How Beer Cartel is curating the craft beer journey for customers

Online retailer shares its efforts to grow its member base and engagement

When Richard Kelsey and Geoff Huens started online beer retailer, Beer Cartel, in 2009, they had a mission to break the hold of "boring bland beers" on the Australian market.

"Every bar and bottle shop had the same boring bland beers that you could find everywhere, but you couldn't find the things that were exciting, that challenged your tastebuds and challenged your preconceptions about what good beer was," Kelsey says. "So we set out to create a business that provided access to that to people around the country."

At the time, there were only a handful of other beer subscriptions and no other online real beer retailers, with even major retailers such as Dan Murphy's yet to establish a strong ecommerce presence.

"Ecommerce was in such an infantile state, people just weren't familiar with buying alcohol online, so it was a pretty slow approach at the start," Kelsey says.

It seems Australians were ready for something new, however. IBISWorld estimates the market for craft beer production in Australia is now valued at $1 billion and will grow by another 4.9 per cent through 2023. Kelsey says Beer Cartel is now turning over $6.5 million annually, thanks to growth of 32 per cent last year, and off the back of an even bigger bump delivered by the Covid pandemic.

However, the massive growth of craft beer sales has also attracted the attention of mainstream retailers and venues, which has upped the pressure for Beer Cartel to find new ways to attract new customers and meet their changing needs. That means not only working hard to bring in new and diverse product, but to also build and maintaining its reputation as the experts in craft beer.

"We have our own unique position and a lot of beers which they [big retailers] don’t range, like limited release beers we can release quickly and get into our system," Kelsey says. "And our market positioning in terms of being experts in the category has really helped us."

Engagement stations

One of the key factors to help Beer Cartel build its audience was creating the Australian Craft Beer Survey in 2016, which asks consumers questions relating to their beer drinking trends, attitudes and behaviours. Participation in the annual survey has grown from 7000 initially to more than 22,000 and has contributed more than half of the growth Beer Cartel has seen in its marketing database.

But as the numbers grew, Kelsey and his team realised they needed a more robust platform for managing and communicating with their audience. So in 2020, Beer Cartel migrated to Dotdigital.

"We needed a platform that was more sophisticated than what we were using in the past," Kelsey says. "We wanted a better understanding of our customers and how they were behaving, and to be able to reach them at the right times."

Deployment of Dotdigital has enabled Beer Cartel to create a number of curated communications journeys for customers, from a welcome series to tailored journeys for repeat customers.

"For anyone that signs up, it is taking them on a journey and giving them a bit more knowledge about craft beer and Beer Cartel and giving them the sense that we aren’t just a pure retailer, we are also quite knowledgeable about craft been as well," Kelsey says.

In the past year, Beer Cartel has seen a 36 per cent increase in total revenue of with a 40 per cent surge in orders, including a 10 per cent boost to repeat customers, with total revenue from email marketing having grown by 20 per cent.

Beer Cartel is now investigating how it might leverage Dotdigital’s AI-enabled product recommendations and SMS marketing to further personalise campaigns and strengthen its cross-channel strategy, which also includes a Facebook community with more than 10,000 members. Kelsey says the strategy is not simply about boosting sales.

"It is not just us talking about our business, but about everyone else coming in and leveraging our knowledge and creating an interesting space where people share their craft beer stories," Kelsey says. "When you are engaged in a category, people want to eat up as much content as possible. And there is always so much happening in the space, there is a huge amount of content that can be created.

"So it is not just us pushing things one way, but also getting people to talk about things coming back the other way, and social media will be one of the key challenges for doing that."




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