In a crowded market, how will beer drinkers and breweries find each other? ‘Beer Tech’ is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

crowded beer
With a dozen breweries in the Port City — and more planned — the craft beer scene is getting crowded. How can Wilmingtonians find the right beer, and the right brewery, for themselves?

WILMINGTON – As with any rapidly growing industry, craft breweries are reaching a saturation point. But the burgeoning tech industry may be able to help.

Craft beer and the tech industry seem like a natural pairing. It is not unknown for Silicon Valley-style offices to serve up local craft beers. TekMountain has its own brewery and hosts ‘brew summits,’ where visiting tech gurus can brew beer together.

So, what happens when Wilmington’s two fastest-growing industries collide?

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Wilmington’s Wide Open Technologies is helping to pioneer the field of ‘beer tech.’ (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)

Port City Daily caught up with Haley Moore, marketing director for Wilmington tech-firm Wide Open Technologies, to talk about ‘beer tech.’ Moore, who works out of Wide Open Technologies’ Asheville office, said she has seen Asheville’s craft brewery scene get very crowded; it is the same direction Wilmington’s own scene is headed. Wide Open Technologies is currently working with Habitat Brewing, in Asheville, and Wilmington Brewing Company here in the Port City.

Beer tech, according to Moore, helps brewers and customers find each other.

Related: New brewery-restaurant to champion all things local, especially oysters

“We’re reaching a certain level of inundation, first just in the number of breweries,” Moore said. “Asheville’s known for it. Next, as those breweries want to grow, and define themselves in the market, and expand, you see inundation in places like the grocery store and advertising. The market gets crowded, then it gets confusing.”

Moore said the hurdles that brewers, their teams and their investors face in opening a brewery are usually focused around the beer itself and the logistics of opening a space to brew it in. They often don’t include a well-realized plan beyond that.

Moore said, while “brewers are so focused on what they do best, which is brewing beer,” they often do not consider how their beer will fit in with exponential growth in other beers.

“A lot of other factors in getting the beer out there – whether it’s expansion, logistics, packing design, content design, platform choice – that stuff doesn’t always occur to them,” she said.

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Wilmington Brewing Company. (Photo Courtesy of Wilmington Brewing Company).

Beer tech includes graphic design and content – that is, how the retail beer bottle or can looks, and how its presented in commercials.

While a city like Wilmington has more than enough people to support the number of breweries, Moore said, the market saturation can turn people off to patronizing any of them. The trick is helping people “see through the crowd,” Moore said.

“You’ve got to have a strong graphic design, to grab people’s attention from the dozens of other local choices,” Moore said. “But your marketing content has to be a different kind of effective. It can’t just be flashy, it needs to be real. A scantily clad woman drinking an IPA, I just don’t think that works. Women drink beer, but – if the commercial is going to work, it has to be a real woman. And, people from all kinds of backgrounds as well. People are going to recognize themselves in that content, or it’s not going to resonate with them.”

Beer tech does include issues like inventory, ordering and payroll. But, while crucial, these are issues that apply to a lot industries. The specific challenges breweries face often comes down to personalizing content.

“Personalization,” Moore said. “A lot of apps that are being created for breweries have a social sharing element, which you ultimately lose in a traditional ad buy.”

Moore added that craft beer is one of the most social industries, which is why personalization is so important.

At the cutting edge of beer tech, things get even more personalized. Moore said Wide Open tech is working on at least one app that would allow people to purchase a beer for a friend (or to signal a truce with an enemy) at local breweries.

“Beer’s a social product, people connect and communicate around beer, we want to listen to them to hear how it fits into their lives.”

For example, beer tech can let customers know when there are events – ‘pop ups’ featuring food trucks or ultra-limited releases — that happen, often without the kind of notice that traditional advertising can respond to.

It also allows them “talk back” to brewers.

“It’s a two way street,” Moore said. “That’s part of a personal connection. It’s not just an ad telling you ‘there’s this IPA on tap,’ it’s also customers asking, ‘when is this style coming back?’ or ‘What are you planning next?'”

Beer tech is also about helping breweries connect with different kinds of customers.

“Different people use media platforms differently,” Moore said. Some breweries might find themselves with a crowd that shows up at the drop of a hat for an event announced on Snapchat or Instragram; other breweries might do better with people who plan a week or more ahead with Facebook. It comes back, according to Moore, to how a particular brewery defines itself and its customers.

At the cutting edge of beer tech, things get even more personalized. Moore said Wide Open tech is working on at least one app that would allow people to purchase a beer for a friend (or to signal a truce with an enemy) at local breweries.

“We’re working on some stuff I probably shouldn’t talk about,” Haley said, “but, as an example, we do have an app that will let you buy a beer for a friend so they can enjoy it at a local taproom.”

Integrating this kind of technology with other services, like Snapchat-style video updates from brewers, creates the kind of immersive, engaging experience that can make a customer feel a personal relationship to a particular brewery. Instead of being bewildered by options, they can see through the crowded scene to a brewery they want to make their own.