Transforming a Fortune 500 Alc-Bev Firm into a Nimble e-Commerce leader
Editor’s note: Today we’re hearing from Ryan Mason, Director, Head of DTC Growth & Strategy, at alcoholic beverage firm, Constellation Brands on the company’s shift to Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) sales and how Google Cloud’s powerful technology stack helped with this transformation.
It’s no secret that consumer businesses have been up-ended in a lasting manner after 18 months of the pandemic. Consumers have been forced to shop differently over the past year - and as a result, they’ve evolved to be more comfortable with online spending and have grown to expect a certain level of convenience. While the e-commerce share of consumer sales has grown steadily over the past decade, the pandemic was the catalyst for the famous “10 years of growth in 3 months” which many argue is here to stay.
Facing this reality head-on, we placed a new emphasis on Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) with our acquisition of Empathy Wines, a DTC-native wine brand that sells directly to consumers via e-commerce. To accelerate our innovation in the DTC space, we added headcount and new functions to the existing Empathy team and empowered the newly-minted DTC group to apply their digital commerce operating model across the rest of the wine and spirits portfolio, which includes Robert Mondavi Winery, Meiomi Wines, The Prisoner Wine Company, High West Whiskey, and more.
One pandemic and one year later, DTC sales have surged in the wine and spirits category with Constellation positioned as a leader armed with a unique and powerful cloud technology stack, best-in-class e-commerce user experiences, modernized fulfillment solutions, and data-driven growth marketing.
Benefits of Going DTC
A report from McKinsey estimates that the strategic business shift to DTC has been accelerated by two years because of the pandemic and argues that consumer brands that want to thrive will need to aim for a 20% DTC business or higher, which is already taking shape in the market: Nike's direct digital channels are on track to make up 21.5% of the total business by the end of 2021, up from 15.5% in the last fiscal year, and Adidas is aiming for 50% DTC by 2025. But outside of the clear revenue upside, the auxiliary benefits of going DTC are robust.
For Constellation Brands, each of these four pillars ring true, and our shift toward DTC is as much about margin accretion and revenue mix management as it is about consumer insights and data. The added complexities of the alcohol space add wrinkles to our DTC approach and manifest in many areas like consumer shopping preference, shipping and logistics hurdles, and more. In order to win share early and continue to lead the category, we recognized the need to harness the immense amount of first-party data to power impactful and actionable insights.
Our DTC technology architecture has fostered a value chain that is completely digitized: website traffic, marketing expenditures, tasting room transactions, e-commerce transactions, logistics and fulfillment events, cost of goods sold (COGS) and margin profiles, etc. are recorded and stored in a data warehouse in real time. For the first time, at any given moment, we can easily and deterministically answer complex business questions like “what is the age and gender distribution of my customers from Los Angeles who have purchased SKU X from Brand.com Y in the last 6 months? What is the cohort net promoter score? Did that increase after we introduced same-day shipping in this zip code? By how much?”
The ability to answer these questions and understand the root causes allows us to stay nimble with product offerings and iterate marketing strategies at the speed of consumer preference. Further, it enables us to optimize our omnichannel presence in the same manner by leaning on DTC consumer insights to develop valuable strategies with key wholesale distribution partners and 3-Tier eCommerce partners like Drizly and Instacart. At its core, Constellation’s DTC practice is designed to be the consumer-centric “tip-of-the-spear” responsible for generating insights from which all sales channels, including wholesale, can benefit.
Constellation’s DTC technology approach prioritizes consumer-centricity and insights generation
We have taken a modern approach to building a digital commerce technology stack, leveraging a hub-and-spoke model built around Shopify Plus and other key emergent technology providers like email provider Klaviyo, loyalty platform Yotpo, Net Promoter Score measurer Delighted, Customer Service module Gorgias, payments processor Stripe, event reservations platform Tock, and many more. For digital marketing and analytics, we use Google Cloud and Google Marketing Platform, which includes products like Analytics 360, Tag Manager 360, and Search Ads 360.
To help gather, organize, and store all of the inbound data from the ecosystem, we partnered with SoundCommerce, a data processing platform for eCommerce businesses. Together with SoundCommerce, we are able to automate data ingestion from all endpoints into a central data warehouse in Google BigQuery. With BigQuery, our data team is able to break data silos and quickly analyze large volumes of data that help unlock actionable insights about our business. BigQuery itself allows for out-of-the-box predictive analytics using SQL via BigQuery ML, and a key differentiator for us is that all Google Marketing Platform data is natively accessible for analysis within BigQuery.
But data possession only addresses half of the opportunity: we needed a powerful and modern business intelligence platform to help make sense of the vast amounts of data flowing into the system. Core to the search was to find a partner that approached BI in a way that fit with our future-looking strategy.
Our DTC team relies on the accurate measurement of variable metrics like Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), Churn, and Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a bellwether of the health of the business and monitoring these figures on a daily basis is paramount to success. To enable us to keep an accurate pulse on strategic KPIs, we considered several incumbent BI platforms. Ultimately we selected Google Cloud’s Looker for a range of benefits that separated it from the rest of the pack.
From a vision perspective, in this particular case we felt Looker was most aligned with our belief that better decisions are made when everyone has access to accurate, up-to-date information. Looker allows us to realize that vision by surfacing data in a simple web-based interface that empowers everyone to take action with real-time data on critical commercial activities. Furthermore, Looker’s ability to automate and distribute formatted modules to a myriad of stakeholders on a regular cadence increases data literacy and business performance transparency.
From a product perspective, we chose Looker for it’s cloud offering, web-based interface, and centralized, agile modeling layer that creates a trusted environment for all users to confidently interact with data — without any actual data extraction. While other BI tools have centralized semantic layers that require skilled IT resources, we’ve experienced that those can lead to bottlenecks and limited agility. With Looker’s semantic layer, LookML, our BI Team, led by Peter Donald, can easily build upon their SQL knowledge to add both a high degree of control as well as flexibility to our data model. The fully browser-based development environment allows the data team to rapidly develop, test, and deploy code and is backed by robust and seamless Git source code management.
In parallel, LookML empowers business users to collaborate without the need for advanced SQL knowledge. Our data team curates interactive data experiences with Looker to help scale access and adoption. Business users can explore ad hoc analysis, create dashboards, and develop custom data experiences in the web-based environment to get the answers they need without relying on IT resources each time they have a new question, while also maintaining the confidence that the underlying data will always be accurate. This helps us meet our primary goal of providing all businesses users with the data access they need to monitor the pulse of key metrics in near real-time.
Impact and future of DTC BI at Constellation
In short order, taking a modern and integrated approach to the DTC technology stack has delivered economic impact across the portfolio, helping our team understand and combat customer churn, increase conversion rates, and optimize the customer acquisition cost (CAC) and customer lifetime value (CLV) ratios. Perhaps most important is the benefit it can provide to the customer base. Mining customer data and consumer behavior generates data into what our customers are seeking, giving us insights to supply more, or less of it. For example, observing sales velocity and conversion rates by SKU or by region can help us better understand changes in customer taste profiles and fluctuations in demand, providing the foundation for a more powerful innovation pipeline and more effective sales and distribution tactics in wholesale. Our team has also been an early pilot tester for Looker’s new integration with Customer Match, which contributes to the virtuous cycle between data insight and data activation. In the future, our plan is to leverage this cycle to amplify the impact of Google Ads across Search, Shopping, and YouTube placements for the wine and spirits portfolio.
The operational impact of Looker is also substantial: our team estimates that the number of hours needed to reach critical business decisions has been reduced by nearly 60%, boosting productivity and accelerating the daily operating rhythm. A thoughtfully curated technology stack together with a modern BI solution allows us to stay at the vanguard of the industry. While the DTC sales channel is not designed to surpass the core business of wholesale for Constellation in terms of size, the approach enables unparalleled insights and measurement abilities that will pay dividends for the entire business for years to come.