C-suite perspectives: How strategic marketing, data and inclusivity are driving Brick Lane Brewery growth

Founder and CEO of the Australian independent beer brewer shares his rethinking on marketing how he's tapping into macro consumer trends to spur growth

Paul Bowker
Paul Bowker

Brick Lane Brewery CEO, Paul Bowker, is the first to admit his perceptions of marketing have dramatically changed as the business has matured.

Brick Lane is an Australian independent beer brewing business founded by Bowker in August 2018. Backed by 40 investors and $50 million in capital, the company from day one has positioned itself as a world-class brewery through significant scale, flexibility and technology innovation.

Today, it’s reportedly second in size only to Cooper’s in terms of the volume in produces. About one-third of the beer produced onsite is under Brick Lane’s owned brands, with the other two-thirds produced for other brewers, such as Stone & Wood and Young Henry’s, as well as retailers such as Endeavour Group, Coles and Aldi.

“We opened with a brewery of significant scale and flexibility. That meant we are able to produce lots of different types of beer at very high quality, can distribute beer nationally and do all the things a more mature brewery could do but from day one,” Bowker told CMO.

Bowker’s background is equally distinctive. The founder built a career as a lawyer initially, focused on mergers and acquisitions. He’s also worked as a chief financial officer in the corporate sector, and across industries such as oil and gas.

In looking to set up a different opportunity, and having put together a business case, Bowker went out to potential investors and secured 40 stakeholders to build Brick Lane Brewery.

“The plan said that if enough investors jumped onboard, I’d walk away from corporate life and do this as a full-time gig, which is what I’ve done,” he said.

Marketing perceptions

While the production and distribution scale was there from day one, plenty of things have changed at Brick Lane Brewery as it’s matured. Arguably, one of the biggest cultural shifts has been in the role of marketing.

“With where we are at now, we have afforded ourselves the time and resources to be really deliberate and strategic in how we market the business and bring new products to market,” Bowker said. “In the early days, you run hard at everything – production, finance, marketing, corporate, HR – everyone wears lots of different hats. And while marketing is important, it doesn’t necessarily get the resources and focus it deserves.

“We are through that phase now. The perception of marketing has changed dramatically. It’s fully integrated into all facets of the business. It goes right back to equip selection, ingredient procurement, corporate strategy, innovation – these are all things before a product exists. We’re bringing the marketing group into these efforts to be involved in early parts of decision making within the business.”

Bowker said the turning point was to bring in a highly strategic and commercial marketing director. “When we were looking at that role, skills and marketing background were all a given. What we really were after was someone highly strategic and commercial so we could integrate marketing more deeply into all those facets of the business,” he continued.

“Half of the role isn’t what some might consider marketing; it’s deep strategy within the business. Given the growth profile and where we wanted the business to head, that was very important.”

Brick Lane’s marketing chief, Tasha Harp Kennealy, who joined just over a year ago, is focused on a long-term market position going out years, rather than just to the next product launch.

“Once Tasha came onboard, the perception across the business of how important and vital marketing is completely changed from advertising to a strategic powerhouse,” Bowker said.

“Execution of work can often be done by agencies, so we have pushed a lot of that work out. We have six people now in marketing and we make sure they heavily focus on the long-term strategic goals of the company and pull in external resources as they need to execute on certain projects.”  

Macro consumer trends

One of the big strategic growth areas for Brick Lane Brewery, and certainly one of the biggest macro trends facing many industries right now, is elevation of the ‘Better for you’ consumer movement.

“Within that, consumers are looking for more choice and variety in every part of their life. That translates into our sector,” Bowker said. “As a brewery, we need to be nimble and adapt quickly to these trends.

“When we launched in 2018, we had a very technical sustainable, flexible and efficient brewery. As this ‘Better for you’ movement developed, we could very quickly jump into the no-alcohol space. There’s a lot of technology needed to produce this type of beer, and we already had that.”

Brick Lane is building a leadership position across the independent breweries for non-alcoholic beer in Australia. A key component is the owned Sidewinder brand, but it’s making products for others: Notably, for Heaps Normal.

“It’s another example of how a partner can grow a business off the base investment we put in. It’s great we have been a small part of that story,” Bowker said. “What we’re trying to do in the no-alcohol space is not so much create a product but a new lifestyle choice. That’s what Sidewinder does – there are four different varieties, and we talk about the ‘Sidewinder life’. This is about giving people this freedom and opportunity to enjoy social occasions, and more of them, by having a regular beer or Sidewinder.

“Coming out of Covid, we want people to go out, be social, and we don’t want to put anything in their way to doing that. For some occasions, if alcohol is a stumbling block, let’s tear that down and give them a tremendous product they can drink proudly to do that.

“It's a huge growth area and one we have invested in heavily – both in terms of brewing technology plus our marketing and sales resources.”

More broadly, Brick Lane Brewery is using customer and consumer insight to fuel what Bowker described as “the art and science of innovation”.

“In the early days, we relied on perceived understanding of the sector we thought might resonate with customer and consumer,” he said. “We now rely heavily on data and insights from consumer trends, through acquisition of data through retailers plus our own surveys, predominantly online. Now we have heavily invested in data, it affirms as well as allows us to modify our insights.”

An example of how insights have been put into action, Bowker pointed to the Sunsetter ginger beer offering. “We used both intuition and data to deliver a product that stepped outside anything else on the market,” he said.

“It was a full-strength product that went up against products in the RTD sector rather than a traditional 3.5 per cent ginger beer.”  

Striving for inclusivity

Another foundational element driving brand strategy as well as cultural approach are the group’s core values of inclusivity and community. For Bowker, inclusivity is something an organisation has to live and breathe in order to then exhibit credentials externally.

“We don’t formally follow policies – we have them, but that’s just good governance and housekeeping. Really, we see this as something we naturally promote day-to-day, from the people we employ to the suppliers we choose, customers we work with, partners brewing at our brewery. That’s a key part of selection there,” he said.

With its original flagship Pale Ale, One Love, inclusivity was brought to the fore from the beginning, Bowker said. He also noted all Brick Lane cans have the catchphrase, ‘get together’ around their top.

“The whole idea was to be an inclusive beer and for everyone. The liquid is designed to be very approachable, accessible and it’s almost universally liked. We wanted our core beer to be something that brought everyone in together into a beer occasion,” he explained.

“It sounds simple, but it’s not. Most beers target something specific and you’re either in the group or not. You’re either an inner-city person, or a biker, or a mountain bike rider. We wanted to bring everyone into the occasion. It’s unusual to do it, and we did it to build the Brick Lane Community – that is in our lock-up, it’s in our name, on our cans. It’s all been about community since day one.”   

In addition, Brick Lane is promoting inclusivity causes and recently picked up a platinum award at the global Craft Beer Marketing Awards (known as ‘Crushies’) for best craft industry campaign for human rights and cause-related issues with its recent ‘Pink Boots’ brew day. This initiative is about championing females in brewing.

“We don’t do it to satisfy a quota – a lot of these things are driven organically by our employees,” Bowker said. “As long as it comes from within, your company will be fairly well-adjusted to it.”

In all, Brick Lane Brewery picked up eight awards this year. Others included Beat Brand Identity for its Sidewinder no-alcohol brand; Unique Logo Design for the Super Tasty Sidewinder sub-branding; and Best Beer Story for its Brick Lane Brewing Trilogy of Fear, a trio of barrel-aged imperial stouts.

Bowker also said he recruits based on inclusivity values. In fact, if he could hire only one more person tomorrow, it’d be someone who lives and breathes inclusivity and community and has a great passion to learn and grow themselves and the team around them.

“If someone has those attributes, we can provide all the tools to build their skillset and experience,” he added.  

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