Ever since a college marketing class, I’ve found the concept of brand loyalty intriguing. It’s one of those human behaviors that doesn’t entirely make sense, yet almost everyone is guilty of. Not that brand loyalty is entirely a bad thing – if anything, it’s really just a “thing.” I certainly tend to stick to the brands that I know, regardless of whether another brand may supply a near identical product or even a better price. I will always choose Target over Walmart…even though Walmart typically has the same products at a better price. I will always choose Apple over Samsung…even though, rumor has it, the Android might be a superior phone (I can’t sacrifice my blue iMessages). And I will always choose Anheuser-Busch beers over those made by MillerCoors…even if Coors Light is on draft and Budweiser is bottled.
What’s interesting about beer culture and brand loyalty is that, from what I’ve observed, it seems to have strong family ties. Take my boyfriend’s family, for example. His domestic beer of choice is, almost always, Bud Light – same goes for his dad. I’ve never seen his brother drink any mass distributed beer other than Natural Light. Or my old roommate – she always chose Coors Light, when she wasn’t drinking IPAs…her brother chose Coors as well. This family phenomenon certainly applies to other aspects of brand loyalty, as well – but this is a beer blog, so we’re not going to address those!
So, what exactly is brand loyalty? What are the psychological reasons one person strictly drinks Coors, while another makes jokes about cat piss?
First of all – brand loyalty exists because companies make it exist. It is far cheaper and more simple to establish repeat customers than it is to create new ones. A new customer needs to be convinced; that takes advertising campaigns, market research, and hands-on interaction (ever seen those sample tables at the supermarket??). Repeat customers just need to come back. Companies determine what is important to their customers by analyzing consumer behavior. Obviously ad campaigns, market research, and hands-on interaction is still important, but it doesn’t take as much time and money as it does to essentially start from scratch.
Because I am partial to Anheuser-Busch beers, particularly Bud Light and Budweiser, admitting to this is like nails on a chalkboard: Coors Light and Miller Lite taste pretty much the same. If I did a blind-folded taste test, I can’t confidently say that I would know which lager was which. But why am I, and many others, so avidly opposed to trying something different?
Well, it pretty much comes down to two things: marketing and quality.
Now, when I use the word “quality,” I don’t necessarily mean “good quality.” I mean the same quality. Yes, companies should clearly study their products and improve upon them when necessary. However, the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” really applies here – when you have a significant customer base for a tried and true product, don’t go changing it. People become very comfortable with what they know. I mean, think back to your school days – even when the teacher didn’t assign seats, nine times out of ten, would you choose the same exact desk every single day? And did your world turn upside down if, for some reason, someone was in your spot (or is that just me??). If Anheuser-Busch suddenly dumped a bunch of hops in their tanks, people would probably lose their minds. Who wants something hoppy and floral when they’re used to something simple and crisp? You never see a Bud Light on draft and think “Gee, I really want to be adventurous tonight, let’s give this one a whirl!” You choose a Bud Light because it’s something you know you like and you don’t have to worry about regretting your decision.
The water gets muddied when establishing a brand loyalty for one mass-produced, crisp lager over another nearly identical beer. This is where our second factor comes into play.
That other factor is marketing. I love the Budweiser dog commercials…and the way they used a famous campaign to make an important statement about the dangers of drinking and driving hit me right in the feels. I also enjoy seeing those videos about scholarships for children of fallen veterans or the trucks showing up to disaster-stricken areas with cans and cans and cans of water. The company has hooked me with their values – Anheuser-Busch is a company I genuinely want to support. *
* (Don’t get me wrong, I know there are many sketchy things that InBev has been responsible for – as is the case with any multi-billion dollar corporation. Unfortunately, with most things in today’s society, you have to take the good along with the bad and weigh the two out for yourself).
Meanwhile, we see strong emphasis on ice cold beers, sporting events, the great outdoors, and togetherness with Coors Light. Obviously there is a lot of crossover between advertisements of the two – beer in general is closely tied to sports and the act of bringing people together. But, the overall feelings that I receive from the two are different. Coors Light is a bit more light-hearted, uplifting, and fun. While Budweiser is inspiring, heartfelt, and meaningful. In my opinion, both are excellent marketing moves and it seems like their market-value agrees. It really comes down to which one speaks to a particular individual more strongly.
There is nothing wrong with an inclination to choose one brand over another. There is nothing wrong with relying on the cold, crisp, comfortability of a mass-produced lager. But I invite you to step outside of your comfort zone – try something a little different. Ask your bartender if there is a craft beer on tap that someone who typically drinks Bud Light may enjoy (he or she will likely even offer you a sample for safety). And certainly don’t look down upon someone for his or her beer preferences. After all, beer should bring people together, not tear us apart.