Wherever you look, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Coronavirus has changed the game for brands and businesses.
For the first time since the Second World War, the habits of consumers have been transformed overnight due to the spectre of a national emergency and subsequent lockdown rules. Even today, as restrictions gradually ease, social distancing measures are expected to remain in place for several months, while the effects of Covid-19 on the economy are predicted to be felt for many years to come. But here’s the thing – it isn’t all bad news.
While the pandemic has wreaked havoc and brought misery, it’s also forced industries to adapt, and changed the way that brands interact with their customers. It’s even helped to create new customers – and opportunities – but only for those who are prepared to be bold, and who are quick enough off the mark. This impact has been felt acutely by brewers and drinks brands.
The shut-down of pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants removed a key route to market and pushed loyal customers through other funnels. Where customer journeys were once clear and predictable, the landscape is now much more complex, with new strands to unravel and fresh platforms for engagement to discover. Of course, to many, the ‘new normal’ is wrought with challenges, confusion and fear – but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Because while the closure of pubs has undeniably hit business hard, it’s helped to inspire a new chapter in the industry, one where engagement, sales and brand immersion are a few clicks or taps away.
Many of the major players were of course already equipped to meet the challenges posed by the lockdown and closure of pubs. Robust and clean ecommerce platforms, integrated as part of a strong online brand proposition became the pre-eminent hubs for customer engagement. And unsurprisingly, it’s the smaller players who’ve had the miles to make up, whether that’s through an ecommerce offering that’s less than comprehensive and far from user-friendly, or an overall online proposition that’s fragmented and ineffective.
Brewers and brands knew they had to shape up to seize the new opportunities presented by the pandemic – or risk being left behind. Because as real as that prospect of building a new customer base is, the threat of losing sales to competitors is just as pressing for those that aren’t equipped to deliver against demand and expectation.
The tech pivot
Online shopping is nothing new and even in the drinks sector its roots can be traced back decades. But it is perhaps only during the last ten years that brands in the industry have truly learned to harness the possibilities.
New ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce have had a game-changing effect on online sales, creating opportunities that were previously completely unfeasible for young businesses and smaller operators. For the first time, businesses could build a brand proposition that told their story to customers, while delivering a robust ecommerce platform that’s customer-friendly and efficient to manage at the back end.
This represents a real step change from the ‘old normal’, which often necessitated separate platforms for brand and commerce. Global pandemic or not, the picture had to change, and selling your product to customers online could no longer be an as-well-as or a nice-to-have.
Simply put, your online offering must be integrated.
Northern Monk’s story
An independent brewery based in Leeds, inspired by the monastic brewing traditions of the region, the Northern Monk is a brand built around storytelling.Their commitment is to create the best beer they can and to carry the torch “for all that beer was”, but they also understood the potential for all that beer can be – and their own role in that evolution.
We spoke to Northern Monk about their online proposition, which was brand-led and told the story of their values and heritage superbly. But their offering to customers was fragmented, with an ecommerce platform hosted on a separate domain that just wasn’t doing those values justice, nor putting them in the hands of their customers.
They recognised this and saw the opportunities that the Coronavirus pandemic, and it shut-down of pubs, bars and restaurants, presented. Sure, there was trepidation.
Seeing every single outlet you own and supply close down overnight represents a weighty blow to the livelihood of any business. Throw in the 27 markets that Northern Monk supplies, including events, real ale festivals, food markets and B2B trade routes, which had all fallen by the wayside by the stoke of a pen, and you quickly understand what needs to change.
One immediate priority was ramping up Monk’s canning and bottling operations, and ensuring plentiful supply of their product to the retail businesses that remained open. And a massive influx in delivery orders quickly focused attention on making sure their ecommerce was robust enough to handle demand, and that their broader online proposition was hitting the spot.
In the aftermath of despair was an opportunity to engage brand advocates on a new platform that could serve the business’s growth ambitions for years to come.
The brand had already done the hard yards building its audience – now it was time to put it to work when the business needed it most.
We worked with Northern Monk to reimagine their online proposition and create a platform that delivered an immersive brand experience to customers and a robust, integrated ecommerce platform. The WooCommerce platform helped us to achieve this ambition, slotting seamlessly into a single web platform that no longer necessitated a domain name of its own.
We also worked with Monk to develop their app offering, including its own integration with their existing brand and ecommerce platforms, and essentially cross-pollinating relevant elements across streams. This joined-up approach enabled existing advocates and curious first-timers to discover the Northern Monk brand as part of an engaging and considered customer journey.
WooCommerce formed part of our cost-effective, efficient solution that placed accessibility at its forefront, with a management back-end that was practical and straightforward to maintain. The solution delivered exceptional speed to market at a point in the business’s history when timing really was everything.
It has helped meet Monk’s increased demand for deliveries – up from a handful a day to the high three figures – and laid the groundwork for life as a business in the ‘new normal’, complete with its new ways of engaging with customers.
As the pubs re-open and beer from the taps flows once more, you’d be forgiven for expecting a gradual return to business as usual. But the reality is that this will be anything but, especially for brewers and drinks brands. Recent solutions have helped brands retain market share and meet the exceptional customer demand for direct delivery, but those consumer habits won’t simply change back.
And while pub-goers will relish the return to their local, that heightened ecommerce expectation will remain, and it is once again those brands prepared to invest that will reap the benefits.
From the advent of ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce and the gradual introduction of wifi -powered plug-in card readers, to scannable QR codes on dining tables, even the smallest independent cafés are waking up to the growth opportunities presented by tech. In the drinks industry no brand can afford to be left behind – or risk not being equipped for the potential of a second wave and the pubs closing all over again.
And what became a product of necessity following a global pandemic emergency has become a golden opportunity for the boldest of brands in the brewing and drinks industry.