We’re big fans of beer … who isn’t? We love it so much that as an agency we actually have a beer cart tradition. But over the last five years, as Millennials have swelled to make up almost two-thirds of our employees, our little beer cart has changed dramatically to accommodate the tastes of our staff. Where it used to be dominated by Heineken and Coors Light, it’s now graced by Blue Moon, Fireman’s #4, and Rahr Ugly Pug Porter. That made us curious: was the change the result of the influence of a couple of beer snobs in our office or indicative of a larger trend with Millennial beer drinkers? So, after much debate and one too many beers, we decided to field our own proprietary research study to find out.
Our online quantitative study and on-premise interviews revealed three core insights that demonstrate how Millennial beer drinkers are different from the generations that precede them:
1. Millennials are adventurous beer drinkers.
94% have tried a new beer in the last month, and 54% have in the last week. Given this desire for adventure, it’s not surprising that craft beer has taken hold with this generation. Our survey results indicated that 47% drink craft beer most often, with light beers being a close second choice. So what’s their attraction to craft? They feel it provides more flavor than other types of beer and they like the seasonal options.
Millennials’ adventurous palate doesn’t just influence which six-pack they grab at the convenience store, it also impacts the bars and restaurants they frequent. Seven in ten indicate they prefer places with a wide beer selection, with one in four indicating the beer selection ultimately influences their decision on where to go. “I'd rather enjoy my burger with an IPA than a Bud Light. Most places have good food, not all places have good beer.” (Lauren, 23)
2. Millennials are five times more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth than marketing when it comes to selecting a beer.
Millennials are heavily influenced by the recommendations of friends, wait staff, and bartenders when it comes to beer. That’s the number one way they learned about a new craft beer. And once they find a beer they like, they don’t keep it to themselves. “Just the other day, I told my brother about a great beer I had… if I really like a beer, I will definitely pass the message along to my friends.” (Brandon, 32)
Eighty percent of consumers in this generation report they are recommending beers to their friends. The key things that get a beer on their recommendation list were being from a local brewery, having a unique taste, and being seasonally relevant.
By contrast, less than 10% of Millennials indicated they learned about a new beer they were consuming from advertising, and the majority indicated advertising “does not” or “has not a lot” of influence over their beer selection. “If the beer is good, it will speak for itself … funny beer ads can be great, but those don't really affect my purchase habits.” (Connor, 23)
For Millennial beer drinkers, there is more cachet in discovering their favorite brand through recommendation and sharing it with others than following the ad-led pack of lemmings. This desire to discover brands and products isn’t unique to the beer category, but it is displayed more prominently in this generation than in the others that came before it.
3. Millennials are eager to engage with their favorite beer brands digitally.
Millennials think about beer a lot. Eighty-seven percent have consumed one in the last week. So, given that and how digitally connected they are, we weren’t surprised that 41% reported that they had previously interacted with a beer brand or brewery online. What did surprise us was their eagerness to engage with brands digitally and the content they were most interested in.
When it came to content, they wanted information they could use to stay one step ahead of their peers. Being the first to know about seasonal varieties, new beer types and products, and where they could find their favorites on sale was desirable. But, they were less interested in a beer’s back story or the beer-making process. “I follow Nola Brewery, Tin Roof, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. PBR is hilarious. The other two are local and fill me in on deals and tour dates.” (Kari, 26)
Our research confirmed our hypothesis that Millennial beer drinkers are indeed different, and that our changing beer cart is no anomaly. And it’s also prompted some rather bold discussions internally on how some of the $1 billion spent annually on beer advertising might be better spent to connect with this target online vs. traditional channels. Given the huge potential WOM recommendations can have for beer brands, we’re surprised more brewers aren’t investing to find Millennial influencers to engage and reward them via services like Klout and FanCorps and apps like Untappd. Beer marketers have traditionally worked very hard to find that next funny spot in an effort to get people talking about their brand, but it appears with this generation the opportunity that many are missing is in providing the content and encouragement the drinker needs to do the talking.