Triple-digit customer database growth, personalised engagement become reality for Stone & Wood

Byron Bay Brewery's direct to consumer and ecommerce chief talks to CMO about its digital marketing and ecommerce overhaul and the targeted approach it's now taking to customer engagement

Sample of the Father's and Mother's Day products from Stone & Wood
Sample of the Father's and Mother's Day products from Stone & Wood

Triple-digit customer database growth, record email engagement rates and a plethora of insights informing new products and promotions are just some of the wins for Australian brewery, Stone & Wood, after lifting its digital marketing game.

The Byron Bay-based brewery was established in 2008 by three mates keen to provide a quality portfolio of beer while giving back to the wider community. Over the last 10 years, Stone & Wood has built its success on its lifestyle portfolio of brands, connection to the local Byron vibe and Australian credentials.

Yet for the team, it had become clear a rudimentary approach to email marketing and organic social engagement wasn’t enough to build stronger connection with customers. In addition, while an online store provided a mechanism to directly sell to end consumers, limited technology capabilities and knowledge meant it was time to give the digital marketing and ecommerce approach an overhaul.

Stone & Wood direct to drinker and ecommerce leader, Steve Blick, told CMO the beer industry is in many ways a traditional space - producers sell to a wholesaler, who in turns sells to a retailer, who has the end connection with consumers grabbing products from their bottle shop.

“But as consumers, we increasingly want to engage with the brands we care about and have a direct connection. That was a huge trigger for us to explore and invest more in this space of building direct relationships with online sales plus engagement through stronger email marketing,” Blick said.  

“We knew we were not there with what we were doing, and we knew for many brands it was bread-and-butter to have engagement fostered through email marketing platforms.”  

Previously, Stone & Wood sent out batch emails via Mailchimp providing information about its products, offers and invitations to events. It also maintained a Facebook and Instagram presence. But that was about the extent of it.

The quest became to segment different types of customers and be more targeted with relevant content in order to grow the customer base and respond to the shifting marketing place. To do this, the company signed on to dotdigital’s digital marketing platform in 2019. It also began redeveloping its ecommerce site using Shopify’s platform.

“It was about staying relevant in a traditional industry as well as having that connection,” Blick commented. “That was our early thinking around this in the first half of 2019. By the second half we’d started putting Dotdigital and our fresh digital capabilities into place.

“We also knew one-way sending of emails wasn’t going to cut it and we needed to better understand and respond to their preferences, personalised considerations. We looked to dotdigital to do that.”  

A key consideration in its choice of martech vendor was access to support and advice as the business learnt the ins and outs of more targeted digital marketing.

“We didn’t know what we were doing in this space and needed someone to hold our hand. Dotdigital helped us to work through it,” Blick said. “We tend to learn by doing and once we launched, we monitored to see what’s working versus what’s not, then tweaked and evolved that. That has allowed us to grow along the way.”  

Choosing segments

Initially, the emphasis was on recency, frequency and monetary (RFM) forms of segmentation. On the digital engagement front, Stone & Wood has worked to understand why it’s most frequent and highest spenders are spending online versus going to their bottle shop.

Credit: Stone & Wood

“That was about rebuilding the site and knowing what was useful versus what was annoying as you were interacting with us online,” Blick explained. “This became more holistic as we engaged with top and regular customers.”

As a branded house, Stone & Wood has also found that as it’s grown, people developed strong affiliations with specific beers across its portfolio – for example, those preferring lager over ale.

“Customers have firm favourites and loyalty to specific beers we’re brewing. That showed up very early on as a valuable way to communicate with people,” Blick said. “We’ve used these brand preferences identifiable through purchase data as one way of segmenting the database to better personalise messaging and to communicate.

“If you go online and have bought a specific product, we can show you information about how that preferred beer was brewed, content on the ingredients we use, why it’s called what it’s called and provenance around that beer. And we don’t show you stuff that’s not relevant to that beer.”  

Other major tools in the email marketing arsenal are a Welcome Series, a six-part campaign that engages with new customers by introducing them to Stone & Wood’s story through a series of six emails; plus a Beer Club newsletter. The beer club is based on monthly membership and gives members guaranteed access on limited edition beers produced seasonally, plus exclusive content and discounts on events and tasting.

“Both are great milestones in different ways,” Blick said. “The Welcome Series is personalised to stories about the beers when you buy something and is a great one for us more broadly.

“For people that want to be highly engaged with us, we wanted to do something else, and that is our Beer Club. We get talk about all sorts of nerdy beer stuff, plus hear their feedback. Certainly, what we share is more micro and personal to people that care about what we are up to, our ingredients, where we get hops from, and so on. It’s stuff you only care about if you are very keen on Stone & Wood and really into beer.”  

A third email approach is a post-purchase follow-up campaign. This sees customers targeted with personalised content such as tasting notes and the story behind their preferred choice of beer. 

This combination of personalisation, automation and targeted marketing campaigns allow Stone & Wood now to engage with customers at both a transactional and non-transactional mode, Blick said. “This has resulted in increased audience engagement which is unbelievable,” he added.

For Stone & Wood, content creation has always been a priority, helping provide the foundations for strong targeted engagement.

“It’s great to give our beer story so it makes more sense, so you can better determine if you’re into that or not,” Blick said. “That content was delivered in our social platforms but we were not uploading through email previously.”

Results – plus the surprises

Since the overhaul 18 months ago, Stone & Wood’s customer database has grown by 350 per cent. The Welcome Series has a 50 per cent open rate and clickthrough open (CTO) rate of 12 per cent, while the ‘Beer Club’ newsletter campaign witnessed an 80 per cent open rate with a 37 per cent CTO. Over the past 12 months, email marketing has accounted for 21 per cent of revenue generated.

Then there are the unexpected returns. One surprising insight was where online customers are coming from by geography. It turns out many are based in cities.

“There are several other convenience factors to this – they might not have a car, don’t want to carry products home, go back out once they get home and would like things to be there when they arrive home,” Blick said. “All of that is important to consumers and that shapes how we communicate with them.”

Another unexpected insight has been into what people want to see more of from Stone & Wood.

“For instance, people have wanted merchandise like caps, T-shirts, keyrings and thing kind of stuff. That was warming in a way as people care about wearing Stone & Wood out,” Blick said. “That was a big surprise and we have grown those products.”

More broadly, Blick was surprised at just how engaged people want to be with its brands. With that, however, comes a realisation that as marketers, you can’t manage the message, he said.

“When people are really engaging, you can’t dictate the terms of engagement. You have to just be transparent and open to what people are saying in public forums about you – you can’t manage the message, so to speak,” Blick said. “It’s something you’re not used to unless you go harder on engaging and connecting with people.”

Having a point of difference online, versus what consumers can get in the bottle shops, has been another finding that’s led to new promotions and personalised offers. A fresh take from Stone & Wood is a Mother’s Day offering – not a typical occasion for a brewery to celebrate. For this, it’s worked with a local gin distillery on a beer/cocktail and collaborative pack.

“We can personalise and offer this to people, so our product is relevant to people in a different way,” Blick said. “Typically, it’s the retailers doing these sorts of collaborations. We don’t want to cannibalise what we’re doing in bottle shops, it’s about what customers want from us directly and specifically.”

For Father’s Day in 2020, Stone & Wood produced a ‘pub in a box pack’ featuring beer, a bar mat, beer nuts and glasses.

“There is still heaps of exploration at our end to be done – nothing is tried and test over and over again,” Blick said.

Also in Blick’s sights are building Stone & Wood’s overall database, which is still small, and furthering an understanding of what people want. SMS messaging is also seen as a potential way of further engaging the brand’s customer base.

“We’re still seeing really high engagement with email and our focus is on continuing to grow that community, but we will probably test SMS in the next 12 months where relevant. It’s a great opportunity but more in the private space of the individual over an email,” Blick said.

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