Millennials are drinking. That in and of itself might come as a shock to those of us a bit more long in the tooth. While the older end of generation X is already entering the maintenance phase of middle age that sees people adopting fitness routines to stave off the ravages of youthful excess, the 30 and under set are chugging Pabst Blue Ribbon with wild abandon.
On one level we shouldn’t be surprised: for many, starting to drink is just another stage in life’s progress. However, it’s what millennials are drinking that is throwing marketers in the beverage industry for a loop. Whether at home or happy hour, they want the experience that’s authentic.
There are a few facts about people born between 1982 and 1994 that stick out. It’s striking, for example, how experience-oriented they are. Whether it’s pairing wine with dinner or drinking cocktails at a bar, it's rarely about those things alone. For some, a brand might be positively associated with a feeling of community. Though notoriously averse to spending money, they will nevertheless spend hand over fist on, for example, organic or locally-sourced products. In the case of an organic wine a millennial consumer might even be willing to pay luxury prices because of political or health concerns about conventional versions of the same product.
An Established Reputation Won’t Always Sell
Millennials tend not to recognize any authority older than themselves. For established brands this presents a conundrum: If you rely on your reputations to sell products, millennials might not buy. There’s a resurgence of that spirit which first presented itself during the ’60s in the new generation, and that spirit is profoundly anti-authoritarian. The good news is, like the flower children of yesteryear, most anti-authoritarians define themselves primarily through consumption. Learning to tap into this desire to break rules will separate the winners from the losers in the beverage category.
Give them a challenger brand whose message promises not to do business as usual and good things are guaranteed to happen. This might mean, for example, something as simple as incorporating messages about sustainability into your products’ packaging.
Small Is Beautiful
Millennials turn conventional wisdom on its head regarding economies of scale. If anything, what consumers now desire most is the more authentic and romantic alternative of small batch production. Why? Small-scale production guarantees a certain human intimacy between producer and consumer, and the millennial market is especially attuned to this. Even if you’re a massive company, consider diversifying production to present small batch offerings.
Major players in the spirits sector are already putting small batch offerings on the shelves but–crucially– the positioning has shifted. Whereas in the past small batch production might have meant luxury and exclusivity, today the messaging signals authenticity and humility.
Tell Them a Story
Young people love craft beers, but many not for the reasons you’d expect. While some palettes no doubt appreciate the subtle interplay of hops and malts, this is the same age group that rescued brands like Pabst, Olympia and Schaeffer’s–none of whom are known for their rich flavor–from oblivion. So what gives?
You’ve probably heard the expression “the journey is the destination.” Increasingly, crafting strong messaging and a compelling brand story is as important to wooing millennials as the right ingredients. Millennials crave authenticity above all, and brands capable of quenching that thirst are poised for big wins.
They Expect New Experiences
This generation has been an early adopter of pretty much every new technology under the sun. There has never been a time that they weren’t exploring something new. For marketers, this translates into an exciting situation. Whether it is a question of taste, packaging or locale, millennials are open to change.
This openness to change is partly related to a distaste for elitism, snobbery and rules. This applies even to wine, long considered the haughtiest of sector of the beverage industry. In fact, millennials aren’t just guzzling wine but are leading the industry toward changes that would have seemed crazy just ten years ago. Boxed wine, for example, has thrived in this new constellation of values.
The Beverage Industry has to adapt in both the short and long term to the whims of millennials. They are already leading new developments in the wine market and every indication is that they’ll be doing the same with spirits and beer in the near future. The good news is that to appeal to them, you don’t necessarily have to radically change your business; you just need to tell them something they want to hear. Moreover, millennials are more likely to openly share their opinions than any other generation before them based on their adoption of social media alone. So if your question is “what do millennials want to drink?” they’d be more than willing to tell you if you just ask.
About the Author: Devon Bergman is CEO of BARTRENDr, the private social network for drinking buddies near and far.