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The big brewery battle

What can challenger breweries teach the global players about audience appeal? Barry Pilling believes craft brewers not only know their audience, but their audience knows exactly who they are

Barry Pilling Telegraph Hill

One thing's clear - challenger breweries have taken off in a big way. Ale is no longer ailing, with 18m more pints sold in 2015 than the year before. But mainstream lager sales are still on the decline. What's working so well for the underdogs, to put them ahead of such major corporations and their multi-million pound marketing budgets?

First we must look at the audience, especially the young adult drinkers who are most open and receptive to drinking trends. Brewers have a new challenge where their competition is not just other alcoholic drinks but people not drinking at all. Between 2004 and 2014 the increase in tee total young adults rose by 40%.  We know young drinkers today are looking to enjoy a drink, not to just get drunk and so their drinking behaviour has changed. They are now as interested, if not more, about finding drinks with stories rather then drinking in volume. 54% of Millennials try three different drinks a week and over a third (35%) chose their most recent drink on it being something they haven't drunk before.

Brewers need to create advertising campaigns for a generation happy to drink when inspired and increasingly more happy not to drink when offered beers they think they know. For today's audience a campaign that suggests the values of a challenger brewery is not enough. Instead, the big brewers will succeed when they truly live and breathe their values, just as the craft brewers do. They have to re-establish their story, reconnect with their heritage and bring audiences into the brewery like never before.

At Telegraph Hill we put audiences first in all we do. We've distilled these four truths about modern audiences - evidenced in the success of challenger breweries - that will help global brewers succeed in the coming year.

Audiences love authenticity
From dodgy dossiers to turkey twizzlers, modern audiences are sick of mindless commercialisation and spin. They like to see exactly who is making their products and why, from BrewDog's rebels to Black Sheep's proud Yorkshiremen and to Five Points' Hackney hipsters. They see each purchase as a meaningful statement - they're actively supporting the underdogs, the good guys, the honest ones who do it differently.

Global brewers shouldn't underestimate their own illustrious histories and the purpose of their founding fathers, bringing their voice back into the conversation. Avoid big brand messages yelled from every surface, instead focusing on storytelling, purpose and heritage to sell with subtlety and meaning.

Audiences crave connection 
Challenger brewers are stretched thin in terms of their staff and resource, especially when compared to the huge workforces of the big brands. More often than not it's the same person brewing as it is interacting with consumers via social media, creating a truly personable edge.

Global brewers have the opportunity to do the same.  Instead of hiding behind the logo and the glossy multi-million pound campaigns, they can open up their organisations and tell the stories of the people, passion and expertise that makes them so unique.  Master brewers proud enough to put their signature on the bottle makes a statement that even the biggest brewer is staffed by caring people whose reputation rests on the quality of the product - we just don't hear about it in their marketing.

Audiences love brands that demonstrate their values 
From brewing in the heart of the city like Camden Town, or creating a fairtrade coffee porter like Meantime, modern audiences like to see brands speaking with their actions, not their TV ads and posters.

Global brewers can lean more on these qualities to attract audiences, from the number of people they employee across Britain, to the schemes they can put into action with their profits.  Putting their actions at the heart of the conversation will speak louder - and more cost-effectively - than any traditional ad. It's not about buying values, it's about breathing them.

Audiences want new experiences
With such a variety of styles, flavours and headline-grabbing seasonal batches, challenger brewers have made beer drinking more diverse and fun than it has ever been, enhancing the experience for consumers.

Global brewers might not be as nimble, but they can compete by thinking beyond the drink itself. Our client Britain's Beer Alliance  works with the five global brewers and the BBPA to help the audience understand beer matching - combining the right beer with the right food to enhance any meal occasion.  Discovering perfect flavour combinations adds a whole new dimension, giving audiences a reason to go back to familiar brands once again.

Barry Pilling, pictured below, is co-founder and creative director at Telegraph Hill agency,  London

29 March 2016