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Insights on Tap: How Boston Beer Co. Built an On-Demand Insights Capability

November 5, 2020

Some companies make big bets based on gut feelings rather than hard data because they believe research is too expensive and time consuming. But Boston Beer Company proved otherwise.

By piloting insight communities with their Sam Adams brand, Boston Beer Company harnessed instant consumer feedback. As a result, products, packaging, and advertising quickly adapted to customer needs. This demonstrated the value of insights communities to leadership and led to a company-wide revolution across Boston Beer’s brand portfolio.

This presentation will explain how other small in-house research teams can leverage an insight communities test-run to make research a cornerstone of company decision-making, make their brands more customer-centric, and how to find great research partners.

Transcript:

Moderator:

You guys are making me thirsty already. Just looking at the slide here is a little bit unfair at 3:00, or 4:00 Eastern I guess that’s a little bit more acceptable. All right, well, let’s go ahead and get started. I’m so happy to be your track chair today. First session is insights on tap, how Boston Beer Company built an on demand insights capability. Lauren and Tim, I’m just going to hand it over to you guys, introduce yourselves and go ahead and get started. I’ll be back online at the end to handle Q and A.

Tim:

Sure.

Lauren:

Great. You want me to kick it off Tim?

Tim:

Go for it.

Lauren:

All right. So I am Lauren Marshall. I am the manager of strategy and insights at Boston Beer, and I specifically support our beer brands and our tea business. And we’re going to be talking a little bit about beer today, but we’re also going to be talking about how we developed our community relationship with Finch Brands and how we’ve been using it to get really nimble and thoughtful insights.

Tim:

Okay. And my name is Tim DeGennaro. I’m the VP of Insights Communities here at Finch Brands. And specifically I lead our FinchSight offering, which is our full service research community offering. For those who aren’t familiar with Finch Brands, we are a brand consultancy. We have 20 years of experience in brand consulting and we fold that into everything we do from research to creative, to even insights communities. And I work with Lauren on a daily basis on our online community. So Lauren, you want to talk a little bit about some of the background here?

Lauren:

Yeah. So we’re going to go a little journey. So obviously Boston Beer was founded and started with the Sam Adams brand and we really were at the forefront of starting the craft beer revolution. But now we are a multi-brand portfolio. And the organization used to think about insights in more of a functional way, because we were often more product-driven thinking about beer and craft beer, and how that often comes to life in terms of taproom development and things like that. So the insights team was not typically large or super integrated into some of the process. So we really have had quite a journey in thinking about how we start to use insights to steer the broader portfolio and integrate and fold into the work that we do.

Lauren:

And as part of that on the next slide, yes, we think about one case study here that we’re going to talk about is what’s been going on with the Sam Adams brands. And I think if we think outside of our own world and take a step back and realize what happened with the beer landscape, we see that our brand is at this pivotal crossroads, we are one of the founding fathers of craft beer, but we’re also a great nationally available brand. And so we were at this moment in time in which, we’re not a harpoon local beer brand, but we’re not quite as big, clearly as a Corona or the Heineken. So where do we sit with the consumer’s mindset and how do we think about ourselves in a way that’s really going to be compelling and meaningful to consumers?

Lauren:

We took a step back and thought, okay, how do we think about our position and how do we think about who we are? And we were working with a variety of agencies in looking at different positionings in different ways in, and there was just a major push from leadership to think differently about shifting our mindset from more product-driven to more marketing-driven. As part of all of that, I recognize the need to really find a tool that would help us through this moment in time where we’re really trying to redefine ourselves to some extent.

Lauren:

And that’s where communities really came to mind. I had used communities in my past, and I knew that they’re super uniquely positioned to help brands in moments like this, because you really need the flexibility and the iterative nature to answer a whole bunch of variety of questions. Often when you’re searching and going through a transition from a brand perspective, and you’re not sure what the next question’s going to be. So it’s hard to sit down and say, I’m going to write a proposal on RFP to do this project, or the next thing I need to do is this big quant study.

Lauren:

And it takes a whole bunch of time to really start to map out all of those research plans. But with a community, you can think about that in a flexible speed driven way, and still get a lot of that depths out of a variety of different tools from qualitative to quantitative. And I think what’s also really helpful, and was really helpful in this time is that you’ve got your one core team working with you. So you’re not bouncing around and working with a new vendor every five minutes thinking, Oh my God, I need to update these folks on what we just learned here and I need onboard these guys. You’ve got a core team to really help drive that flexibility, speed, and depth sitting right next to you, as you’re moving through these pivots.

Lauren:

At the same time, I also know what a big ASCA community can sometimes seem like in terms of a longer-term investment and the support that might need to go into it. So we knew that we were looking at this positioning shift in, hey, we need to solve this and think about this in the next three months. And we really need to get our ducks in a row and figure out who this brand wants to be and who they’re going to become so that we’re ready for selling season. So I pitched just a flexible quick three month pop-up to really address the moment in time that we were in and the changes that we were going to go through. And we would have the insights to support some of that. We just signed up for a limited time, a core sample of what we would always consider better beer drinkers.

Lauren:

And we were very specific about how we were setting this up, so it wasn’t a huge sell. At that point it was a tool that we knew was going to get us from point A to point B. And then we were able to tackle all the pieces within that context of that. On the next slide, what happened was once you have it set up, build it and they will come. And everything became throw it into the community. And it was little questions to big questions from ABMS asking it to the CMO. And once we had that tool set up for those core three months, we were able to do a whole plethora of work, even outside of the original positioning ask. And so we were really able to show and prove the value of learning iteratively and bringing the consumer throughout the positioning, and the work that we were doing rather than the beginning and the end.

Lauren:

We were able to tackle a whole bunch of different projects, as I mentioned inside and outside of that positioning work to show the breadth of what a community can do from sending people in store to writing journals, to just a simple, quant survey. And then we were also able to really, as I mentioned, socialize and deepen some trust and familiarity with the tool across the team, the Sam team is a pretty big team, as you can imagine, and there’s a lot of stakeholders. It was a really nice three months of flexibility and iteration and learning and partnership development, just in a quick what we were considering a test and learn project.

Lauren:

As I mentioned, the big crux of what pushed us in this way was, we were getting a lot of feedback and position ideas from a bunch of agencies. We had gone out to a variety of agencies to pitch the Sam Adams advertising. And we knew we were going to need consumer direction along the way, especially because we knew that humor was the space we wanted to start to explore and get and get better at. And I knew in past lives, humor can go really well and humor can totally miss the mark. So making sure that we were tracking along with consumers along the way was really important. We started to vet directions with just simple mood boards. We started to talk about the types of humor that were with consumers, that they were leaning into versus leaning out of and help us develop the character in those spaces and places that we were interested in. And then finally, I think, in a more traditional fashion, we were showing reels and animatics to get broader feedback on the storytelling.

Lauren:

And we were generally able to really move our storytelling into something that we were really excited about and really proud. And I don’t know if anybody’s seen like the Cousin work, but it’s on air now. And then as I mentioned earlier, community offers you that opportunity to apply a whole bunch of different tips and tricks or tools and techniques. And as part of the work that we did, we had this whole stream of work around positioning in our advertising, but we were also able to support the team through packaging.

Lauren:

And there were questions on whether or not people could differentiate our packs in market, or there was work that we were trying to understand how we sat in context of other craft beers versus imports. So we did some work to help steer brand strategy there in terms of persona development. It wasn’t just about the one stream of work, even though that was where we started with knowing that we were going to need to deep dive into this creative development, but we were able to really tap into other tools and techniques to answer other problems along the way that always inevitably pop up.

Lauren:

And then, we were able to even so originally we launched the spear community, but we have multiple beer brands. So we were actually able to do some work with our Dogfish coworkers, and really see that the idea of this community throughout the organization, past the Sam brand team. We were able to really understand, in this a case study example, we were helping to develop a brief for redesigning the 60 minutes, which is the flagship beer for Dogfish Packaging. And so really ultimately it just connected more deeply with a broader group of stakeholders and really solidified the opportunity for this tool within the organization.

Lauren:

And what happened after that, was that we got questions from everyone. And we started hearing from our CMO, just wrote in the community. Can we throw this twisted tea question in the community? Can we throw this angry orchard question and the community, and by showing how well it worked and how strongly we were able to partner with consumers and with our brand teams, in one small instance, we really reshaped a little bit of how we think about insights and as community as being a really a core pillar for our learning and opened the door to other brands, using it and opened the door to a longer engagement in terms of a broader community for all of 2020.

Tim:

So, and when we think about the story that we just heard from Lauren, we as a supplier of communities encounter countless folks who are in their shoes, really trying to make insights the norm and not the expectation, looking at communities as a potential way to do that and being uniquely positioned as they are as like that first step, but also worried about the level of investment. We think of communities as a marriage, it’s not a date. You’re getting involved for a long period of time, potentially. So that level of commitment, you maybe need to go on some dates first. Thinking, about some of the things that Lauren talked about of starting small, starting with that pilot, and then really trying to get as much value as you can out of it, just throw it in the community.

Tim:

It doesn’t have to be a big deal, it doesn’t have to be a big project, but extract every little bit of value and share that value across the organization. Those are some of the best practices that we see our clients who are successful with their communities implementing internally. And actually Lauren’s story is probably one of the fastest success stories. I think we went from like zero to 150 in those three months. And just to give you an example of where we’ve gone since, as Lauren mentioned, we actually expanded the community to broader audiences, not just beer drinkers, better beer drinkers. We also have had seltzer water drinkers, we have hard tea drinkers, got a couple hard kombucha drinkers even. And just within six months of building this new community, we actually gathered over 639,000 data points. We lost 128 different activities.

Tim:

That’s what through out in the community looks like. Whether it’s discussions, whether it’s polls or whether it’s more in-depth surveys and things like that. Those are 128 touch points with consumers we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Almost 20,000 individual survey completes for anything from looking at the advertisements, looking at the packaging and creative and just bringing the voice of the consumer into major brand pivots. We did help with some analysis that their procurement team actually did. And the numbers aren’t final there, but early on, it’s looking like had they done this, they would have through traditional methods, not only would it have been impossible from a time a standpoint, but they actually saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by going the community route. So there were some very significant financial efficiencies there too.

Tim:

So just to wrap up, what if this sounds like you, are you in that situation? So just trying to look back at some of the best practices that Lauren shared with us, I think the first one we would absolutely recommend to anyone considering community is to really start with that pilot. Going in for 12 months, 24 months, whatever it could be for a longer period of time, that’s a marriage, so go on a date first. Especially, if you can align that pilot to initiatives, whether is a clear need for insights, insights that we’re not sure what we’re going to need to learn. And positioning the pilot around, reducing the risk of whatever that initiative is. Along the way, encourage usage for insights, think small, throw it in the community.

Tim:

The point is not to necessarily replace every single piece of research you would have done, but just to make the voice of the consumer something that’s possible to bring into any point of the process, especially at the beginning of thinking. No matter the timeline and no matter how big or small it is, you can get answers in just a couple of minutes. And really demonstrating the full breadth of tools and use cases, I think communities, if you looked at them years ago and haven’t looked at them since there are a lot more than they used to be, more than just discussion boards, more than surveys, we have the ability to send people on mission to the store, have live video chats, post ideation sessions, and things like that really demonstrating the full breadth of tools and use cases opens people’s eyes up to how much can be accomplished with this resource.

Tim:

I think two, choosing a partner that can assist with that heavy lifting, we find is also important. I mean, obviously we’re biased, we’re full service community and research provider, but there are a lot of DIY options out there. And if you’re successful with this pilot, you’re going to need a partner who understands your business. You’re not going to want to be the one programming and queuing surveys or making sure that the members get their incentives or all the logistics that go with it really takes a community to run a community. So really choosing that partner who can do a lot of the heavy lifting and tell you not only help you through the process, and have there contribute with ideas and presenting and looking at the data across studies, not just one-off. And once successful, really scaling that community to achieve cross band benefits.

Tim:

There really isn’t a need any more to build a community of just beer drinkers and build a separate community of just seltzer drinkers. Thinking in terms of scaling and being flexible about the audiences you bring in and recruiting your community can really help you achieve more with it. You can house multiple audiences in one community and rely on that one single research partner to connect the dots and insights that are consistent between the many audiences that you may be working with. With that, we can end, are there any questions?

Moderator:

Yeah, Tim and Lauren, we’ve got a couple. The first one that came in, was the question around, as the community continues to go on and consumers become a little bit more educated and involved over time. Does that become an issue versus hearing feedback from the average consumer?

Tim:

Yeah. So this is a question that’s asked, I think about every community, because there is the concern, or do they become professional survey takers, or do you educate them too much about any given product? And they start to become more positive towards your brand. And they’re undoubtedly, there are things that are not appropriate to run in communities. And we wouldn’t be doing things like brand tracking in a community. I don’t think that makes sense where you’ve exposed them to a lot of stimuli that influences their thoughts and behaviors. However, what we do find is that as community members stay over a longer period of time, they don’t become more positive. They actually more constructively critical and we get the raw unvarnished truth about what we’re putting out there. But I wouldn’t use it for anything like market sizing or forecasting necessarily, but there are use cases. It’s about getting the consumer voice into the boardroom as often as possible. And for that they are great. I don’t know if Lauren, you have anything to add with how you look at it?

Lauren:

Yeah. I mean, no one tool, I think as researchers, we know that no one tool is going to solve all problems or solve all objectives. But I think to Tim’s point too, about becoming more critical, we just anecdotally the Sam brand, when you do quantitative testing with it is usually very positive because it’s a beloved brand in this space, whether you drink it or not, there’s a lot of respect for it. And it’s often very hard to get to pull that onion apart beyond, it’s high quality, it’s a great brand. I respect it for what it did for the category. And the community actually has been a really great tool to diagnose a lot of that to bring more of that to life. Because to Tim’s point, they’re there for the long haul, we’re a branded community and they know that they’re there to help us to shift perceptions or to grow the brand. So we’ve had a lot actually of great success in that way for that brand because of some of the challenges it has outside of community testing.

Moderator:

Excellent. Well, hey guys, we’re going to try to keep things a little bit on schedule here, but I know Tim is in the Finch, is that correct Tim?

Tim:

Yeah, I will be available for the next couple… The rest of the day, I guess, on the chat.

Moderator:

Excellent. Well, thank you guys. Lauren and Tim, thank you guys so much. And for those of you who are in attendance, go ahead and switch on over to the next track and enjoy our session number two. Take care everyone.

Lauren:

Thank you.

 

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