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Deep Dive 27 Sep 2021 - 6 min read

Local hero: BWS woos local craft brewers, wineries, distillers – and Kyle Sandilands’ sangria – sees sales soar 20%, shifts marketing strategy permanently

By Paul McIntyre & Brendan Coyne
BWS top marketer Vanessa Rowed & Carat Client Partner, Bianca Falloon

Vanessa Rowed and Bianca Falloon: The push for local brands "smashed it", delivering the highest ROI of any Carat campaign to date.

Few retailers walk the talk when it comes to supporting local Aussie brands. But BWS last year doubled down, launching an ultra-rapid campaign to seek out new local craft brewers, winemakers and distillers facing existential threat following bushfires, floods and then Covid – and struck marketing gold. Top marketer Vanessa Rowed says it’s changed BWS’ strategy permanently and thinks other big retailers and brands could make similar gains… if they go beyond localism lip service.

What you need to know:

  • BWS says localism is here to stay, and it’s driving massive sales increases and brand uplift across its 1,400 stores as shoppers back their local producers.
  • Top marketer Vanessa Rowed oversaw a “sprint” competition and campaign to onboard 18 new suppliers – as voted in by customers – that has blown sales targets and net promoter scores out of the water.
  • From Kyle Sandilands’ sangria to Sunshine and Sons’ gin, local brand sales continue to roll in. “It’s not a one hit wonder”, says Rowed, and BWS has changed its marketing strategy as a result of the sprint.
  • Brands and retailers ‘local washing’ would gain more credibility – and sales – by taking a wholehearted approach, she suggests.
  • Carat’s Bianca Falloon says small brands jumped at the marketing toolkits the agency developed for them – with some buying their own local OOH billboards and digital media to drive awareness, and stand a better chance of getting stocked by BWS.
  • Rowed on localism: “Within the liquor industry, I would say that that trend is definitely here to stay, and it's an inherent part of our strategy.”
  • BWS Local Luvva is one of 52 finalists shortlisted for the forthcoming 2021 MFA Awards. Mi3 will highlight some of the strongest case studies and interview the marketers and agencies behind them over the next eight weeks. The winners will be revealed in February.

The campaign smashed it. We were hoping for an increase of 5 per cent of local products sales, we ended up with 20 per cent. We saw an increase in net promoter score of ten points [versus a target of 2 per cent] – and we haven’t seen those sorts of increases in a long time for our brand.

Vanessa Rowed, Head of Brand, Marketing & E-commerce, BWS

Turning ShT into gold

In March 2020, BWS was going to market with a lighthearted campaign around last-minute gifting on a platform of “Oh ShT I forgot,” says Head of Brand, Marketing & E-commerce, Vanessa Rowed.

“We were looking at exploding that… but when Covid hit… it just felt very wrong, when there were so many people dealing with this epic issue.”

Suppliers – already battered by bushfires and floods were reeling. No visitors to local vineyards, distilleries or breweries; no pub or restaurant sales; an existential threat at a time when nobody knew what they were facing.

In the first weeks of Covid, BWS was “fighting fires” with the challenges posed by the pandemic for its own store network, says Rowed. “But then all we kept hearing from our buying team and our merchandising team was how hard our suppliers were being hit … so we felt we had to pivot.”

It canned the campaign, regrouped brand and agency teams and went all out on localism – first trumpeting the smaller brands BWS already sold across 1,400 stores, then launching a competition to stock 18 new local suppliers – as voted by their local customers. Local Luvva was born and since then, Rowed says it has taken on a life of its own. Sales have soared and the punters are coming back for more.

“The campaign smashed it. We were hoping to see an increase of about 5 per cent of local products sales, we ended up with 20 per cent. We saw an increase in net promoter score of ten points [versus a target of 2 per cent] – and we haven’t seen those sorts of increases in a long time for our brand.”

Bianca Falloon, Client Partner at Carat, says econometric modelling results, crunching three years worth of data, show the campaign delivered “the highest ROI of any campaign we’ve run”.

It is a sprint

The experience has changed BWS’ approach to marketing, permanently.

“It’s taught us to operate at two speeds,” says Rowed. “It’s always important in retail to have a plan, but you’ve also got to be very fast paced and able to react. So we are now operating in different sprints, constantly looking at what’s around the corner: What’s the cultural moment that has changed? Do we need to change what we are doing? Do we need to completely discard it?

“So it is a more challenging way of working, a more dynamic way of working. But ultimately it is right for the customer, because if you want to really connect with what's going on, you have to be in that phase. We can't be doing plans two years out and thinking that they're going to be relevant,” says Rowed.

“Right now we are working on a campaign that we [conceived] about two weeks ago that is going to market in two weeks time. So we are living it, but at the same time, we're still looking at the foundational brand building blocks that are going to take a longer. So we do [now] operate at two speeds.”

Equally, “putting local at the heart of the brand is super important for us to continue”, not least because it continues to deliver huge results.

“We shifted how [customers] felt about BWS with a 17 per cent increase in positive feeling towards us, and an 8 per cent increase in people wanting to do more shopping with BWS,” adds Rowed.

Those gains, she says, prove that when brands tap into the right sentiment at the right time, “it will translate into business results … We always believe that as marketers, but it’s nice to see it when it really happens”.

As a bonus, the new local suppliers should also help partially alleviate the supply chain crunch squeezing retailers across the economy in the lead up to Christmas.

“The whole industry is definitely challenged with some of those [logistics] issues. But where some of those issues are, BWS can lean on local suppliers to fill those gaps,” says Rowed. “And so that is the benefit of our strategy.”

It wasn't just a coms piece, which I think is where a lot of other brands get it wrong. They do it at a surface level, but it's not backed up by any genuine act. What I'd love to see is other brands really building ‘real local’ into their businesses. If you do that... then it is here to stay.

Vanessa Rowed, Head of Brand, Marketing & E-commerce, BWS

Local shop for local people

To launch Local Luvva, BWS issued a call to any local brand that wanted to be stocked in its stores – and showcase their wares. It launched a campaign featuring fans of the existing local drinks brands ranged by BWS, hyper-locally targeted to 45 different areas – which required Carat to input longitudinal and latitudinal co-ordinates for each BWS store into platforms like YouTube. “It was a bit of a mammoth task,” admits Carat’s Bianca Falloon.

Then it launched the call to new local brands: BWS would range 18 of those new local suppliers in its stores – based on the most votes. The response was massive. Some 291 local brewers, winemakers and distillers entered the competition, with just shy of 45,000 unique votes registered via the BWS website.

As well as promoting the campaign through paid media, Carat also built a marketing toolkit for each brand to help them hero their wares and expand their reach through their own campaigns, “which they definitely did”, says Falloon.

“We had some suppliers buying their own local out of home panels and social posts. It was awesome to see.”

Meanwhile, the agency stuck a partnership with publisher Concrete Playground, featuring 30 of the 281 nominated local brands, writing stories about their products, backstories and why they deserved the vote.

Carat also gave all the bonus media it negotiated to the winning 18 brands and helped them create their own campaigns to drive awareness and sales.

While a “mammoth task… with so many moving parts”, Falloon says the effort has been rewarded in the results – which BWS’ Rowed quips has “set a new benchmark, and now the team has to surpass it on the next one”.

Falloon credits Sydney creative agency Paper Moose with enabling the parallel sprints while adjusting to Zoom, remote working and “just a crazy, crazy, hectic time” that Covid generally entailed. “We haven’t even met the Paper Moose guys yet. We tried to meet up… and then we went back into lockdown.”

But she says the “flexible sprint approach” required by the campaign has become more standard working practice at the BWS Carat team.

It's something we've continued to adopt to this day."

Localism: Not just for Covid

Rowed says BWS has always stocked local suppliers. “It wasn’t anything new for us and our merchandising teams to be going out and actively finding [local brands]. We curate our range by store… so you’ll find something in Adelaide that you won’t find in Sydney or Melbourne, and that’s just the way we want to differentiate our brand. But we wanted to fast track it – explode the opportunity beyond the normal processes.”

The 291 brands that were nominated ranged far and wide, she says.

“We had the likes of Kyle Sandilands and his sangria through to a little local distillery in Queensland to pockets of beer brewers in Marrickville,” says Rowed. “It was so rewarding to see all these really innovative brands come and talk to us as a big brand, but they also supported each other; it didn’t feel like they were competing, it felt like they were all championing this cause together.”

Did Kyle make the cut, and did his sangria sell?

“Of course, it’s doing well. But we didn’t choose the winners, the public did. People like Kyle Sandilands were out there pushing his brand and so people voted for him,” says Rowed.

“But there were smaller brands like Sunshine and Son's gin that used their local network to really get behind them. And they ended up being stocked as part of this campaign, but they remain in our stores and they're now in about 57 stores across Queensland,” she adds.

“So these are players that were discovered that have maintained their presence – because they're great products and customers are still supporting them to this day.”

Rowed is convinced that support will continue long after Covid.

“We have an industry here that is innovative and worth supporting. So my belief is that it is here to stay – just by seeing the support, particularly on this campaign. Yet it wasn't a one hit wonder, the products have continued to sell, which means customers get behind local when they try the product and they like it, they continue to support it.

“So definitely within the liquor industry, I would say that that trend is here to stay, and it's an inherent part of our strategy,” says Rowed.

She urges other big retailers to follow suite.

“It wasn't just a coms piece, which I think is where a lot of other brands get it wrong. They do it at a surface level, but it's not backed up by any genuine act.

“What I'd love to see is other brands really building ‘real local’ into their businesses. I think if you do that, and it's inherent to your business, then it is here to stay.”

BWS Local Luvva is one of 52 finalists shortlisted for the forthcoming 2021 MFA Awards. Mi3 will highlight some of the strongest case studies and interview the marketers and agencies behind them over the next eight weeks. The winners will be revealed in February.

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