Women Represent Big Opportunity for Beer Industry

Beer companies haven’t effectively marketed to women, and they’re leaving a lot of opportunity for increased sales on the table, according to Bridget Brennan, CEO of Chicago-based consulting group the Female Factor.

“We can’t underestimate that there has been, from a beer industry standpoint, a 150-year head start in marketing the product to guys as a guy’s product,” she told industry stakeholders who attended the Beer Institute’s annual meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this week.

“We are still in the early days of marketing the product to women, and there is nothing but runway,” she added.

Attracting female consumers will be an important part of improving the health of the beer category, which has lost an estimated 35 million barrels — or 11 billion servings of beer — to wine and spirits over the last 20 years.

Brennan, who authored Why She Buys, explained that beer companies that can effectively market to women will be tapping into what she called “the engine of the global consumer community,” as women make up to 80 percent of spending decisions.

“This number is so high because it includes buying power and influence,” she said, adding that even if women are not spending money directly, they are influencing their households’ purchasing decisions.

“When you earn the loyalty and the brand trust from women, they are the gateway to everybody else in the household and often in their social networks,” she added.

According to Brennan, 40 percent of U.S. households with children under the age of 18 include a mother who is the primary or sole breadwinner. Additionally, women control 51 percent of wealth in the U.S., and they hold 52 percent of all management and professional jobs.

“This is a huge tidal wave of change in our society,” she explained, adding that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 spurred that shift by making it easier for women to obtain credit cards.

“In just two generations, and really starting in the ’80s with women entering the professional labor force, things have changed dramatically,” she said.

Brennan said women now earn 57 percent of college degrees, 59 percent of graduate degrees and 53 percent of doctoral degrees.

“Women are going to continue to be the alpha consumers for probably the next two to three decades, at least,” she said.

Still, gender gaps exist, but Brennan said those gaps present opportunities for change. She lauded Heineken USA for naming Maggie Timoney as its new CEO, making her the first female to hold the CEO position at a top 5 brewing company.

Nevertheless, Brennan stressed that an increased focus on marketing to women isn’t aimed at excluding men. “It’s about being inclusive and excluding stereotypes,” she said.

To effectively market to women, Brennan shared four keys. “The goal is to drive an emotional connection that makes women feel connected to the brand, inspired to buy, confident in their choice and appreciated as a customer,” she said.

To achieve those goals, Brennan said companies should:

  • benchmark where they are in comparison to their competitors,
  • audit their social media and marketing materials for blind spots,
  • strive for gender-balanced teams,
  • and consistently market toward female consumers instead of doing one-offs.

Brennan also attempted to debunk myths about women either not liking beer or carbonation (“Have you seen the sales of La Croix?”). In fact, she shared that on a recent night out with women, they all shared beers and one said, “You just forget how good a beer is.”

“It shows what an opportunity there is to engage and increase awareness and talk more directly to women as consumers of beer so that it is top of mind,” she said. “So there is nothing but runway here.”

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