As winds of disruption blow through the beer industry, breweries and retailers alike are discovering new ways to sell beer and connect with drinkers.
A defining beer industry trend is the rapid growth of direct-to-consumer (D2C) offerings, in parallel with a greater acceptance that digital experiences play a critical role in building mental and physical availability amongst drinkers.
D2C refers to the idea that a company markets and sells directly to consumers. From eCommerce-enabled websites to through ‘owned’ retail spaces, online marketplaces or social media platforms, the key is direct buying and selling.
The value of D2C as a distribution strategy is that it cuts out intermediaries and makes it easier to build a deeper relationship with customers.
While taprooms and brewery-owned bottle-shops are well-established D2C-style strategies, our industry has only really jumped onto digital-side of distribution with gusto since the pandemic began.
There are many examples of this in action: WhatsApp has become a common way to order craft beer in Malaysia; apps and services offering beer for delivery are taking off around the region; brewers and retailers of all sizes have finally started to invest in better online shops and marketplace capabilities.
But D2C is tough to plan and execute. We’ve collected a selection of best practices and tactics used by the beer industry in Asia to inspire and support our readers on their respective forays into this emerging, sometimes alien landscape.
Core Recipes: Winning The D2C Battle
Venturing into D2C should start from the perspective of customer experience, not logistics or infrastructure.
Just as you craft your bar environment to be conducive for an excellent experience for guests – thinking about everything from interior design and ergonomic seating to music and menus – you should also apply similar ideas to your D2C experience.
The right jumping-off point is to think ‘mobile-first’. In Southeast Asia, mobile phones are the primary way 76% of all Internet users go online. That means your drinkers are most likely going to access anything you create through the lens of a smartphone screen.
Reacting to this gradual but firm shift away from desktops to mobile devices, global D2C leaders in the beer industry like BrewDog have made substantial investments in building a great mobile experience, allowing their ‘Equity Punks’ to use a mobile app to receive discounts, access tap lists and much more.
Another area to think about is conversational architecture. The notion of conversational commerce – once the province of street vendors and market stall owners – has seeped and evolved into a pervasive customer expectation.
Every player in the beer industry wanting to win at D2C must be ready to hold on-going conversations with drinkers on messaging platforms. Facebook Messenger, LINE or even SMS – take your pick depending on the market and consumer preference. Ignore late-night messages demanding opening hours at your peril!
Beyond The Bottle: New Packaging Experiences
From hand-bottling draft beer to beautiful delivery bags, D2C requires a fresh perspective on packaging.
Growlers are the perfect vessel for D2C experiences. They have recently taken off around Asia: we’ve covered their growth in the Philippines, and several states in India have liberalised their pick-up and delivery laws.
Breweries and retailers are fast learning that they are a powerful tool for D2C loyalty: on-going communication (and consumption!) is a feature, not a bug when a drinker owns branded, refillable beer containers!
Beyond growlers, bars are increasingly offering on-premise canning and bottling.
Taps, a craft beer bar group in Malaysia, recently launched their own range of beers – a D2C power move by a beer retailer.
When COVID-19 hit, the chain began to bottle their Life’s A Peach Lager and Summer Summer Session Ale for delivery, selling via WhatsApp and their eCommerce-enabled website.
What made this strategy stand out was the integrated storytelling Taps co-founder Alvin Lim used through Instagram Live, a channel not frequently used in the craft beer space.
Alvin developed ‘live programming’ schedules on Friday and Saturday evenings, including his own reviews of beer, live music (replicating that in-bar environment even after lockdowns were over) and gentle pushes to order via WhatsApp for delivery.
The Virtual Battleground
Winning the at-home consumer requires creating experiences that engage people in the moments they’re most likely to order.
Subscribeers, a craft beer subscription service in Singapore, partnered with local musicians Jack & Rai to provide the drinks for one of the latter’s online live sessions.
This brand placement was relevant – it was in the evening and probably at a time when the audience watching the session were thinking about drinking – and the experience felt organic enough to keep people engaged.
Success virtually can also come within, too. Vietnam-based breweries were particular leaders in maximising their internal resources and people during the depths of lockdowns.
Pasteur Street Brewing Company created a virtual taproom, replicating their in-bar experience and feel despite a nationwide lockdown. For over two weeks nightly (yes, including weekends), keen drinkers and staff alike mingled over Zoom.
Taking a different virtual angle, Heart of Darkness created a webinar series, Unfiltered, where key staff members from Singapore and Hong Kong shared the stories behind their beers and interviewed collaborators like Behemoth in New Zealand.
What united both brewer’s strategies were the focus on a live digital connect with the brand, a friendly experience with like-minded drinkers and the ability to order a beer while participating.
Surprising & Delighting: From The Last Step To The First Sip
Winners in the D2C space don’t just ensure a great online ordering experience. The best ensure that from the moment a box of beer is handed to their end-customer to the moment those beers are drunk, there is some kind of unusual or unexpected engagement.
Gorilla Brewing in Busan, South Korea, tapped into the global ‘pop up’ trend – once-ubiquitous to trendy burger restaurants and Insta-friendly D2C cosmetic startups.
After moving to a new brewery location, the South Korean brewery turned their old premises into a pop-up Beer Shop that offers unique events (from BBQ cook-offs to ‘meet the brewer’) and both take-away and on-premise consumption.
Besides pop up experiences that surprise and delight, building a community around consumption is another powerful D2C tactic.
I run a small beer subscription business in Vietnam, BiaBox, and we have recently created a Slack community for our members.
While Slack is typically used in tech firms, we have begun to use the platform to distribute tasting notes and perks we offer. The real value comes, however, when people talk about the beers they liked (and didn’t!) and a feeling of community emerges amongst our subscribers.
Best of all, in line with the end-goal of D2C being a rich source of analytics and authentic customer response, we can also receive live feedback through the platform and respond in real-time.
Final Instigations: A Checklist For Brewers Entering D2C
While the broader repertoire of digital modes of marketing and distribution may seem alien to you, the opportunities are endless to expand your base of drinkers and get them to buy your beer more frequently.
Is your online ordering experience easy-to-use on a mobile phone or tablet?
Is your website best-in-breed, showcasing your brand and range of beers in the best light possible?
Is your packaging ‘Instagrammable’ (i.e. would look great when photographed by a smartphone and shared online)?
Are you providing unique virtual experiences that keep people engaged beyond your bars and retail outlets?
Do your delivery drivers warmly greet customers and give a final ‘love mark’ to the experience?
Are you gathering data on your repeat customers, and using that to inform communications and deals with them?