Not since prohibition has the alcohol industry faced such drastic changes as it has in 2020. The pandemic quickly yielded a major shift in how beverage brands do business; shuttering on-premise outlets and bolstering the rise of e-commerce and direct-to-consumer.
Sazerac Company was in the midst of a major digital upheaval when Covid-19 hit. Thanks to a partnership with Adobe
Sazerac Company plays parent to over 400 brands, counting Buffalo Trace, Van Winkle, Southern Comfort, Corazon Tequila, Fireball, W.L. Weller and Peychaud’s among them, plus the eponymous Sazerac de Forge Cognac and Sazerac Rye. The company also recently opened Sazerac House, a wildly impressive 51,987-square foot cocktail museum-slash distillery-slash corporate headquarters.
Leading the online charge was Lewis Broadnax. Serendipitously, Broadnax had been tapped to head up the digital shift just before the pandemic. Previously, Broadnax served 12 years at Lenovo in the global e-commerce and web sales and marketing sectors.
“Six-ish months into the job, Covid-19 hit,” he describes. “All the details that were a year out needed to happen in three months.” On an accelerated timeline, Broadnax and team jumped to invest in its digital infrastructure; critical to meet the at-home drinker.
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Broadnax initially thought the majority of efforts would be spent on e-commerce. As the job began, he realized the importance of building out Sazerac Company’s digital narrative. “There’s so much history to Sazerac and so many brands in the portfolio. We needed to set ourselves up to tackle everything we need to engage with consumers digitally.”
Broadnax had worked with Adobe at Lenovo and immediately saw the draw of working with Adobe Experience Cloud on the Sazerac revamp. “From a partnership perspective, what Adobe brings to the table is both consumer-focused and corporate and business enabling.”
Experience Cloud is an applications suite that gives businesses AI-driven solutions for online commerce, marketing and analytics advertising. Other draws of the program include real-time customer intelligence, impactful analytics data and the ability to provide continuous engagement avenues across all digital channels. “You’re getting a great consumer experience, but a business owner, they are easy to integrate into a platform,” says Broadnax.
Part of the Broadnax’ task was giving the 100-plus brands in the portfolio a major online facelift. “When I came aboard, we were managing over a hundred websites on tons of different platforms; everything from SquareSpace to Wix to WordPress. We had e-commerce, but it was just really for selling merchandise.”
Sazerac was in desperate need of a website that could weave a cohesive narrative across the history, stories and data (like tasting notes) of over a hundred brands. “I think one of the bigger challenges was how to take content scattered across these brands and regions and get it into one location; one repository that can be syndicated out.”
But Sazerac’s company website at the time was clunky; glaringly dated. “Back in the day, I’m sure it was cutting edge,” he continues. “We had many issues with bounce rate, consumer end-game. People were getting lost all over the site.” HR even petitioned to have their independent website—Sazerac’s was too jarring for potential employees.
Now, the website is impressive, with an overarching visual narrative that clearly displays Sazerac’s history and portfolio. “That’s the big masterpiece for us,” says Broadnax. “We can tell that global story and we can get the consumer engaged with the entire ecosystem we’re building.” Internal teams, from HR to government affairs, were consulted on what should be deemed essential in a new website.
The digital implementation has provided the Sazerac team with analytics essential to building out their e-commerce. These analytics have been crucial with a stable of brands that ranges vastly, from paramount party drink Fireball to more austere Cognac brands.
“The details that come through on the dashboards let us hone in on what’s relevant,” describes Broadnax. “The average consumer sees hundreds of thousands of ads a day. The personalization of our Adobe center ensures we’re putting the right message in front of the right consumer.” That Fireball fanatics are being directed to brand merch, and vodka lovers herded to martini recipes.
Speaking of, Sazerac also has an impressive digital repository of recipes in the works; an e-version of Mr. Boston [a biblical reference book for bartending recipes]. It will help showcase less popular products. “I think everybody knows us for bourbons,” says Broadnax. “But there’s so many other great products in the portfolio that you can use when you’re ready to make your Manhattan or Martinis. We need to make sure that those are getting as much air time as the big burdens.”
Though the three-tier system restricts Sazerac from directly selling alcohol to consumers, the company now provides retail partners with content to help move bottles. “We found our retail partners are craving great content for their websites,” Broadnax continues. “The Instacarts, the Kroger’s
Bottle shots, video content and lifestyle imagery were created, syndicated to retailers, and pushed out on social sites. Video content was curated to relevant platforms; longer videos optimized for Facebook and shorter bite-sized clips for Instagram. Broadnax cites this as an eye-opener. “We now have this content we can begin testing with to see what resonates. We have the analytics to see which platform consumers are engaging with.”
With travel vetoed, digital implementation has been padded out Sazerac’s fluctuating tourism business. “Tourism and the distillery before Covid-19 was growing at a clip of almost 40% a year. We were going to close in on 300,000 over 2020.” Tours reopened in July with smaller tours, welcoming a still-impressive 150,000 visitors.
“Our team asked, if consumers can’t come to the distillery, can we take the distillery to them?” Fans can follow one of Buffalo Trace’s top tour guides around the distillery via 3D online tour. “The number of hits we got on the virtual tour during the peak of Covid-19 was enough to offset the loss of visitors to the distillery.”
Benefits like this have returned Sazerac’s investment in dividends, giving the company avenues to stay relevant in a tumultuous climate. “With digital, we want to make sure that we’re providing value to anyone interested in our brands. That is where we believe telling these great stories about the distillery, the company, tourism, and our drinks site: those added values are going to be the things that they’ve continued to keep consumers coming back and engaged.”