewDog’s success was a strong community of brand supporters, turned company stakeholders “spreading the craft beer gospel beyond their communities”. BrewDog couldn’t have amassed over 130,000 company stakeholders without strategically growing their brand equity.

Using our AI-powered brand tracking platform, we sampled BrewDog’s target audiences and found some fine intel. If you want to get more “crafty” with your target audience research and brand positioning, here are several insights you can borrow from BrewDog.

Strong Product Differentiation Goes a Long Way

During our analysis, we found that BrewDog has moderately high brand awareness (31%) among the general UK population.

Among those familiar with the beer brand, 60% would consider using them. Of this cohort, 39% have a preference for this brand over others. And among those who prefer BrewDog’s goods, 35% currently use the brand.

For a craft beer manufacturer, who’s competing with more established players, the results are strong. BrewDog effectively engages with prospects at later stages of the funnel. Distinctive visual branding, collaborations with artists and NGOs for labels, and offline presence, paired with excellent product quality are doing the job for BrewDog.

(In 2015, BrewDog teamed up with LGBTQI+ events organizers Queerest of the Queer to create a NoLabel ‘non-binary, postgender beer’)

Smartly, they are not using price as a brand differentiator as many in the CPG industry do. “Pouring £12,000 worth of hops into a tank of already brewed beer doesn’t make much economic sense, but it’s how I like the beer,” — James Watt mentioned in an interview. The duo launched their business with an idea to brew a beer they’d personally enjoy drinking. And it looks like their community shares their taste preferences.

As marketers, we know that every successful brand has a distinctive selling proposition. But oftentimes, we built such on personal judgment and our assumptions do not find a response with the target audience. Such a knowledge gap is a prime reason why many branding and rebranding efforts fail. While BrewDog’s hunch paid off and struck a chord with the community, it’s always better to back your inklings with audience data.

Primary Audiences Help Grow. Secondary Audiences Help Scale.

Both British men and women have the same levels of brand awareness — 31%. But the males are more likely to consider using the brand: 65% vs 60%. Respectively, of that 65%, 43% prefer BrewDog over other brands. At the bottom of the funnel, 40% are already sipping BrewDog’s ales.

The data can be interpreted in several ways. On the surface level, BrewDog is a brand built by men for other beer-loving men. It’s no non-nonsense positioning and tone of voice lands better with this audience. Then, their male orientation also extends to product development. The brewer holds the record for the world’s strongest beer and has a range of products with above-average alcohol content.

Women are also well-aware of BrewDog. Among them, 60% are considering this brand, whereas 39% of this pack has a preference for the brand over others. At the lowest level, only 35% are using it.

The drop in brand performance is sharp when compared to male audiences. How so? We assume that BrewDog seems to have gotten into the trap most other beer brands do: failing to engage with female beer drinkers.

A recent report of UK consumers found that male-oriented advertising is a strong barrier, pushing away 27% of women from ordering beers. The figure jumps to 48% among the 18-24-year-old female group. Interestingly, taste is also a divider. Among beer-loving goals, 56% go for a pint because they like the taste. At the same time, 83% of women never drink beer because they don’t like the taste.

The “taste factor” could explain the lower numbers of brand preference and brand usage among females. On the other hand, BrewDog and other beer brands too could have done better work with their advertising and positioning towards women. Especially given the fact that women seem to be strongly interested in considering this brand, but then don’t follow through and try it.

Marketing to Gen Z Consumers Will be Tricky for Beer Brands

Millennials (aged 25 to 41 in 2021) helped propel the craft beer movement by choosing “local”, “organic”, and “craft” over mass-market. But the newest generation, Gen Z, who are coming of legal drinking age are not as hooked on craft beers.

We found that among the 18-24-year-old demographic in the UK, only 17% are aware of BrewDog. That’s a plummeting drop. Yet, among them, 57% are considering trying this Brand, and among them, 40% have a preference for it. These figures are similar to other audiences. Why so?

A lag in awareness probably stems from the new drinking habits. Per the Society of Independent Brewers, 23% of 18-24-year-olds are now teetotal, with 6% going sober in the past 12 months. The decision to avoid alcohol consumption per se partially explains a gap in awareness.

Secondly, the newest generation also drinks 20% less per capita than their Millennial counterparts did at the same age. A survey by Berenberg also notes that 64% of young adults today already say that they plan to drink less when they get older (and past the “party” stage in life) as they are more concerned about their health. Finally, when the youngsters go for some booze, most prefer spirits (such as vodka or gin) and wine to beer.

Still, despite the overall changing perception of beer drinking, Gen Zs do love to grab a beer once in a while. When they do, most go for local, heritage brands with values they can relate to. BrewDog does well in the storytelling department and that likely explains higher brand consideration and preference numbers.

Boomers are The Best Performing Beer Audience

The common wisdom prompts us into thinking that the young drink and party the hardest. But data proves otherwise. The drinking rates are declining among younger consumers, Boomers still greatly enjoy their pint.

Consumers aged 56-65 are the best performing target audience for BrewDog. 44% of this demographic is aware of BrewDog, likely due to a mix of several factors — overall interest in beers and wide-cast offline and online advertising.

A 2019 UK government-backed survey found that:

  • 64% of adults, aged 45-64 had at least one drink per week.

  • 41% of adults, aged 16-24 did the same.

Boomers abstain less from alcohol than their younger counterparts and statistically consume more alcohol than Millennials or Gen Zs. Hence, targeting this audience for brand awareness campaigns makes perfect sense.

What we also noticed, however, is that despite higher awareness, BrewDog loses some points at later stages of the funnel. Out of 44%, only 63% are considering this brand (vs 31% and 65% among Millennial men for comparison). Also, of the above, 38% prefer BrewDog to other beers and only 33% are using the brand.

BrewDog could improve its funnel by tailoring its campaigns even more to this generation. For example, dwell more on how age enables a richer and fuller lifestyle. Recruiting more mature ambassadors, which the brand already has aplenty, could be one way to accomplish that.

Final Thoughts

BrewDog has a refreshing approach to branding marketing. Their campaigns may be daring, blunt, and defiant at times, but always with a good cause in mind. Over the years, they spoke about important community issues — inclusiveness, diversity, sustainability, and giving back. The grand sum of such creativity, values, and commitment to delivering excellent products helped BrewDog turn its brand equity into financial support. Other craft beer brands should take a cue when it comes to brand identity development.

On the other hand, there’s also room to grow. BrewDog has a strong potential to convert more secondary audiences — female beer fans and Boomers. Doubling up on tailoring a portion of their messaging towards them could lead to significant gains at the later stages of the funnel, and sales volumes subsequently.

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