Beer drinkers are quick to tell you their favorite brand. And much like countries have their flag carriers, you can even tell a country by its beer – the US has Bud, China has Tsingtao, the Netherlands has Heineken, Denmark has Carlsberg, Argentina has Quilmes… Let’s stop before we talk ourselves into a watering hole.
Despite brewing dating back to the earliest of humanity’s inventions, today the industry is brewed by fairly few large companies. Chiefly among them is AB InBev (or Anheuser-Busch), whose market share swallows 30% of total beer volume sales.
Nationally, AB InBev is the heavyweight champion, and one of the country’s most iconic companies. It has gobbled up a monumental portfolio of brands over the years including some of the world’s most famous – Budweiser, Stella Artois, Beck’s, Corona, and Patagonia.
With such a huge brand portfolio stretching continents, regions and languages, managing the combined digital content is an even bigger task to create and manage not only relevant but effective online experiences for each and every customer.
But the way AB InBev was doing things, it was very costly, increasingly complicated, and not customer-focussed. “We were not thinking consumer first,” said John Faviano, who holds the very specific title of Director of Demand Management and Integrated Marketing Technology for North America.
“We originally launched a Bud Light shop, an Anheuser-Busch gift shop, a Michelob ULTRA shop,” continued John, “but we were completely overspending from an operational perspective, and there was no consistency. There was a lot of duplication of work. Shops were going up, shops were coming down.”
At that time, each brand had a different ecommerce solution. Resulting in a lot of time spent on each, very expensive, difficult to manage, and generally slow and hard to manage. So AB InBev prayed to the digital gods, and searched for a solution… and it arrived in the form of Adobe Experience Manager.
Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is a premier digital experience platform that carries a lot of features that enhance and simplify the management and delivery of digital content across desktop, laptop, mobile, advertising boards… wherever digital content can be found.
AEM allows separate workspaces for specific projects, with each worker assigned their own role; provides the ability to personalize content and tailor messages to strengthen 1-1 communications and boost brand familiarity and loyalty; all held on a cloud-based platform where every team member can access project files from multiple locations.
And they didn’t stop at Adobe’s digital content solutions; they also replatformed to Magento (part of Adobe Commerce Cloud).
“We made sure [Magento] was integrated into Experience Manager,” added John. “We built an experience-first approach with shopping hotspots, where customers can add products directly to their cart as they engage with the product and promotional content on the site.”
What this translated into was content that was lively, interactive, and communicable. Postings of lifestyle images of people wearing brand clothing became both clickable and shoppable, and encouraged many consumers to enter these journeys and buy.
After only two months they checked the data and were very encouraged. During those 8 weeks, AB InBev reported reaching 25% of their yearly sales of Bug Light online apparel – which were featured in the lifestyle images.
It demonstrated to AB InBev that impulse buying online worked for beer brand merchandise, including beer koozies and sweaters. As well as offering merch that could only be found on their website, AB InBev got creative and began to personalize their products. For example, they carried out a geo-specific campaign involving NFL koozies – a New York Jets koozie for visitors from New York and Kansas City Chiefs Budweiser cans for those entering from the Kansas City area.
“For us,” continued John, “apparel and merchandise plays a very critical role in our branding promotion… So we performed these small tests that have been successful,” while for the other, not so instantly successful tests, they learned from the process and “failed forward to improve the way we work.”
Over the following years, AB InBev kept tweaking and tweaking, refreshing and finetuning their experience-first approach. They integrated multiple shopping experiences into a centralized, single online store.
This simplified store offers a wide range of products from Bud, Bud Light, Busch, Michelob ULTRA, Natural Light, as well as a number of other AB InBev brands – all found on a singular site.
And they built on their Adobe products by adding:
- Adobe Tag Manager (allowing you to manage Adobe Experience Cloud solutions as well as other tags on your sites);
- Adobe Analytics (helping to apply live analytics as well as detailed segmentation throughout your entire marketing channels);
- Gigya (an identity management platform that provides customized registration, preference management, user profile, engagement and loyalty, and social login, and is integration into Adobe);
- And a Custom Lite Weight API integration
All of these compliment the strengths of both Magento and Adobe Experience Manager, which they were already working with and provided them with powerful online solutions.
On the creative side of things, the beer king also boosted their depth of products with fresh catalogs along with seasonal and special products, all the while integrating its brand strategy across channels.
“The strategy of implementing a cross-branded web store combined with a commerce-enabled experience within AEM,” added John, “has provided the team at Anheuser-Busch with the flexibility to accommodate an ever changing business environment.
“A pivot in strategy back to individual branded stores was accommodated through API integrations between Magento and AEM, while the benefits of the cross-branded shopbeergear.com experience remained intact. It became the engine at the center of a growing catalog of merchandise.”
Pre-pandemic, in 2019, AB InBev looked back on the first quarter and reported that both Budweister and Bud Light merchandise had brought in more orders than the whole of 2018.
During the pandemic it managed to turnover a profit in its global sales, growing by 4% during the third quarter of 2020, thanks to its focus on ecommerce and strong digital experiences and campaigning.
They are pretty restless over there at AB InBev, whose headquarters lie in Belgium, while its global management office rests in New York City. Their focus now is on how to go further, which include building a customer rewards platform and integrating it into its digital store. In addition to that, it’s carrying out A/B testing with Adobe Analytics to try out numerous experiments to see what sticks and what doesn’t.
“We always need to keep evolving,” said John. “Our strategy can best be described as ‘test-and-learn’ – and it works very well for us.”
Cheers to Ab InBev, to always moving forwards even when it means taking a step backwards.