We spoke to BrewDog’s inspirational Group Digital Director Tom Reding recently about his innovation journey. In this Q&A we find out what digital transformation means to BrewDog, and how a North Star approach has helped turn their big ideas into projects the entire business gets behind.
What does digital transformation at BrewDog look like?
“I’m really happy to say that it’s a whole business approach. It’s less about technology itself and more about what technology can do for the business. Everyone at BrewDog is massively engaged - from the board and leadership to the experts that work in our bars. I think this is one of our biggest achievements. Digital innovation and technology are useless unless they are adopted by everyone. It’s only then that you can see the real value - and I’m really pleased to say we’re there.”
What’s the story behind BrewDog’s digital success?
“BrewDog’s digital success is built on our 3 core foundations: beer, people and planet. We’re always looking to make a difference and we haven’t just looked at digital as a way to maximise profit. Of course profit, growth and efficiency are always important - but they don’t help you make the right decisions on the ground as a team and can distract you from other potentially more interesting sources of value.
We’ve adopted a North Star approach, which helps us turn ideas into actual projects - ensuring that our teams are working together and galvanising them around a single aim. We did a lot of work with the guys at Ascent - we wanted our collective team to create an authentically BrewDog approach to digital, which is how we ended up with the concept of the ‘BrewDog Neighbourhood’ as our North Star.
Tell us more about the Neighbourhood…
" ‘Neighbourhood’ is a concept that connects people through their enjoyment of beer - in the places that they live, work and visit. The idea is founded on that feeling you get when you visit your local curry house or pub - where they have bothered to connect with you and know who you are – learning your likes and dislikes and really focus on that all-important human connection.
We then considered how this would impact all the operational layers in our business: how, for example, it would impact ecommerce, or what it meant for our bars. It’s helped get all the different parts of the business working together towards a common goal. It gets you to audit all aspects of the business, build connections, cross-functional teams and define the missing vertical capability.
The idea of optimising for community is really nice. It resonates strongly with the BrewDog brand and the whole reason why people quite literally buy into BrewDog - that’s where we’re really at the forefront of our industry.”
How significant a role does data play in your digital strategy?
“You know, like lots of businesses we really like the idea of using data to predict, and to help us make more right decisions. We’ve created a data platform which unifies all of our customer interactions - allowing us to understand more about them and then offer a better experience, whether that’s a retail interaction, online or in a grocery setting.
We’ve gone to a new level of detail with digital - we’ve even built a beer recommendation engine to develop a richer, more personalised relationship with our customers, allowing them to try, taste and sample beer based on their individual preferences – mirrored across all experiences, wherever they purchase. This is a great use of data science in retail, but to be clear this technical capability was designed to elevate and enhance the human experience of interacting with our team.
We’ve used data in different ways too: we wanted to understand what constitutes a great taste in beer, what ingredients have the biggest impact on cost and why a certain taste or characteristic might appeal to a particular segment. All these parameters also help to define what the next best beer is to manufacture.”
What do you look for in a good digital project?
“We have 5 lenses that we use to help determine if we take on a digital project – it’s all about how you apply technology around the customer:
Simplify: Does it make the customer’s experience more straightforward? Because time is precious. Let’s say a customer wants to pay the bill for example and doesn’t want to wait for an available bar tender - we need to make their payment options really easy, on the basis we’ve hopefully already delivered an amazing experience.
Onboard: Does it bring our customers further into our world? This is about Planet BrewDog, our communities, apps and bars, our sustainability initiatives. We aim to learn something about them – their likes and dislikes - so we can provide a better all-round personalised experience and broaden out their interactions with us.
Personalise: Does it get us closer to our individual customer? Defining and recognising individual preferences – the beers they like and ones they didn’t like, and how, when and where they want to engage with us.
Connect: Does it promote human interaction? Here we’re adding an extra level of fun and a layer of interest to extend that experience and make connections with people with similar interests, from beer visas to bike clubs – enabled by digital, but without technology getting in the way…
Elevate: Does it add something which is a bit unique and fun in terms of experience? Can we use digital to enhance something we already do well – like empowering our bar teams to make beer recommendations more scientifically, and be right more often for our customers.”
What’s next on BrewDog’s digital agenda?
“Sustainability is huge. We have a strong community that shares the same values and we are in a position where we can use insight and tech to help educate customers, to help them understand the impact of their purchases. We’re working to bring them along that journey with us to reduce carbon emissions - like working with supermarkets to shorten supply chain distances. What we can’t reduce, we double offset.”
What advice would you give businesses at the start of their digital journey?
“Accept there’s a challenge. There’s always technical hurdles, but there’s always a path to the capability you want, you just need the right approach and mindset.
Define your North Star and demonstrate how it adds value to the business – this is often beyond the technology itself. Make sure you do the story telling part to your wider organisation early and bring people on board for the journey.
Prove that your idea works and quickly showcase those capabilities - we were able to demonstrate the uplift of our beer recommendation engine very early on in ecommerce, which created momentum. Unite everyone around that common goal.
Think about experience. I think this trend will absolutely continue and the brands that get that right will win. There are so many options and choices out there for people today – they’re going to engage with brand that’s most closely aligned with their values. When someone goes, ‘wow – I’ve had such an amazing time’ - that’s when you know you got it right.”
If you enjoyed this Q&A with Tom, you can listen to his full Innovation Conversation with Ascent’s CTO, Alex James.
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