Attracting a More Diverse Fan Base

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J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham

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This article was originally published in the March/April 2019 issue of The New Brewer®.

While the composition of regional marketplaces varies significantly, current data reveals that certain demographic groups are nearly universally underrepresented among the craft beer industry’s consumers.

  • Women make up just over half of the general U.S. population, but comprise only 31 percent of craft beer
  • People of color make up approximately 32 percent of drinking-age Americans, but only 20 percent of craft beer
  • Nearly 39 percent of Americans of legal drinking age are 55 or older, but only 21 percent of craft beer drinkers fall within this age

Though these national trends can be observed in many markets, regional variations can be significant. Therefore, breweries should make a concerted effort to understand the makeup of their unique consumer markets.

Every pint of craft beer is a product of the ingredients used in its production. In the same way, the composition of your fans will be, at least in part, a product of the demographic makeup of the region your brewery serves. In order to set realistic and achievable diversity and inclusion goals, it is logical to first understand the composition of the general population as well as the craft beer drinking population in your area.

General Population Data

A number of tools are readily available for learning about the area your brewery serves. The American FactFinder, an online tool created by the U.S. Census Bureau, provides summary data for various population, housing, and economic characteristics. Use the Guided Search feature to answer a series of questions to efficiently find the information you are looking for.

Many community organizations may also provide valuable demographic data, saving the time and effort of searching and summarizing census data. These organizations may serve their constituencies at the neighborhood, municipal, county, state, regional, or national level and can include:

  • Governments
  • Small business associations
  • Economic development authorities or commissions
  • Visitors bureaus
  • Planning departments or commissions

Forming Authentic Relationships with New Fans

When it comes to increasing diversity and inclusivity among your fans, taking a “barriers not bait” approach is crucial. This approach asserts that rather than attempting to bait specific populations of people into a relationship with your brand, your efforts should be focused on removing perceived barriers to access. Following are six broad approaches that breweries can take to begin the process of attracting a more diverse fan base.

1. Expand the social geography of your brand.

While the area and types of distribution your brewery engages with are part of the “social geography” of your brand, there are a number of additional elements to keep in mind.

Diversity of Accounts: For breweries that do considerable distribution off-premise, the number, type, and location of your sales accounts can affect the degree of variation in your customer base.

Putting in Face Time: Many small and independent brewers take advantage of opportunities to interact with consumers outside the walls of the brewery at festivals and other community events.

Keeping abreast of a broad range of opportunities or exploring new ones is an effective strategy for expanding the social geography of your brand.

Reaching Beyond Beer: Partnerships are an effective and efficient way to grow your network of fans. Looking beyond craft beer and closely related industries—whether through advertising and sponsorship, marketing, or philanthropy—is another productive way to extend your brand’s social geography.

Winning new fans from demographic groups that are not well represented among craft beer drinkers often involves more than educating potential customers about your brand and beers. In many cases, gaining new fans involves exposing people to craft beer in general.

2. Be an awesome ambassador for the craft beer industry.

Those who make craft beer are often its most passionate fans. Industry members have long appreciated the specialized knowledge involved in the production and enjoyment of craft beer. For better or worse, a byproduct of the significant role of this specialized knowledge has been the development of an “economy of expertise.” And although craft beers produced by small and independent breweries may be sold at a higher price point than beers produced by the largest non- craft brewers, a lack of knowledge can create a more effective barrier to access than a lack of financial resources.

Many in craft beer are accustomed to being lecturers, tour guides, gurus, and friendly adversaries, but may not necessarily be careful and attentive ambassadors. This role requires careful listening skills and attention to the overall customer experience.

3. Do not make assumptions about the expertise of your fans.

Just as a lack of knowledge may serve as a barrier to access for those who deem it necessary to be comfortable in the world of craft beer, the experience of having one’s expertise questioned or ignored can also serve as a barrier to returning.

First impressions matter. What people see and experience the first few times they interact with your brand, your beer, or your brewery will go a long way toward determining their perceived standards and norms for the messages, experiences, and spaces that you create and manage. For breweries invested in growing the diversity of their fan base, taking an active role in shaping norms for their new fans is key.

4. Mirror the diversity you want to see.

The prospect of mirroring the diversity you want to see in your fans when that diversity does not yet exist presents a very real dilemma. How do you accomplish this without resorting to tokenizing underrepresented fans, using exploitative marketing, or appearing to be inauthentic or insincere in representing yourself in the marketplace?

5. Use partnerships to build your fan network.

Beer has long been acknowledged as a social beverage, and craft breweries continue to be enjoyable locations for social gatherings and community events. Though breweries often take the initiative to create and curate social experiences around their beers and in their breweries, many fans, old and new, are organized by countless interests, activities, and affinities outside of drinking craft beer.

Make sure that your partnerships are not always with the same types of organizations and that your partners don’t all serve the same population of fans.

6. Don’t mistake friendliness for inclusivity.

This suggestion challenges the commonly held assumption that being decent and kind is equivalent to being diversity-minded. It is not. Oftentimes, the lack of overt bias or hate speech is taken as evidence that a product or space is equitable and inclusive. This is akin to concluding that a lack of off-flavors results in a flavorful beer. The two are at least on some level related, but are by no means equivalent.