I’ve had three quite separate ‘lives’ from a beer perspective.
In a nutshell
- Peoples' consumption journeys in a category are simply facsimiles of many other people’s same experiences.
- Our decision-making is hugely driven by what’s happening around us. We are constantly taking in the shifting culture around us and applying it to our decision criteria to shape outcomes – whether we are conscious of this or not.
- If we want to be customer-centric in our business practice, an understanding of culture and context is critical for achieving this.
- TRA builds a framework to guide an understanding of how culture impacts a client’s category and how key ideas within this can be harnessed to drive innovation, improvement and relevance.
The first life saw me in full mainstream Christchurch ‘one of the boys’ mode, drinking Canterbury Draught (Our Beer!) from plastic jugs at the Halswell Tavern or Lincoln University stein. In this life I valued the absolute unswerving patriotism, universal acceptance (and let’s face it, the rather sweet and uncomplicated palate) of the drop.
But we grow, and in my next life, as part of a wider transition from a student into a Young Auckland Professional (single word, rhymes with ‘anchor’), my second beer life saw me dive straight into the shiny, premium lager existence of ‘Heineken Man’. This life was all about looking worldly and sophisticated while enjoying the crisp, tart simplicity of ice-cold Euro-lager.
The third, and current beer life has seen another remarkable about-face in taste profiling, as I find myself delving into the musty, beardy world of craft beer. In this life I find myself announcing preferences for double-hopped IPA and claiming to know the taste difference between Sauvin and Riwaka hops (I don’t).
If you were to ask me how these monumental shifts in beer preference occurred, I would certainly try to tell you that these were clear, considered changes in my individual decision behaviour, directed by me and reflecting the needs and motivations that well up from deep inside me. I would note my increasingly sophisticated palate demanding a more meaningful experience from my beer of choice, and my changing life stage and the shifts this brings in the things we feel we want from life.
At some level all of these feelings I have of personal agency about my changing choices are probably true. But what’s funny when I look at my beer-life-transition is just how closely it reflects everybody’s journey through this category.
A quick look at beer volume statistics in New Zealand show a clear movement away from mainstream beer brands and into premium lagers across the late 90’s and early 2000’s, followed by a remarkable growth of craft beer volumes over the past 15 years or so. In fact, it’s not even just a New Zealand thing. If you picked pretty much any beer market in the entire developed world, you see the same journey unfolding from mainstream to premium to craft.
A cultural force field
So while I feel like I have been making my own choices, based on my own individual needs, clearly this isn’t entirely true. Something else has been going on around me that has been impacting a huge amount of other people in the same way, at the same time.
And the interesting thing is that it’s not just beer either. If you stop and think about all the categories you make decisions in and reflect on the general changes you have made in your choices, what becomes fascinating is just how many of our individual journeys are simply facsimiles of many other people’s same experiences.
A movement from jeans hanging off your arse, to skin tight, to cropped above the ankle? From grunge to house to indie to R&B? Food mash-ups? Fancy feasts to fast casual?
The scary, but amazingly obvious truth about our decisions, when we stand back and chart their progress against general movements in our peer groups, markets, countries and planet, is that they tend to follow clear patterns, with distinctive ideas fuelling their progress.
Indeed, researchers from Durham University recently proved that not only does decision-making move in clear cycles through a whole range of categories as diverse as music, baby names and dog breeds, but changes happen at a predictable rate of reinvention. For example, if you looked at the Billboard Top 200 chart from 1950 onwards, the rate of turnover sits at a fairly stable 6% each month.
So, when looked at as a whole, not only does decision making change in clear patterns within categories over time, it often does it at a fairly predictable rate!