What we're seeing in our web design work so far in 2023.
There were a handful of folks who, in our year end review survey, asked for more content and insights on websites and digital marketing.
It’s worth mentioning quickly that, while CODO actually does a good amount of digital work each year (usually 15–20% of our annual revenue), we've historically shied away from writing about web design.
Why? Because it's tough to write anything about web design, development or digital marketing that will be even remotely evergreen.
But then, this is the name of the game in UI/UX work—anything you make today will need to be updated, if not completely overhauled within 5 years, if not sooner. Case in point, we're currently redesigning two brewery websites that we previously launched back in the halcyon days of 2019.
Nevertheless, several of you asked us to cover this topic, so I'm going to set aside the evergreen issue and highlight a few interesting things we're seeing in our brewery and beverage website projects right now.
Some these will be tactical and immediately actionable. And some will be more on the food for thought side of the house.
Let's get into it.
1. Cleaning up those pandemic pivots
One of the biggest recurring themes we're seeing in our digital work this year is cleaning up left over scar tissue from the pandemic.
When the world locked down in March 2020, thousands of breweries across the country saw their revenue drop as much as 90% overnight (particularly taproom-focused outfits). This spurred a mad dash for breweries to quickly spin up eCommerce (eComm) stores to sell gift cards, merch and packaged beer to go (or DTC where legal).
In almost all cases, the quickest way to get an eComm storefront in place (if you didn’t already have this capability) was to build a turnkey eComm store as an entirely new website, separate from your main site—separate domain, inventory management system and payment gateway.
There was no long term thought put into these moves because they only needed to last two weeks, right? (Right?)
Anyway, more than three years of breweries running their digital footprint this way have highlighted some nagging issues, including:
– You have to manage two completely unique websites which takes more time, energy and money.
– Organic search and SEO are (very likely) nonexistent for many of these plug and play eComm systems because they're not tied to your brewery’s main website in an SEO-friendly way. So even if you’ve been running this way successfully for a few years, you may have little to show for it where it matters (e.g. organic search).
– If you threw up one of these turnkey system, the sales data (one of the most valuable 'things' a brewery can own) can be sorely lacking, and challenging to transition over to a new, more permanent platform. (This isn’t the end of the world, but losing a few years of customer and sales data is a bummer).
– The disconnect between your main site and this standalone eComm site can seem unprofessional at best, or insecure at worst. This one is subjective, but look: We see brewery websites that look (and function) poorly every day.
I get that your website doesn’t seem as immediately important as your packaging, but don’t forget that it does exist and people are actually looking at it. Remember, your brand is only as strong as your weakest touchpoint.
To address these issues, we’re seeing a lot of inquiries and projects with breweries who are wanting to build a more dedicated eCommerce-forward website.
For breweries who want to invest in their eCommerce as a revenue generating channel, we're building more websites on purpose-built eComm systems, usually Shopify.
So these websites house all of your typical brewery info (beer, tap lists and menus, location(s), hours, about info, contact, etc.) as well as your full online store. This is much easier to manage on your end and it has the added benefit of creating a more immersive (all-in-one) ecosystem that your customers can explore.
E.g. You send out a targeted email newsletter (more on this in a second). A user clicks through that email and adds a hat to their cart. Then, they click another link to look at shirts. Maybe they grab one of those as well. And then maybe they click over to your beer page, or your blog before checking out.
And all of this is gold—gold!—for SEO.
And back to user data for a moment: This is important because it allows you to create more efficacious marketing and better track your campaigns. (E.g. this Advent calendar email converted to $14,800 in sales. Nice! Or this free shipping Hop Water promo only generated $3,900 in sales. How can we improve our offer here?)
A quick note here on tools and technology before we move on. We're doing a lot of website design and development projects for our brewery and beverage clients on Shopify specifically. But we've also used a combination of WordPress + WooCommerce, and even Squarespace (a completely custom build) to accomplish this.
There are a few great tools and services you can use to integrate your main site, eComm system and even overarching POS. So do your own research and make sure you find the right fit for your brewery now, and that it’s something you can grow into over the coming years.
2. Pulling together multiple taprooms (building a central hospitality site)
Another big theme we're seeing in our project work this year revolves around creating an all-in-one website for breweries with multiple locations, concepts and brands.
We're written before about the Accidental Hospitality Group. As a refresher, given enough time in the market, your brewery may end up opening a second (or third) location. You'll create new Sub Brands, acquire smaller brands and co-brand with other groups in interesting ways. Do this enough times and you end up creating a burgeoning empire.
From a website standpoint, running multiple locations can present an interesting set of challenges on its own.
– How can you easily manage all of these locations (all with different tap lists, food menus, specials and vibes—rules, events, etc.)?
– Can (should?) you build a single website that houses all of your concepts or do you need individual sites for each location? Which is better for SEO?
– How can you add varying levels of user admin ability (e.g. a GM who can update everything globally, a bar manager who can only update a tap list, a front of house person who can only update food specials, etc.). And the ability to lock someone out quickly should they exit the company.
– How can you set it up so that site updates auto-populate other 3rd party apps, services and social media (e.g. Untapped, Instagram) or vis versa? (Where can you reclaim those lost 30 minutes of soul sucking admin time each week?)
– How can you add new locations quickly as they come online? (usually via landing pages)
– How can you let each of your locations stand on their own while linking back to your parent brand (digitally and on the brand level)?
– How can you streamline all of your inbound charitable donation requests?
A quick note on self diagnosing your problem
This seems like a complex problem, but pulling together a central hospitality site that kicks users out to a specific location is a fairly straight forward process. (You can do cool stuff with geolocation that automatically serves up the most relevant location, create nice looking landing pages within your main site, etc.)
But make sure you understand what root problem you’re wanting to solve before throwing a new website at it.
We view these projects as much as a branding and Brand Architecture problems as we do straight forward website builds.
E.g. Determining whether or not it makes sense for someone who visits your downtown taproom website to also know that you have a spot out in the suburbs is a Brand Strategy and Architecture question. Your website is simply how you will convey that info.
If you map out your Brand Architecture and understand how your parent brand does (or doesn’t) inform your other concepts, your site mapping and information architecture will take care of itself and ensure you're solving the core issue at hand.
3. An exciting rise in email marketing
We're seeing more breweries dive into email marketing and long form storytelling this year. (And I love it.)
In our work on this front, particularly amongst our larger clients, we’re developing custom templates within their preferred platform (e.g. MailChimp, Klaviyo) to create an even more immersive experience.
But custom templates are definitely a nice to have vs. a need to have. So if you're interested in email marketing, just get started—you can always build custom templates later.
And if you still don't want to begin doing this today, you should at least begin gathering email addresses through your site so that you're not starting from zero when you do decide to ramp this up.
One more thing to consider on this.
Social media, while important, is a rapidly changing landscape. A simple algorithm change here or a shift in regulations there can dramatically alter how much reach and impressions you're able to get on your every day posts. This applies to all social media. What's in today will be old news in a few years.
But there's one channel that can’t be throttled, or demonetized, or that will force you to pay hard earned money in order to see any sort of engagement down the line…
Your email newsletter.
I can go on and on here: Email marketing gives you amazing customer data. Email marketing helps you stay top of mind with your fans. And lastly, your fans trust you enough to opt in to your newsletter which means they're actually excited to hear from you.
Your newsletter platform is built on trust and value.
And all of this is amazing.
(Thanks for reading our newsletter, by the way. I'm glad you're here.)
I hope all of this helps you think about how you can improve your website this year. Shoot me an email if you've got any questions on anything we covered today or if you'd like some help with your website.
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