To quote Ladner; “Ethnographers cannot offer what their quantitative colleagues can: prediction of what will happen(2014)”. It is the unpredictability of ethnography that gives us the deep understanding of the cohorts that we observe. This allows us as IMC specialists and marketers the ability to see what our audiences see, to understand their needs and pain. Of course we must always take the time to conduct the research and not make assumptions. Perhaps it is for this reason that I chose the venue I did for this observation, to perhaps observe on a deeper level the generational cohorts I was assigned to research.
Location of Observation
While I could have chose somewhere common like a movie theatre or shopping mall to conduct my observation, I decided to go a different route. In the past decade or so, the craft beer industry has seen a boom in popularity, with local breweries invading former warehouses, urban areas, and once run down districts. In this respect, the location of my observation is not different. Housed in a former warehouse in what was once a high crime industrial area, XXXXXX Brewing Company is just a small part of the revitalization of the city of XXXXXX. Additionally, my curiosity regarding a piece of research I recently came across got the best of me. Per that research; “It is well-known in the craft beer industry that craft beer consumers are a very unique market. Their demographics can easily be segmented and they’re generally quite diverse (i.e. age varies greatly). However, while the demographics are quite different, their attitudes, cognitions and behaviors can typically be linked together quite easily(Garver, 2013)”. What I wanted to see for myself was if regardless of generational cohort, did the cognitions and behaviors of craft beer drinkers link together?
Observations of Generational Cohorts
Walking into XXXXXX Brewing Company on a Sunday afternoon, I was confident that there would be a wide variety of generations in the taproom as this has been the case in my past visits to the establishment. This visit didn’t disappoint and I was quickly able to locate and identify the subjects of my observation. In fact, the only generational cohort I was unable to locate in the establishment was the older generation(born prior to 1945). To compensate for this, I identified two subjects within Generation X, one appearing to be on the younger end of the generation and one on the older.
Baby Boomers. The subjects identified of the Baby Boomer generation was a couple that was in their mid 60’s in age. They sat at a table appearing to only want table service as opposed to going to the tap bar for their drinks as both are options in this establishment. When speaking to their server, they appeared to be rushed into making their decisions, not only by the server but also by the fast paced appearance of the atmosphere within the establishment. After what appeared to be a tense conversation with their server, they ordered with the server quickly returning with a sample flight of beers. The couple shared the flight of beers seemingly confused at the taste and still appearing rushed. They finished their flight rather quickly, paid the check and departed. My assessment was that they were willing to give something different a try, but were turned off by the pace and the lack of attention given by the server.
Generation X(Older). This group was a couple in their early 50’s. They were accompanied by two young men who were in their early 20’s, most likely within a year of being of legal drinking age and perhaps sons of the couple. This couple along with their group stood outside near the cornhole boards watching another group play what appeared to be an intense game. The couple sipped their beers and chatted with the young men in their group. While they appeared to be comfortable in the environment, I got the impression that they would have preferred a quieter place to perhaps visit with their group. When they ordered beers from the server, it appeared that the male would advise the female on which beer to choose as she appeared less than completely comfortable in the brewery. I observed the couple drink two beers and pay their bill. They then hugged the two young men in their group and departed, leaving the young men to join another group of those similar in age.
Generation X(Younger). The next group I observed was a small group of 4 men in their early 40’s. They were wearing outdoor/hiking type clothing and shoes which led me to believe that they perhaps went hiking or did some other outdoor activity prior to coming into the establishment. The group of men stood at the bar and chatted up the young man who was tending the taps. The employee appeared to be explaining in-depth something regarding the beers and perhaps the brewing process. I observed the employee give the group a couple of small samples of beers before the group ordered their drinks. The men also ordered pizzas which they ate as samplers while they stood at the bar and chatted up each other and the employee working the bar. Overall, the men seemed comfortable in the environment and appeared to have a genuine interest in the subject of craft beer and the brewing process.
Millennials. Moving onto the next cohort, I chose two couples in what appeared to be their late 20’s or early 30’s. Both of the couples had children in strollers that appeared to be under the age of 1. The couples sat at a four top table in the center of the brewery. In addition to the flight samplers that the women were drinking and the full pints that the men were enjoying, they also had two pizzas that they were snacking on. Both couples appeared to be engrossed both among themselves as well as their mobile devices. In fact, it took a few seconds for them to realize that the server had approached and asked them if they needed anything. At that point one woman asked for something and the server returned with glasses of ice water for the entire group. Overall, it appeared that the group wasn’t very attentive of the environment that they were in, they could have been anywhere and perhaps acted the same.
Generation Z. With looking at Generation Z we return to the two young men that were with the couple that appeared to be their parents(Gen X-Older). Upon the departure of the older members of their group, they joined a group of others similar in age. At that time they pulled out their mobile devices and began taking selfies and typing. In between spurts of mobile device engagement, they appeared to hold animated conversations with the rest of their cohort and also joined in on the game of cornhole. As a whole, these members of Generation Z appeared quite comfortable both in the brewery environment as well as among their peers.
Make Baby Boomers comfortable. While many of the generational cohorts seemed to enjoy their experiences at XXXXXX Brewing, there were a couple of clear outliers. These outliers clearly are open to the craft beer experience, however they need to be further understood and felt to be an accepted part of the craft beer audience. With that in mind, my recommendations will focus on the Baby Boomer generation and females.
Starting with the Baby Boomers, Eric Johnson summed it up brilliantly; “I am a Baby Boomer. I drink Craft Brews. And there are plenty more like me. Our generation has raised kids, worked our careers, made money, and done our thing. We tend to have leisure time. And, we’re looking for new experiences. Want some new customers? Consider us as a target market(2017)”. In my observation, the Baby Boomers felt rushed and less than comfortable in the brewery. Perhaps XXXXXX can better cater to this cohort by training their servers in generational differences. Perhaps XXXXXX can offer specials at certain times where Baby Boomers are more apt to have free time and visit when the establishment is a little less busy. Going further, offer tasting classes that cater to the palette of the Baby Boomer. At the end of the day, this generational cohort has both the free time and disposable income to be a powerhouse as a customer base.
Get women interested. According to an article by Emma Schmitz; “As of 2016, only 25 percent of craft beer drinkers were women, according to the Brewers Association. And it’s at least possible that that has something to do with the fact that no one in the industry seems invested in a craft beer revolution for women(2017)”. This seems to me as an untapped(pardon the pun) market. Perhaps hold a ladies night with tastings? Or maybe take some time to research where women who would enjoy beer are on social media. In the end by getting women interested in craft beer, they may be more inclined to hang out longer when they come with their significant others and not leave after only a beer.
At the end of the day, craft beer is clearly poised to serve a wide array of ages and generations. It’s not a nightclub for only young people, clearly child friendly, and perhaps a good spot for some family fun. While the craft beer industry generally does a good job of attracting many demographics, there is always opportunities for improvement.
Garver, A. (2013). Craft Beer And Consumer Behavior. Retrieved from https://anthonygarver.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/buyer-behavior-craft-beer-project.pdf
Johnson, E. (2017). Want More Customers? Think Baby Boomers(really?). Retrieved from https://cbam-mag.com/want-more-customers-think-baby-boomers-really/
Ladner, S. (2014). Practical ethnography: A guide to doing ethnography in the Private Sector. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast press.
Reed College of Media, West Virginia University. (2018). Week 6 Lesson: Subcultures & Culture, Ethnographic Analysis & Beyond[Online]. Retrieved from https://ecampus.wvu.edu/webapps/blackboard
Schmitz, E. (2017, March 22). Why Is No One Marketing Craft Beer To Women? Retrieved from https://vinepair.com/articles/why-dont-women-in-craft-beer-care-if-women-drink-craft-beer/
Solomon, M. R. (2013). Consumer behavior: Buying, having and being (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.