The Pursuit of Enduring Relevance - Recurving the PLC over the Precipice of Decline
One of the hardest things a marketing executive is tasked with is recurving a brand as it begins its Product Life Cycle (PLC) slide from Maturity to Decline. This is truly a marketing mix challenge as so many variables enter the demise equation. In the craft beer industry, I work with quite a few brewers that have been around for some time. Sales for these brands have been tapering off to a slow dwindle which makes investment difficult to justify. What are these companies to do? How do they become “retro?” Further, how does a brand or even an industry become “re-relevant”? The “retro” craze has hit in the music industry where vinyl records are once again popular as seen by today’s rejuvenated interest in albums, turntables and heavy-gram vinyl. How can mature beer brands that have lost relevance tap into that “retro” coolness, too?
I parallel the plight of the ’70 - ‘80’s brewer to the classic rock bands from the same era. How does each maintain its relevance? Take the band Foreigner, for example. They had some popular hits but what happened to them? Compare them to the Who, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith or Metallica. Each of these four bands has been able to extend their PLC for decades. Just how do they do it where Foreigner was unable to?
In the craft beer business, the older beer companies rely on their in-house brewers to “write the hit songs” for the company. Is this a reasonable expectation? Take New Belgium Brewing, for example. They currently have a smash hit with their Citradelic IPA. Is this just a swan song? Not necessarily. This great beer is leading the way for consumers to “buy the album” and try some of their heritage brews like Fat Tire, thus recurving the PLC via hit song momentum. Karl Strauss has revived its brand with their amazing “Aurora Hoppyallis.” Aurora is Karl Strauss’ Free Bird.
But should the master brewers solely be responsible for finding that next big hit? Do they have it in them to brew a beer that will bring the company back from the edge? Maybe, but there are other songwriters out there to tap into. I am referring to the home brewers. With more than 1.5 million across the country, they compete in local and national brewing competitions. Maybe this is where the heritage breweries should send their brew masters – to meet these creative song writers in search of “Sculpin fighters.” What an excellent source for that next hit song. The old brewers should talk to these upstarts about their ideas and recipes and even consider hiring this new talent into their “band.” The point for the mature to decline stage craft brand is: don’t rely on your long time master brewer to write that hit song, it just might be in your back yard. Go listen with your tongue and you just might find some hits out there that will keep you around for another decade or two.
Author of “Craft Beer Marketing & Distribution – Brace for SKUMeggedon”