What Are the Challenges Faced by UK Craft Brewers in Expanding Their Digital Presence?

April 18, 2024

Craft beer, a product of small-time brewmasters operating independent breweries, has seen a surge in popularity over the past decade. Despite the industry’s success, brewers face several challenges in expanding their digital presence. With the proliferation of craft beer options and the influx of big-name breweries into the craft scene, standing out from the crowd has become a formidable task. In this article, we’ll delve into the hurdles UK craft brewers face as they strive to capture the online market.

The Struggle for Online Visibility

In the universe of craft beer, creating a high-quality brew is only half the battle. Getting your product noticed by consumers in the crowded digital market is just as important. Today’s digital consumer is inundated with choices, and standing out among the competition can be a daunting task.

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According to the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), one of the primary challenges UK craft brewers face is the struggle for online visibility. As more breweries pop up across the nation – over 2000 at last count – and as larger breweries co-opt the craft label, independent brewers are finding it increasingly difficult to make their presence known online. Despite brewing top-quality beers, many small, local breweries struggle to gain the online traction necessary to expand their business.

Building and Maintaining a Brand Identity

Creating a unique brand identity is crucial for any business, but it’s particularly vital in the craft beer industry where consumers often choose their brew based on the brewery’s image and ethos. The challenge lies not just in creating a unique brand identity, but maintaining it as well.

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Craft brewers are artists in their own right, pouring their passion and creativity into every batch. But translating that passion and creativity into a successful brand identity that connects with consumers across digital platforms can be a complex task.

In a market where authenticity is key, ensuring that the brand’s digital presence aligns with the ethos of the brewery and its beers is of utmost importance. Any disconnect between the brand’s online image and the reality of their product can alienate consumers and damage the brand’s reputation.

Navigating the Digital Marketplace

Understanding and navigating the digital marketplace is another significant challenge for UK craft brewers. The online market for craft beer is a complex ecosystem of retailers, distributors, and consumers.

In this digital age, consumers expect to buy their favourite craft beers with a click of a button. This expectation poses a challenge for small, independent brewers who often struggle to secure online distribution for their beers.

Without a solid understanding of the digital marketplace and the resources to navigate it effectively, these brewers risk falling behind in the race to secure online sales. Furthermore, breweries must also deal with the legal and regulatory complexities associated with online alcohol sales, which can be a daunting task in and of itself.

Digital Marketing and Consumer Engagement

Digital marketing is an incredibly effective tool for reaching consumers, but it’s also a double-edged sword. It offers tremendous opportunities for engagement and visibility, but it also requires a significant investment of time and resources.

Many UK craft brewers are small businesses with lean teams and tight budgets. Finding the time and resources to create engaging digital content, manage social media accounts, and analyze the data from these efforts can be a significant challenge.

Despite these hurdles, digital marketing and consumer engagement are essential components of a successful online presence. Brewers must find creative ways to connect with their audience, promote their beers, and build a loyal following.

The Need for Digital Literacy and Training

Digital literacy is a crucial skill in today’s digital age. Unfortunately, many UK craft brewers lack the necessary skills and training to effectively manage their digital presence.

According to a 2024 SIBA report, many craft breweries lack a dedicated digital marketing team, leaving the task of managing their online presence to individuals who may not have the necessary skills or training. This lack of digital literacy can lead to missed opportunities and a subpar online presence.

Breweries must invest in digital literacy training for their staff, or consider hiring a digital marketing specialist, to ensure that their online presence is effectively managed and represents their brewery in the best possible light.

Craft brewers in the UK face a range of challenges as they strive to expand their digital presence. However, with the right strategies and resources in place, these breweries can overcome these hurdles and thrive in the online market. It’s about staying true to their craft while adapting to the digital times.

Overcoming Digital Hurdles: Strategies for Success

The digital landscape is undeniably complex, but independent brewers should not be deterred. There are strategies that can be employed to address the challenges of online visibility, brand identity, digital marketplace navigation, consumer engagement, and digital literacy.

To enhance online visibility, craft brewers can employ SEO (Search Engine Optimization) techniques to improve their website’s ranking on search engines like Google Scholar, increasing the likelihood of being found by potential customers. Social media platforms can also be leveraged to reach a wider audience, with well-crafted posts about the brewing process, beer awards and behind-the-scenes peeks into the brewery’s operations.

Developing and maintaining a distinct brand identity involves consistently communicating the company’s values and personality across all digital platforms. This includes the language used in social media posts, the images and colours adopted in digital marketing materials, the design of the brewery’s website, and the tone of blog posts or podcasts.

Navigating the digital marketplace can be made easier by engaging with experienced distributors who understand the intricacies of the online beer market. These professionals can guide breweries through the process of getting their beers listed on digital platforms, while also helping them understand the legal and regulatory framework of online alcohol sales.

In terms of digital marketing and consumer engagement, craft breweries can utilise the power of storytelling to connect with their audiences. Sharing the story of the brewery, the inspiration behind the beers, and the challenges and triumphs along the journey can engage consumers on a more personal level. Hosting virtual events, like online tastings or brewery tours, can also increase consumer engagement.

Finally, addressing the lack of digital literacy requires investment in training or hiring professionals equipped with digital skills. There are numerous digital marketing courses available, many of which are specifically tailored to the needs of small businesses. Alternatively, breweries can hire digital marketing specialists who can streamline their online efforts and optimise their digital presence.

Conclusion: Embracing Digital Evolution

The craft beer industry in the UK is more than just beer production; it embodies a culture of creativity, independence, and authenticity. The challenges faced by craft brewers in expanding their digital presence are indeed daunting, but they are not insurmountable. As the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) responds to these challenges, there’s hope for the indie beer market to continue its growth trajectory.

The key for craft breweries is to embrace the digital evolution while staying true to their roots. The digital landscape offers a myriad of opportunities to reach a broader audience, engage with consumers in meaningful ways, and ultimately, sell more beer. But in doing so, breweries must never lose sight of what makes them unique: their passion for brewing top-quality, independent beer.

In the words of one south west British brewing company named best in a recent SIBA beer awards, "Craft brewing is about more than just making beer; it’s about creating a community of people who love and appreciate the art of brewing. The digital world is just another platform for us to share our passion with the world."

By investing in digital literacy, understanding the digital marketplace, building a distinct online brand identity, and engaging consumers in innovative ways, UK craft brewers can conquer the digital realm and continue to thrive in their craft. The digital world may be complex, but it’s a realm that’s ripe with opportunities for those bold enough to venture into it. As the beer industry evolves, so too must the strategies of those within it. And with resilience, creativity, and a pint of determination, UK craft breweries will continue to flourish, both offline and online.