MY desk is covered in beer bottles – all my colleagues wonder what it is I do. I’ve chosen the most interesting line of research.”
Tim Froggett, senior lecturer in marketing at Anglia Ruskin University, is a man passionate about beer, marketing and consumer choice. So naturally, his ideas came to him in the pub.
Head to any supermarket and they’ve got you sussed before you walk through the doors. The mysterious ‘they’ – know where you’ll look first, what colours will catch your eye, and what your thought process will be – like having your shopping future predicted for you.
‘They’ know where and at what height to place products to get your attention, banner designs that most appeal, how to wring the last possible pennies from every consumer-unit in their shop and keep them coming back.
But, loathe it or not, it’s part of their huge success story. And giant breweries can do the same – with their marketing budgets they’ve worked out their target consumer; how, where and with whom they drink; and therefore, how to catch their attention and increase brand awareness. It’s inevitably been ground ceded to the big boys by the microbrewers, who look to fight their battles on more advantageous fronts where values hold more credence than budgets.
Perhaps, that is, until now.
“Last summer I was in the classroom with international students in Cambridge. The air-con broke and it was unbearably hot,” continues Mr Froggett. Deciding the beer garden of the Cambridge Blue pub would be a more amicable place to hold the seminar.
“This is a proper real ale pub – no Fosters or Carling – and there was nothing they’d heard of. So it got me thinking: how did they go about choosing the beer?”
It was a thought which has led to research that, on a basic level, is fascinating, but for microbrewers could lead to sophisticated ideas on marketing and brand awareness that, in the absence of a marketing budget, could help them make up lost ground.
Yet the subject is relatively unexplored, says Mr Froggett.
“Supermarkets understand a lot about shelf and aisle position, and being on eye level – plus or minus 10-15 degrees,” he says. “No brewers or publicans have looked into this.
“You’ve got to look at product knowledge and brand awareness – it’s a massive thing for the industry. You’ve got to give consumers a reason to choose. The big brewers understand that.”
Speaking to consumers in three pubs, he handed out questionnaires as soon as people sat down. Of those who’d chosen a beer they didn’t know, the majority couldn’t remember either the brewery or beer names. A higher than average number went for the beer at the top left (the Cambridge Blue has 14 or more ales with some on gravity dispense, meaning more than one pump clip on each handpull) – which fits with research.
They could usually remember the pump clip colour – yellow being strong – which fits with memory encoding research.
It seems strange there are so few radically shaped pump clips, and Mr Froggett advocates giving drinkers the information they need rather than brewers putting personally significant names on pump clips that have little meaning outside the immediate catchment area.
He also praises pump clips such as Titanic’s Plum Porter which clearly shows the key ingredient, or those that display a brief colour.
Mr Froggett admits the research is at an elementary level so far, and of course there are other factors in the mix – the “sensible strategy” of try-before-you-buy, and different consumer ‘segments’ from ‘variety seekers’ to ale virgins. But he aims to bring more sophistication and precision to the research including eye-scanning technology.
Excitingly, he has also developed an ‘Ask Cask’ app – free for breweries to use – allowing smartphone users to scan QR codes on pump clips to bring up tasting notes, interact with the brewery, write and swap reviews, and even receive promotional offers to use at the bar. Currently only Oakham Ales uses it but it seems perfect for the young, emerging ale market.
“Most people just use QR codes as a way of sending information, but the real value is using them interactively. As a microbrewer you don’t really have any opportunity to talk to all your customers. With this, you have your own interactive platform. Consumers like consensus.”
Brewers can even gather information such as consumers’ profiles, where their beer’s being drunk, and whether promotional offers help.
Ultimately, Mr Froggett has one mantra.
“You’ve got no marketing budget, you’re in an industry dominated by the giants, and the one thing you’ve got is your pump clip. Use it wisely.”
Any brewers interested in trials of the free QR code Ask Cask app, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0191 201 6122