Digital is central to the entire brand experience at Carlton & United Breweries, with a focus on how data and technology can help deliver more meaningful consumer interactions. Head of Integrated Marketing, Jemma Downey speaks to WARC about how the company has doubled down on creating best-in-class digital programmes and products, whilst looking at ways its brands can grow beyond the product with new business models.

Key insights

  • Companies that want to survive and stay profitable have no option but to embed e-commerce as central to their retail strategy.
  • For martech, brands are better off with something accessible, user friendly, sustainable, and safe, that your teams will actually use.
  • Invest time and energy into educating the business on the importance of consumer data and the role it plays in driving competitive advantage and increasing ROI.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on how brands in Australia can craft better digital experiences for consumers. Read more

COVID-19 forced many brands to shift towards online channels. How did Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) navigate this?

As like any other business, the pandemic only highlighted the importance of delivering seamless access to our experiences with greater convenience, forging deeper, more personalised connections with consumers.

We thought about how we could customise content offerings for different audiences and designed them with the overall brand experience in mind. We focused on creating unique value propositions that allowed us to better partner with our retailers. We created an online platform where people could support their local pub by buying a pint that could be redeemed for two pints and when pubs reopened their doors, raising A$2 million for pubs and clubs in the process.

We ramped up collaborative digital ads with retailers to drive online conversation and we also looked at how we could customise offerings for different audiences in new drinking occasions.

For example, with Carlton Draught, football fans were missing match day rituals, so through our AFL partnership, we were able to create new ways to engage consumers online through editorial, content and offers to enhance the at-home experience.

How would you describe CUB’s current digital brand experience and the overall philosophy or strategy that drives it?

Our uniting marketing mission is to “drive growth through digitally and data enabled connections, communications and commerce”. We don’t look at digital as a channel, digital is central to the entire experience. We understand that digital technologies will continue to shape and change the way people behave and interact. That opens opportunity for how, when and where we can offer consumers an experience in a safe and contextual way.

Experience is not a place; it’s everywhere thanks to digital, and we want our brands to deliver experiences everywhere and anywhere we can play a meaningful role in someone’s life.

We are doubling down on our efforts to create best-in-class digital programmes and products across trade, brand and omnichannel execution to help us win with our customers across traditional and online channels. We accelerated the use of automation to deliver operational efficiencies and we are laser focused on building and leveraging world class data analytics capabilities that deliver insight and drive marketing performance.

Jemma Downey, Head of Integrated Marketing, Carlton & United Breweries

How has the company’s approach and investment into its digital brand experience evolved over the last two years?

A few years ago, we began in-housing digital capability and we’ve been steadily growing this offering year on year. This afforded us more control over our strategy, channels, and spend, with the ability to directly trade with publishers. Importantly, it pushed us to focus more on the ownership of our data and become a more consumer-centric organisation.

We created a clear consumer data strategy and merged all consumer data sets into a CDP. This is now allowing us to build audiences via technology, enable precision marketing and improve ROI.

We are investing more heavily in owned channels and products, such as our merch stores where we’ve seen significant growth. We want to continue to diversify our offering outside of beverage products.

We’ve also been experimenting with new digital products and experiences. We have digitised our promotions using Vatom technology, which are digital objects that can be redeemed for real world value through your mobile device.

Personalisation remains a core objective for many brands looking to improve their marketing communications with targeted consumers, how has CUB tackled this?

Building first-party data capability is paramount to our marketing strategy. We have heavily invested time and energy into educating the business on the importance of consumer data and the role it plays in driving competitive advantage and increasing ROI. We have shifted from having disparate technologies, datasets and funding, to an operational martech stack and consolidated data sets, centralised budgets and the specialists required to deliver analytics.

When it comes to marketing technology, you don’t need the Ferrari; you are better off with the reliable Volvo – something accessible, user friendly, sustainable, safe and that your teams will actually use, rather than it sit in the garage. You need to understand the ROI on your tech investment.

We’re also learning about balancing mass reach and the laws of growth (Ehrenberg-Bass principles) with segmentation and targeting. We’ve seen positive results through utilising our first-party data in both owned and paid channels, but we’ve also seen our digital metrics blow out when we have been too targeted. The lesson is that you need to need to be dynamic in your approach, to test, learn and adapt.

The other key learning is that you need to take the organisation and people on the journey. Demystifying data and technology is key to lift literacy, understanding and adoption.

What about the other half of this equation, the creative component? How does the CUB team weave in the creative considerations amidst all the work being done with data and analytics?

The data and analytics is the science and the creative is the magic. You always have to consider both as two parts that make up the whole. We have some very strong brands, with incredible creative platforms and strong brand personalities. We look to put our kind of creative identity through everything we do, but equally,  we look to ensure that we're solving consumer problems.

So, we're actually starting with the data and then putting experiences and creativity out in the world that people will find entertaining or provide utility or convenience.

I think that’s where really effective work and creative really happens, when you’re actually starting with that consumer problem that’s informed by the data itself.

How does CUB ensure consistency in its online brand efforts within the broader marketing scope that includes offline spaces and traditional media channels?

Our brands occupy an incredibly vast offline footprint, so how we show up in market from a consistency standpoint is far from perfect, but we are moving away from thinking through the lens of “traditional vs. non-traditional” and thinking integrated instead.

A big part of it is also down to how our teams operate and proximity to shared plans, objectives and KPIs to help us bring cohesion to our touchpoints.

What’s next for CUB with regards to how the company plans to evolve its digital brand and consumer experiences?

It’s an ongoing journey and by no means have we perfected it, but we now have the infrastructure in place that enables us to do more.

We want to deepen digital storytelling across channels to cater to occasions, passion points and need states enabled by first-party data. We want to deliver optimised experiences for each device or interaction.

And as more tech converges, it opens up incredible opportunity for exponential growth. We will double down on driving digital innovation through AI, Blockchain and VR/AR to enhance online experience and omnichannel 2.0. And that’s what will help us win together with our retail partners, both in their bricks and mortar businesses as well as their online channels.

We also want to leverage digital to create and sustain new business models, such as evolving our merch stores to be interactive and multifaceted experiences, an entirely new way of connecting with consumers.

For example, Great Northern Brewing Co. is one of the biggest brands in our portfolio, and it’s very much anchored in the great outdoors as its positioning. So how can we think about creating a digital experience that actually can bring the great outdoors in a digital context and what does that online experience look like, perhaps a travel experience platform?

Any brands whose digital experiences you personally enjoy or appreciate? 

I think we can learn a lot from luxury brands. Brands like Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton craft beautiful digital storytelling through editorial, content and UGC (user generated content). They create omnichannel experiences and experiment with emerging technologies such as AR and VR.

Dominos is a great example of how they used digital to infiltrate their entire business and disrupted a traditional model. It’s a great example of a brand that is going to where the consumer is spending their time. You can order a pizza in any channel, whether it’s an app on your mobile device, Facebook messenger, Google assistant, Alexa, and even from smart TVs.

And of course, it’s critical to watch what is happening in other markets like China for example – the global leader in e-commerce. The scale and the offering of marketplaces like Alibaba or platforms like WeChat and how digital is woven through everyday life. You have just one app that navigates you through how you work, socialise, travel, eat, shop and more.

What would be your message to fellow marketers looking at developing better digital experiences for their own brands?

Strategy drives success but be dynamic in your approach. Don’t act with yesterday’s logic, we’ve seen first-hand how quickly the world and, consequently, consumer behaviour can change. So, the businesses that can act with agility, speed and reach consumers where they are, faster than their competitors with more meaningful interactions, are the ones that will win.