Editor’s Note: Isaac Arthur and Cody Fague of Indianapolis, Indiana-headquartered design firm CODO Design have returned to Brewbound Voices with a four-part series on rebranding considerations for craft breweries. Arthur and Fague shared excerpts from the firm’s new book, Craft Beer, Rebranded, and its companion workbook over the last four weeks. Read the rest of the series (Part One, Part Two and Part Three), and the final post below.
For our final piece in this series, we’re going to walk you through launching your brewery’s rebrand. Let’s begin with a story.
It’s go time! You’ve worked with your design firm for nearly 10 months and are finally ready to unveil your rebrand to your fans. New identity, packaging and tap handles. New website, merch and sales sheets. Shiny new delivery vehicles, new signage, new glassware, new year, new you!
The big day comes and you watch with bated breath as everything goes live on social media. Press releases go out, local beer press is alerted and everything is going great. Then, a negative comment pops up.
OK, no biggie.
Then another one, and another one. And now we’re looped into some sort of nasty Twitter thread. There seems to be a large number of people who really don’t like the new look. And now people are comparing our new logo to the logo of a brewery we’ve never heard of halfway across the country. People are making our logo into a meme on Instagram. And there’s already a negative Reddit thread about our packaging — how? We only just announced everything three hours ago. Some guy calling himself “BeerZorro98” has started a petition to get you to change everything back to the way it was. The sky is falling. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.
What. Happened. Here?
Forgive the hyperbolic intro. We’ve seen this scenario (or some version of it) happen to a handful of breweries over the last few years, and it’s never fun to watch. People who hop online to eagerly look for the next thing to be outraged about gleefully take to the digital streets to drag your name and hard work through the mud. Call it annoying, childish, or sadistic — wherever you land on the anyone-in-the-world-can-shit-on-your-hard-work spectrum, you can hedge against this by planning for a smooth and transparent brand launch.
We’ve found that there are two halves to a rebranding process. There’s the first half that we’ve spent most of this book working though — goal setting, wrestling with the idea of Evolution vs. Revolution and building your brand strategy ahead of the design process.
Then, there’s the rebrand rollout — how you tell your team, community, stakeholders and fans that you’ve rebranded. And the larger and more established your brewery, the more important this reveal becomes.
Why This Is Hard
Unfortunately, you can’t just flip a switch and call your rebrand done. Unveiling a rebrand is a complicated dance that has to be choreographed months in advance. A few of the moving parts include having all of your new packaging finalized, approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), printed and on hand in time to be packaged. Oh, and you have to have beer sitting in tanks ready to put into this packaging. Alongside all of this, your old website has to come down and your new site has to go up. New social media art has to go up, press releases have to go out, new signage has to be fabricated, permitted and installed. You need piles of new merch for the taproom. And leading up to all of this, you have to educate your internal staff, sales folks, distributors, key accounts — everyone — about the impending changes so that you’re all moving in lock-step.
In a perfect world, everything goes live at the same time. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world wherein the TTB sends back one of your beer cans for a correction that is exactly the same as the other three that they already approved(!!!). Or a world wherein you may be sitting on a truckload of expensive printed cans that you have to use before moving to the newly designed look. Add in a cellarman who quits mid-shift to move to Salt Lake City (I hear it’s nice there) or a canning line conveyor belt that breaks and you have a more accurate view of the world in which we all work.
In this imperfect world where you may not have everything squared away, you still need to strive to have everything go live in a manner that makes sense, whether in one glorious push or on an intentional, well-conceived schedule so that you can announce the rebrand effectively.
You need to control the narrative and tell your story.
Controlling the Narrative
It’s important to not gloss over this portion of the rebranding process because you can confuse customers as to the reason behind your rebrand — “Why did they rebrand? Was something wrong? I liked their old packaging?” More savvy customers may wonder if there’s a private equity deal in the works, if you have sold out, or if something else has happened that would otherwise make you less authentic and special in their eyes.
So it’s important to control this narrative and let people know that a change is coming ahead of time. But this isn’t just footwork to make sure you don’t confuse customers during the transition. It’s an opportunity to celebrate your new look and what it means for your brewery and your fans moving forward.
When your rebrand goes live, you will be inundated with earned media. That first week or two can seem like the entire industry is talking about you. You need to use this opportunity to tell beer buyers, restaurants, and wholesale accounts (new and old) what your brewery is about and why you went through this change.
Maximizing this exposure and making sure everything goes smoothly starts somewhat counter intuitively — by steeling yourself.
Whether your brewery is two years old or 20 years old (and especially if you’re older than 20), there will always be a contingent that feels slighted by your brand update. Don’t take it personally. These folks won’t like any change no matter how minor it is. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Rebrands can leave people confused and frustrated, especially if they’re loyal, longtime fans. (“It wasn’t broke, why’d they fix it?”)
As a branding firm, CODO lives and dies by every comment that rolls in during launch week. This isn’t healthy, but I feel like you need to hear the truth. There will be a few negative comments no matter what you’ve done, but there will also be an overwhelming amount of positive feedback (assuming you and your design firm did your jobs right). Keep your chin up and don’t let a little online grumbling distract you from telling your story or make you second guess months of strategically sound work.
If your branding partner did their job right, they will have engaged your entire team throughout the research process. But it’s not uncommon for people who aren’t on the executive team to not know exactly what’s going on in the process every step of the way. So you still need to make sure you share all the updated work with the team. In smaller outfits, this isn’t too hard. Order in lunch and give a presentation. (Dim the lights and play some smooth jazz. Make it sexy. Scratch that. Don’t make it sexy. Please stick to the agreed upon talking points, thank you.)
This can be challenging for large breweries with multi-state footprints and different retail accounts, field sales folks and distributor relationships. This is where having streamlined internal communication tools in place can really help. Sharing updated identity and packaging work via Slack, Google Drive, or Dropbox can give everyone access to the new files and inform them on how to use everything.
And after walking people through the changes, equip your team with new shirts and hats. Get them hyped! They are your brand’s first ambassadors, after all.
Announcing Externally: Master campaign timeline
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds when planning a brand launch, so we like to start with internal considerations and important external touch points and move backwards from there.
This can include:
- How much old stock are you sitting on? Can you use all of that up before moving to new packaging?
- When is the soonest date you’ll be able to launch all of your new packaging? (Don’t forget to factor in brewing time, TTB approval, printing, packaging and distribution schedules.)
- When can you launch your new website?
- Is there a major event (festival, conference, anniversary) driving the timeline?
- Are you planning a new beer release or party to announce the change?
Use this information to determine the best week to take your rebrand live. We say a week here because this gives you a comfortable buffer. You can announce the new look and launch your website a few days ahead of the party rather than having a hard deadline that could be thrown off by something out of your control (server issues, delivery issues, etc.).
Tease early and often
We’ve found that seven to eight weeks out from the launch date provides a good timeline to start hinting at the change. Or more realistically, to get people to check your social handles (or drop by the taproom) on the big day.
Let’s say you’re able to launch your rebrand on August 1. That means that you will want to start hinting at the process by early June and ramp up in frequency leading up to the big day.
CASE STUDY: ATLANTA BREWING’S MASTER PROJECT & REBRAND ANNOUNCEMENT TIMELINE
The team at Atlanta Brewing (formerly Red Brick Brewing) rebranded to celebrate their 25th (!!!) anniversary, and decided to reveal the new look with a huge launch party at their brewery. This party kicked off a month of local programming, parties, beer dinners and tap takeovers that drew thousands of people from around the state and earned a boatload of local and national press.
This event also saw the introduction of their new name and brand identity, flagship packaging, website launch, and new signage (installed the night before launch day). Alongside this was an orchestrated press push that included local news and national outlets such as Paste Magazine and Good Beer Hunting. We even got into the mix with our own write-up that was shared throughout the design community.
Here’s the master timeline that drove the entire Atlanta Brewing rebrand, leading up to their anniversary party.
And finally, celebrate it!
We’re jumping ahead here since you still have to complete your own rebranding process. But when you do, this unveiling should signal to everyone the progress you’ve made and the mark your brewery is making both in your local community and in the larger craft beer industry. Shout it out! Don’t just throw new can mockups on Instagram and call it good — throw a damn party and invite all of your friends.
Have a beer, or three. You’ve successfully navigated a complex process and shouldn’t be worrying about anything on this special day. Revel in what you and your team have accomplished. Tip your server. Hug your design firm. And get a ride home.
If you’ve walked through this process in a deliberate manner with your design partner, you’ll make a huge splash with your rebrand that will earn loads of goodwill and directly lead to more customers and more sales. Your rebrand will celebrate what you’ve accomplished to date and tell the world what you intend to do moving forward.
Thanks for reading along. If you’d like to discuss how we can help you rebrand your brewery, reach out anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Week 3: Workbook Overview
For this section of the Craft Beer, Rebranded WORKBOOK, you’ll figure out when and how you want to announce your rebrand.
Overall, you will:
- Plan your launch day / week / month
- Create a master Gantt chart timeline
- Identify what channels and assets need to be updated
- Plan a party!
Craft Beer, Rebranded (and its companion Workbook) are available to read and purchase at craftbeerrebranded.com. If you’d like to discuss this book in person, catch up with CODO at the 2020 Craft Brewers Conference in Texas where they’ll be presenting a seminar titled, “Using Science to See What Packaging Works and How Your Brewery Can Sell More Beer.”