BrewDog: Listening is not enough; active listening is essential.

BrewDog’s woes are well known and have been discussed and dissected over recent weeks. However, there’s another analysis of these with learnings for any successful Human Brand, and what truly defines them.

Jul 26, 2021

By Neil Davidson

BrewDog is a brand often referred to in our HeyHuman research and analysis of Human Brands. It also shows that to be successful, a brand must constantly live all four brand behaviours. Failing in one of these behaviours disproportionately affects the fortunes of the brand and the business. It also shows that strengths can very quickly become weaknesses.

BrewDog is a case study in crisis management, good and bad. 

Through most of the pandemic, it seemed that BrewDog was a case study of how a high-performing Human Brand should behave. It listened and responded to the crisis by changing its distribution model and releasing PR-event driven products. Its punk beer stance clearly came through in everything it did in response to events such as the idiosyncratic approach to a supposed eye test taken by Dominic Cummings.

But the reasons for BrewDog’s ability to respond with such agility to the world around it in such a well-defined way are also at the heart of its recent employee issues and its inability to respond to these in an empathetic way, as well as its badly judged attack on the ASA recently. Human Brands are not defined by having a founder still at the heart of their business, but many do, and this is a strength and weakness: this agility, adaptability and clarity often clashes with one of the four defining behaviours of active listening, really hearing what’s being said and responding in an empathetic way. Listening is not enough; active listening is essential.

Human Brands need to set in place structures for active listening.

The warning signals for BrewDog were already there when we think back to falling product quality issues and the hiring and firing of a whole layer of new senior management. Followers became detractors over taste and ABV issues and the business clearly struggled with diverse voices and opinions other than those of its founders.

What makes founder-led businesses strong eventually makes them weak but that doesn’t mean other businesses should be complacent about active listening if they aren’t founder-led, because many of these aren’t even listening. It means finding ways to listen to what’s going on in the world outside comprehensively and intelligently, starting with people engaged with your brands and products. It is also about creating a culture where these alternative views don’t fit the current worldview.

The future is here now for brands if you listen hard enough.

A few years ago a business I was involved with went through the same approach recommended, using the listening and monitoring frameworks all marketers need to have to keep their fingers on the pulse of the world. Three niche trends were considered as small-scale behaviours that could go mainstream. They were rejected, mainly because of the myopic view of the world that seems to be affecting BrewDog: shorter working weeks, working from home and talent being lost due to a gig economy spreading business. Yes, Covid-19 accelerated these, but they were there for those that listened, and did it actively.

Brands need to ask two questions: do you have the right listening approaches in place, and do you have a culture that really listens and accommodates alternative views of the world?

Click here to download our short white paper on the 14 new brand relationships and the opportunity for Human Brands.