In mid-November, Untappd had its second event, and I spent some time with Talia Spera, Vice President, Festivals & Live Events at Untappd. Working in manufacturing and marketing, I knew the logistics required for the virtual festival would not be easy. Talia confirmed how tight the timeline was. Talia shared that “it was a tight timeline – we are used to live events/festivals, but with COVID it is important to engage with our consumers in new ways.”
Since COVID began, a large percentage of face-to-face events had been canceled, and everything was going virtual. What made Untappd’s first event unique, it was the first to ship beers to multiple states. Talia continued, “Our first Untappd Live festival was in 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were planning a multi-city tour for 2020, and we scrapped it all”. The company moved to a virtual event/festival. Its partnership with Half Time allowed Untappd to ship craft beers to 30 states, a first in the direct-to-consumer beer marker.
Talia said they learned a lot after the first event and focused on managing the logistics given the state, legal, and shipping complexities. “We wanted to wrap the whole box, but we needed to shift quickly, and we did not have the branding in place; we needed to be creative and use what we had on hand.”
“Our first priority was to protect the beer,” Talia continued. Untappd chose a compressed recycled pulp material, which is both sustainable but innovative, in that it holds multiple types of beer cans and bottles of various shapes and sizes. “We wanted to provide some personalized and interactive experiences, so we came up with the idea of using QR codes with the physical product to bring our consumers back into the digital world, the Untappd app, and where consumers can engage with one another. We think there is a lot of opportunity for the future.”
Talia said the American Virtual Event was a success, and they saw 90% positive feedback. Two thousand boxes were packed and shipped across the country, each containing a consumer curated collection of beers from twelve breweries. Each package was picked, packed, and shipped. This means no automation; people had to pack each box manually. It was a lot to manage, and the company had to be aware of shipping deadlines and managing customer locations. Depending on the location, sign up deadlines and shipping were different. For example, if a customer lived in Oregon, the last day of sign up was almost ten days earlier than if you lived in Virginia.
Untappd and Half Time had to plan for how long each box would take to ship, factoring in COVID and postal delays. Of the two-thousands shipments, only ten of these large, corrugated boxes did not arrive on time. “We are extremely proud of what we did and what our partners were able to pull together and achieve,’ Talia said.
The Untappd team learned from their American event, and without a moment to breathe, began planning their European event, which happened November 28-29th. Different regions meant different breweries, beers, and partners. As a small company, Untappd can be nimble and move quickly. Where they saw gaps in the American event, they were able to adjust quickly.
Untappd’s following is not merely about logging your beers; it is about creating and sharing your experience. For the European event, the team enhanced the virtual festival with an interactive map. Users can visit different brewery tents, beer merchants’ tents, and a live stage with presentations, bands, and entertainment. The app and map allow friends to chat during the streaming event. This keeps people connected and interactive inside the Untappd community, a key element to the user experience and brand.
For the unboxing experience, Untappd used the same pulp form as they did with their American event. However, Beer Merchants, their European distributor, is well branded on the outside of the corrugated box. This means when a large box shows up at the door, it is very clear who it is from and gives a fair guess to what is inside. Branding on corrugated is key in the direct-to-consumer market. Anyone who passes the box knows where they shop, and if it is something you want to advertise, like beer, it tells people go to Beer Merchant to buy and ship beer. Inside the box was similar well printed cards with QR codes. The European event was limited to 2,000 registrants for beer orders, but the events’ metrics say a lot more. The festival had more than seventy thousand visitors, and the site had more than thirty-six thousand unique views. For a small start-up, they kicked it out of the park.
Like many companies who have learned to shift to virtual elements, Talia shared that even post COVID; there will always be a virtual element to our festivals. Not everyone can attend events in person. By offering both a physical event and a virtual ticket, Untappd can reach a larger user base. It is a lesson other event holders should consider.
When discussing 2021, Talia said, “We want to expose our brand a bit more and customize the packaging. We have a lot of great ideas in the queue.” There are some rich data in the Untappd community and developing an unboxing experience that is unique and personalized is now at the forefront of Untappd’s minds for 2021. I can foresee branding on the outside, and the unboxing can be fun with lots of personalized limited-edition bits inside that can engage and bring consumers into the app to share.