Brewbound Voices: Branding Considerations for Craft Breweries (Part I)

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Editor’s Note: It’s been nearly one year since we last invited a guest to contribute to the Brewbound Voices column, but we’re excited to pick things back up with a three-part series on branding considerations for three types of beer companies: bootstrapped breweries-in-planning, well-funded startups and firmly-established players who are looking to rebrand.

In doing so, we’ve tapped Isaac Arthur, a partner and designer at CODO Design in Indianapolis, Indiana. His firm has worked on branding projects for a number of craft breweries — including Fernson Brewing, 450 North Brewing, and Big Lug Canteen. The company recently published an extensive (and free) craft beer branding guide that covers everything from naming and package design strategies to lessons on navigating the TTB label approval process.

For Brewbound Voices, we asked Arthur to share his top branding advice while outlining some of the major considerations for breweries at three distinct stages of development. So whether you’re an entrepreneur thinking about launching a new craft beer project, or an established brewery owner seeking guidance on a rebrand, Arthur has you covered.

In part one of the series, published below, Arthur provides a roadmap for branding a brewery on a budget of just $10,000. Parts two and three of the series will run on Brewbound this week.

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PART I: BRANDING THE BOOTSTRAPPED BREWERY

Let’s say you’re a smaller brewery-in-planning. You’ve got a location pinned down and you’re looking to open within a year or so (or maybe you’re newly open). For the sake of this conversation, let’s say a bootstrapped brewery has less than 10,000 to spend on branding.

With this budget, it can be tempting to try and handle your branding yourself. After all, you’re starting a business and likely have a strong DIY drive and sense of pride in what you’re doing. I own a small business too, and I completely understand. We’ve even had someone tell us that money spent on branding is money that could be better spent on brewing equipment. While there’s some truth to that, it’s incredibly shortsighted. If you don’t understand your story, don’t have a trademark-able name, nor a quality brand identity, it can dog you for years. It’s better to do it now so that you won’t have to press pause, backtrack and go through this process a few years down the line.

At this price point, you‘ll likely be working with a small design firm or a freelancer. While you may be able to find a great designer, you may not be able to get all the brand strategy work you would with a larger budget (or a more experienced firm). With that in mind, you may need to do some of the heavy strategic lifting yourself, which can be a good thing. It’s advantageous for you to consider what you’re trying to accomplish and how you can tell that story, and it’s a good idea to think about these things, even if you do hire someone else to do it.

Let’s define a few terms that will help you think strategically about your brewery. Your brand is an emotional connection between your brewery and your customers. It’s the way they feel about what you do. It’s the beer you brew, the promise you make via marketing, and the customer service you provide in your tasting room. Your brand is shaped by all of these things (and more). Along similar lines (but subtly different) is your Brand Essence, or, a distillation of the most compelling aspect of your company. It’s a short, internal statement that guides your decisions and gets at the heart of your values, your culture, and what you’re all about. In other words, it’s a succinct summation of your brand.

Here’re a few beer and non-beer Brand Essence examples: “Blue Collar Scientists,” “Wild Alaska,” “Red Barn Romanticism,” “Shot and a Beer,” and “Stomping Grounds.”

Related to your brand is the concept of your positioning. We like to boil positioning down to three simple questions:

  1. What do you do? (what type of beer do you brew? / what’s your concept?).
  2. Who do you do it for? (who do you want drinking your beer? / who don’t you want drinking your beer? / who makes up your tribe?), and
  3. Why are you different from your competition? (not necessarily better, but what makes you unique?).

Necessary at this stage are a brand name, brand values, origin story and identity (including business cards), some sort of website, and possibly packaging (if you’re planning to be distributed for retail). Let’s look at each element more closely.

CORE VALUES, BRAND ESSENCE & ORIGIN STORY

People always want to jump straight to visuals when discussing branding, and it’s hard to blame them—logo design, packaging and marketing is fun and concrete. You can hang it on your wall and wear it like a badge of honor. But before getting into what your brewery will look and feel like, you need to understand why you exist.

A fantastic place to begin framing your Brand Essence and values is to understand your ‘Why.’ This concept comes from Simon Sinek’s fantastic book, ‘Start with Why.’ If you don’t want to watch an 18 minute TED talk (seriously though, watch it, and buy the book as well), the theory is that there are three layers to your story — What, How, and Why. Most companies land somewhere between What and How as far as their marketing is concerned, but the Why is what draws people in and creates a deep emotional connection (assuming you brew great beer in the first place). This directly informs your positioning and the role you play in your community.

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Quick example:

  • What: “We’re a small, Belgian-focused brewery.”
  • How: “We use traditional Belgian brewing methods to create the most authentic Belgian beer we can in this region.”
  • Why: “My great, great grandfather worked at a brewery in Belgium and I grew up hearing stories about him. I’ve wanted to be a brewer for as long as I can remember.”

While this is a made-up example, you can see how this ‘Why’ is more compelling than the ‘How,’ which is more of a black-and-white fact than a compelling differentiator.

Your brand values likely predate your brewery itself. After all, there’s a reason you’re starting your brewery. What is it? Why does (or why will) your brewery matter? These will become immutable as your business grows and will act as a touchstone to inform daily business and marketing decisions.

Examples: Innovation / Collaboration / Artistry / Local / Transparent

A TRADEMARKABLE NAME

If you’ve framed your ‘Why,’ core brand values, and Brand Essence, you’ll be in a great place to name your brewery. There are lots of great resources out there to help you accomplish this, so we’ll instead mention some important criteria for developing a great brand name.

  • Availability & protectability (your name must be completely free and clear and trademarkable. anything else can put you in a compromised legal position)
  • Reflective of your Brand Essence and differentiator (your name should begin to tell your compelling brand story because it’s often your earliest touchpoint with customers)
  • Easy to spell and remember (don’t misspell words for no reason. make it easy for people to look you up)
  • Likable and fun to say (this one’s subjective, but you’ll know it when you hear it)
  • Flexible (it’s nice to have a name that lends itself to broader theming, which helps to create a deeper narrative)
  • Portable (your name shouldn’t hold you back as you grow and expand into new markets: think names based on local landmarks or fads/trends. A strong grasp of your brand story will make these issues less likely)

A MODULAR IDENTITY SYSTEM

While you may be able to define your Brand Essence and develop a great name for your brewery, here’s where you should pony up and hire a professional. Obviously the guy who owns a branding firm is going to say this, but if done well, it’s a one-time cost that can directly help you sell more beer.

And here’s why—think about how you buy wine, or beer for that matter. Great branding and packaging can directly influence what you pick up, and what you bring home. People are visual creatures and whether we like it or not, we often make gut decisions based on surface level stuff—like branding. If your packaging is poorly executed, it reflects poorly on you, and likely won’t sell as well as the beer next to it.

To prepare for this process, you can do some preliminary visual research to help orient yourself and your design partner. The goal isn’t to tell your design team exactly what you want (that’s what you’re paying them to figure out), but rather to build a mood board to align your brand’s look and feel with your Brand Essence. Pinterest is a great tool for this because you can easily share it with a creative partner. Or, you can simply drag images into a folder and hang onto them for later. Oh Beautiful Beer [LINK: http://www.ohbeautifulbeer.com ] and The Dieline [LINK: http://www.thedieline.com ] are great places to hunt for branding and packaging design examples. We recently wrote a piece breaking down common craft beer branding trends, [LINK: http://blog.cododesign.com/craft-beer-branding-trends/ ] if you’re interested in exploring this further.

When it’s all said and done, this process should net you the following core brand identity elements:

  • Main logo (delivered as a vector file)
  • Secondary logo elements and iconography (vertical and horizontal logo builds for different applications, tagline, etc.)
  • Color palette (including Pantone, CMYK, RGB, and Hex values)
  • Specced typography (including usage guidelines for specific weights and directions to purchase your own font licenses)
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ESTABLISH A WEB PRESENCE & GATHER UP SOCIAL CHANNELS

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to afford branding and a robust website at this budget, but that doesn’t make your web presence any less important. We find microsites to be a good, lean solution for breweries-in-planning. While a microsite may not have all the bells and whistles you’d expect from an established brewery, it can serve as an excellent stopgap while you get up and running. Picture a one or two page site with your general info (including a profile of your beer), opening date, and social media links. If developed properly, you can add functionality and grow into these for a few years following your opening.

Another solution (albeit one we don’t generally suggest) is a template site. We’re not big proponents of using a canned template for your website, because there’s nothing stopping another brewery across the street from using the same one (we’ve actually seen this happen). However, it would be disingenuous if we told you that website templates have no place in branding. If you’re tight on cash and technically proficient, you can use a simple website template from a service like Squarespace. But don’t lose site of how important your website is; it will be your primary outlet for info about your brewery.

Along these lines, you need to grab an account on every social media channel you can conceive of using down the line, ideally with the same username across the board.

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CLOSER LOOK

450 North Brewing Co Branding and Package Design

While our branding and package design work for 450 North may look like a vast undertaking, our relationship started humbly back in 2012 when we tackled their core branding, positioning, and messaging. It has since grown (along with their brewery) to include a line of flagship beer packaging, specialty cans, an upcoming limited edition bomber, and loads of merch.

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About Brewbound Voices:

Brewbound Voices was created with the goal of providing readers valuable insight into areas like finance, investment, branding, marketing, sales, and distribution. The column serves as an avenue for experts to contribute their knowledge to our readership. Interesting in writing for Brewbound Voices? Email pitches to news@brewbound.com. 

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