Guest article

Digital remains untapped by drinks firms

By Jon Reay, founder, Rewrite Digital

- Last updated on GMT

AI beer, robotic cocktail makers, and connected cocktail libraries - what next for digital?
AI beer, robotic cocktail makers, and connected cocktail libraries - what next for digital?

Related tags digital Alcohol Marketing

By 2022, global market intelligence firm IDC forecasts that 80% of enterprise revenue growth will depend directly on digital offerings and operations. And yet alcohol is trailing most other sectors when it comes to digital, write Jon Reay of Rewrite Digital.

In e-commerce, for example, just 8% of people with online access have bought alcohol online, according to a Nielsen report covering 63 countries. Drinks companies reveal even lower figures. Pernod Ricard, for instance, reports that online sales account for just 2% of its global sales.

With the industry’s heavy dependence on branding and marketing, increasing competition, the regulatory crackdown on consumption and advertising and the untapped potential of e-commerce, why have so few drinks companies invested significantly in digital?

In Europe, the new privacy regulation GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has now added further restrictions on the reach of drinks firms. Yet it’s through digital that drinks companies can unlock a closer relationship with shoppers and consumers, grow their share of attention and even create and optimise the perfect products. It can make the difference between a booming brand and one that’s in steep decline.

Digital delivers for brand and consumer

It’s no longer sufficient to merely be present in bars, restaurants and shops. Regular reinforcement of your brand in the right context gives consumers continued taste for it. New ways to engage with and experience your brand help you to stay connected with an increasingly demanding new generation of drinkers.

Yet few established drinks firms are exploiting the full opportunities of digital. Countless new disruptors are entering the market, and growing their share, with digital baked in.

'Pernod Ricard stands out amongst its conventional peers as a digital leader'

Here are a few examples of where digital has been harnessed well by long standing businesses that have embraced change and incumbents who lead the way:


Earlier this year BrewDog vowed to give away 1m free beers in the UK to people who signed up to receive communications. Although pitched as an anti-advertising approach to convert craft beer lovers, the mechanic was opportunely timed just before the GDPR deadline to grow the consented database of fans they now engage directly with.

BrewDog also launched a streaming video service last month – The BrewDog Network. It brings together their community of fans to establish even more touchpoints for the brand.

Gordon’s Gin

In a recent campaign, Gordon’s offered free or discounted Gin & Tonics to commuters hit with rail delays. They used mobile network customer data to identify commuters of legal drinking age within close proximity of rail stations. They integrated National Rail’s data feed to directly message target audiences when trains were delayed, showing where they could claim a drink. A marketing stunt with smart use of technology, but can Diageo extend this to more sustained digital activity?

Pernod Ricard

cocktails cropped getty honeyandmilk

Pernod Ricard stands out amongst its conventional peers as a digital leader. They put consumers at the centre of their strategic model, with Digital Acceleration being one of four areas of continual investment.

They’ve been trialling connected bottles and glasses to increase data collection and give drinkers exclusive content and experiences on smartphones.

Another example of innovation is a connected cocktail library​ to transform the way people enjoy spirits and mixology at home.

Tech disrupters

The drinks industry is being shaken up by a host of new businesses that put digital front and centre.

Following launch of the world’s first Bionic Bar in 2013, Makr Shakr is now introducing a mass-market robotic cocktail maker. Customers order through an accompanying phone app, picking a recipe or devising their own concoctions from up to 170 different bottles of spirits.

IntelligentX beer​ is brewed by Artificial Intelligence (AI). Drinkers submit feedback which drives machine learning algorithms to brew the next batch, matching what consumers want more quickly than anyone else can.

Virtual Reality (VR) has been explored by numerous drinks brands to enhance the experience of a high-end cocktail. The 'Vocktail', developed at the National University of Singapore, goes a step further. It plays on the drinker’s sense of smell, sight and taste, pumping scents straight to the nose, electric pulses to stimulate the taste buds and lights to influence perception.

Digital technology can enable drinks companies to gather rich insight and transform the customer experience. Having the right organisational structure, stakeholder remit and expertise is also critical to support it. Long-term investment in new products and services will also yield more business value than one off marketing stunts.

Open the tap on digital

Digital is not being allowed to flow freely by most drinks firms. As innovative companies start to harness it more deeply, others will start to fade from existence.

Isn’t it time you elevated the way you look at digital?

About the author:


Prior to launching Rewrite Digital, Jon Reay worked in several digital agencies around the world for seventeen years. He has led pioneering digital and customer engagement strategies for organisations that include Lloyd’s of London, Manchester City FC, Team GB, IKEA, UK Cabinet Office and Tourism New Zealand. Educated in Computer Science at Bristol University, Jon has experience working with a range of digital technologies to which he brings significant value to IT, marketing and business strategies for clients. Jon has written for numerous publications and spoken at events and conferences in Europe and the USA.

Rewrite Digital​ works with businesses to elevate the way they look at digital.

Pictures: getty/monsitj; getty/honeyandmilk

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