Craft Beer, Neurology, and Brand Marketing
It’s all about what’s in the bottle…right?
That’s the argument of us craft beer advocates. Forget the Superbowl commercials and prancing horses. Judge your beer on what actually matters – how it tastes.
It sounds logical, but our looney brains aren’t hardwired to make decisions based on utility alone.
The first trial was a standard blind tasting, and the results were 50/50 as they typically are when Coke is pitted against Pepsi. The interesting part is that when people were told what they were drinking, 75% preferred Coke and 25% preferred Pepsi.
On top of that, parts of the brain started lighting up when people were drinking Coke that didn’t light up with Pepsi. The parts of the brain related to memory & cultural influences showed activity with Coke, but not Pepsi.
From the article:
“So the emotional imagery that Coke has made part of its brand, with varying success, seems to embed in people’s brains. And Pepsi’s reliance on celebrities? Two of their most visible spokespeople, Brittany Spears and Michael Jackson, may forever be associated with the brand but are probably not helping it too much today…The brain studies suggest that Coke’s iconic brand and arguably stronger cultural connection may in fact make a difference in preference.
The brain studies suggest that Coke’s iconic brand and arguably stronger cultural connection may in fact make a difference in preference. And that preference is linked not just to taste (hello, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) but also memory-related brain regions that are related to cultural influences.”
So in the blind taste test people are split, but because of Coke’s successful branding, people have more of an emotional connection and actually prefer Coke when they know it’s Coke.
You Can’t Fight Biology
This really isn’t too surprising. If you tasted beers made by the Dalai Lama and Adolf Hitler, wouldn’t lean you towards Mr. Lama’s brew? Associations count and skew what we “should” prefer based on utility (flavor) alone.
It’s not only in drinks.
Why do people drive Mercedes or use Macbooks? Sure they’re great products, but there’s more to it. It feels good to use these brands. They touch us at an emotional level.
Craft Brewers Need a Strong Brand
I’ve talked before about competition in the craft beer industry and I’ll say it again – making great beer won’t be enough to compete.
Brewers need to establish an identity that is memorable, emotional, and worth talking about. Yes, that involves marketing.
But marketing isn’t a four letter word.
It just has a bad wrap in the beer industry because of how it’s been done by the big boys: dishonest, sleazy, and gimmicky.
Look to craft brewers like Stone and Dogfish Head on how to do it right. Effective brand marketing not only makes you stand out among competitors, it influences how people perceive your beer beyond flavor. The brain tells us so.