When the craft beer revolution started gaining traction about 10 years ago, I was an early follower. Not a beer geek, per se, but enough of a fan to appreciate what the smaller companies were doing and producing.

As new breweries and tasting rooms started popping up around Boston, despite my age (squarely in the gen X/Millennial gray zone), new-parent status, and lack of hipster flannel, I became a bit of a fangirl, falling in love with both the beer and the scene itself.

As a marketer, I also became intrigued by the how of it all—how were these small breweries creating such demand? How would the fad play out? And how could I get my hands on their beer without waiting in line for a growler or dragging my four-year-old to a tasting room that smells, as she once loudly declared, “disgusting.”

Though that last question has yet to be answered, the others have been the subject of many articles, including this comprehensive one: “Craft Beer is the Strangest, Happiest Economic Story in America.” It may be a strange story, but when examined through the lens of consumer attitudes—not to mention the current state of trust around the world—it makes a kind of sense.

A 2017 report from Sustainable Brands reveals that, more than material wealth, people now favor the pursuit of “balanced simplicity” and “meaningful connections,” and believe brands can help them live more meaningful lives. As consumers, we now have relationships with brands, and we want these relationships to both add value and make us feel valued.

While my beloved beverage-makers are recognizing and acting on this, along with many other “craft” brands, what’s especially interesting to me is the way in which they’re also changing the collective conversation about branding. Now, instead of looking for inspiration among the giants, the giants are being advised to model themselves on what the little guys are doing. This isn’t just David slaying Goliath. This is Goliath looking to David for fighting techniques.

As a result, it’s an interesting time to be both a consumer and a brand-maker.

And, of course, a beer-maker. So what are my favorites, like Trillium, Night Shift, and Castle Island, doing that’s so right?

  1. Following their passion. Night Shift’s founders, for example, started brewing beer together at night (hence the name) because, quite simply, they enjoyed it. They built a small following among friends and eventually took a leap of faith, leaving their day jobs to start a business that was truly a labor of love. It’s not an uncommon company origin story, but it still resonates.
  2. Staying true to who they are-and not trying to be more than that. Many of today’s brands are scrambling to tie a larger purpose to their positioning, suddenly (disingenuously) claiming to want to change the world. When done for the wrong reasons, this falls flat with an already distrusting audience. Craft brewers, on the other hand, are straightforward about their why: to make beer they love and share it with others.
  3. Providing alternatives to the status quo-and delivering high-quality products. When I met my husband in 2010, his favorite beer was Blue Moon. Now he won’t drink it, lamenting the fact that I ruined it for him. Craft beer has done this to an entire industry, changing our tastes and upping our standards.
  4. Fearlessly experimenting-creating new needs and demands. Two years ago, I had no idea that a horchata-style milk stout aged in bourbon barrels would be one of the best things I ever sipped. Now I covet it and curse the fact that it can only be obtained in a tasting room. This is business-creating wizardry at its best.
  5. Making customers feel valued-and valuable. Small breweries listen and respond to their customers, who quickly become loyal followers and fans (e.g., customers can weigh in on new beers, some tap rooms now have tiny tables and coloring books for kids, etc.). Customers, in turn, feel like they’re contributing to the greater good by supporting local businesses. Everyone feels happy about the exchange (and not just because they’re intoxicated).

In this age of balanced simplicity and meaningful connection, craft breweries are doing it right. At KHJ, we’d say they know who they’re BEing in the world, and they’re embracing it. Consumers are responding in spades, and bigger brands are taking note.

Connect with us today to find out how you can take your organization, no matter its size, to the next level-so you can be all you can be and then some. We’ll even share our beer.