Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The proliferation of disruptive and on-demand alcohol delivery methods is placing increasing pressure on traditional brewery companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev to rethink the ways they engage customers with their global beer brands.
“We had to rethink our selling and distribution channels as we have always been predominantly selling wholesale to retailers, we never had that direct connection with the consumer,” ABInBev’s global director, Tina Wung, said at ad:tech Sydney 2017. “So we had to completely rethink our engagement strategy.”
A fridge that orders you beer
One of the ways the company decided to engage with consumers was by partnering with online delivery app startup, MiniBar, and launching a new digitally-enabled refrigerator that told customers how many beers they have. It then sends notifications to the app, which automatically re-orders for the customer to have the beer delivered to in 30 minutes.
“In our pilot launch in the States, we sold out of our refrigerators really quickly in only a couple of months,” she said. “As we did a little more research as to who was buying them, we found out a lot of offices were buying them as an easy way to keep their premises stocked with our beers. So the next phase of our pilot test was to launch larger office refrigerators which we leased out to these companies.
“This way, not only were we making revenue on the actual beer delivery, we also basically stumbled along a new business model that was to make money out of these refrigerators.”
But the reward Wung said ABInBev really gained from this pilot example was gaining the powerful data the technology provided.
“We hadn’t sold directly to consumers before, so we had no visibility as to the point of purchase,” she explained. “We didn’t have first-hand data as to what people were buying or how many for what occasions. But when we partnered with MiniBar, we gained the data right down to the minute and to the geographic areas in which the consumers were buying our products.
“This was a huge goldmine for us, not just from a tech standpoint, but from a data insights perspective.”
Immersive VR brewery experiences
Another innovative project ABInBev rolled out was an immersive reality experience with one of its flagship brands, Budweiser, in order to reinvigorate its appeal to millennials.
“Budweiser is one of our older, heritage brands and we needed millennials to give it a second look,” Wung said. “The way we engaged with immersive reality was to be able to show them all the heritage cues, the quality, taste and freshness that would come to life in a way that millennials could be excited about – which we felt would be VR and a multi-sensory experience.”
The virtual reality experience debuted at South by South West in Austin Texas in 2016, and gave consumers a chance to virtually experience the Budweiser brewery in St Louis in 4D.
“You not only get to experience the entire tour, as though you’re actually there, but you’re also able to smell the hops, feel the beechwood chips and hear the sounds, plus everyone had a sample in the end” Wung said. “I love this example because it’s such a great way for the brand essence to really shine through and bring that brand story to life in such a competitive market such as beer.
“We’re now extending this experience to sports and music, and are continuing to innovate in this space.”
Beer retail gamification
To further increase customer engagement in the retail space, ABInBev partnered with app startup company, Ibotta, in 2016, offering beer shoppers cash-back rebates on the company’s products through Ibotta’s gamification app.
The partnership, which runs through February 2018, provides Ibotta shoppers over the age of 21 with special offers on the sale of beer at convenience, grocery and liquor stores, as well as bars and restaurants where legally permitted across the country.
“For us, a big part of transforming our culture from within is to educate our partners, and this partnership really lends itself to this accomplishment,” Wung claimed.
ABInBev’s global director, Tina Wung discusses how to embrace innovation at ad:tech Sydney 2017
Rethinking what innovation really means
Moving forward, Wung suggested more and more companies like ABInBev are starting to successfully rethink innovation.
“Culturally, you need to really be able to embrace innovation from the ground up and from an infrastructure perspective – and have a clear focus as far as what it will really accomplish,” she said. “You need to have the resources in place to enable that.”
To successfully innovate and embrace a transformative culture, Wung identified several critical factors:
- Define what innovation means: Innovation is a term that has been diluted, because everyone is throwing it around, but what does it really mean specifically for your company’s vision? There are different definitions for different functions.
- Get top down buy-in and alignment: This will make it so much easier when you decide to execute.
- Institutionalise innovation: Allow free flowing ideas to bubble to the top, encourage employees to play and innovate and take away the fear factor.
“Finally, allow some room for projects that fail,” Wung said. “We actually made one of our targets fail 10 times, because it encouraged us to just get out there and try. Obviously you have to be smart about it, but you’ll be able to jump that much higher and stretch the boundaries of what your team can do.”