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 will share excerpts from the firm’s new book, Craft Beer, Rebranded, and its companion workbook over the next three weeks. Read the series intro here, and look for the columns to appear on Brewbound.com throughout the month.
We want to kick this series off by building a shared vocabulary. We’re going to use a lot of industry lingo throughout these pieces (don’t sweat it though, this stuff isn’t rocket science). So, let’s define a few terms and discuss why they’re important to our endeavor.
Your brand is your customers’ perception of your company, including your products and your culture. It’s their gut feeling about what you do, and ultimately shapes why they either love or hate you. Why do they think you’re different? How do they describe you to their friends? Why do they—or don’t they—support you?
Your customers’ perceptions are the result of your messaging and brand voice — how you communicate who you are and what you’re about. These manifest through many touch points, but most importantly through your brand identity.
Your brand identity is the visual language you use to tell your story. This includes your logo (or “mark”) as well as icon system, color palette, typography and image styling. It can extend to your packaging system and website too, but generally refers to things dealing with your core logo system.
Brand essence is a distillation of the most compelling idea behind your brewery. It’s mostly an internal tool used to capture the spirit of your brewery rather than a public facing statement or tagline. Think of it as a way of driving every decision you make during the rebranding process from the moment you define it. If you can get specific and granular on this idea now, it will make all branding work downstream more consistent and clear.
Positioning is the strategic act of defining your brewery’s core concept, main customers, and how you’re different from your competition. It’s defining a “space” in the market you can own that no one else can touch or lay claim to.
Rebranding represents a shift in your core messaging. This can include refocusing your positioning and brand essence and manifests in a new name (optional) and an updated look and feel, starting with your core logo, packaging, and website, and extending to all your touch points.
A brand refresh is more of an update — call it a fresh coat of paint. Your core brand values and positioning still hold true, but your brand identity may be showing its age. Maybe your beer isn’t selling as well as it once did. Do your marketing materials and other communications seem a bit tired? Often, problems like these can be solved with a refresh — an updated identity and packaging that builds on what you currently have.
The difference between a full rebrand and a refresh can seem semantic. If you feel like you need to make substantial changes — your brewery’s name, messaging and positioning along with your visuals (identity and packaging), then you’re looking at a rebrand. If you’re simply tweaking some of the elements of your brand identity but maintaining the same general theme, you’re refreshing your brand.
When your brewery should rebrand
Sometimes, the need for a rebrand can be obvious and feel very pressing. Other times, it can be more subtle. Although there’s no set-in-stone checklist for knowing when you need to rebrand, we do see a recurring set of criteria leading up to breweries pulling the trigger. Here are a few of those reasons.
Your overall look is dated and doesn’t reflect your core values
It’s not uncommon for design to age poorly. (I’m wearing boot cut jeans while writing this. I get it.) If your brand identity was not professionally developed, or perhaps worse, was done in a superficial, trendy manner, the design and your overall look can begin to quickly show its age. And if you’re a brewery that’s growing and making some exciting moves, this can inhibit your progress. Just think of any one of the cool or cutting-edge companies that you follow — do they have bad branding? I’d bet a case of beer that they don’t.
You’re making major changes within your company
You’re no longer the small outfit you once were. Perhaps you’ve brought in a new head brewer. Maybe you’re planning to start canning that taproom favorite NEIPA and want to make it stand out on the shelf (but are worried it will clash with the rest of your packaging). Or, you could be ready to transition from bottles to cans. These and other major changes, including repositioning, or renaming your brewery (or beers), or shifting your portfolio, can fall flat without a solid and unified brand to support them.
New competition is leaving you in the dust
We see this with a lot of older breweries. High-energy startups will open in the same region and often position themselves against the established “Old Guard.” (Those jerks!) These upstarts dilute your market. And their impact is exacerbated by the natural tendency among craft beer drinkers to overlook their old standbys in favor of trying the latest and greatest beer. Simply put, people are thinking about you less and less.
You’re expanding into new markets and are facing stauncher competition
Breweries that are crushing it all over the country have solid branding and amazing beer. If you’re expanding into new markets, it’s only a matter of time until you clash with such a brewery. And this works both ways — big-time breweries can bring the fight to your backyard too.
You feel like you’re always reinventing the wheel
We’ve heard several breweries say it feels like they’re starting from scratch every time they name a beer or release a new SKU. They don’t know what logo to use or what colors or illustration style to go for, and it’s exhausting. Preparing for the launch of what should be a fun and exciting new product quickly becomes overwhelming. A rebrand can cure this headache by clearly defining your visual rules so you can kick out new beers as needed without breaking your back.
You’re self-conscious of your branding and packaging.
This one is hard to measure, but we’ve heard it many times, either sheepishly mentioned in a meeting or implied, as we begin working to understand our clients’ needs. Sometimes, you can read between the lines when you hear things like, “I hate wearing our shirts to festivals and conferences,” or “Our festival setup looks like shit compared to everyone else.” There’s no need to be shy about this. You care about what you do and should want to put your best foot forward. If you don’t feel like your brand is doing that for you now, maybe it’s time to make a change.
Here are two different breweries (from the U.S. and Canada) on why they decided to rebrand.
Atlanta Brewing Co. (Atlanta, Georgia)
Cameron Davis, Marketing Director
We had been Atlanta Brewing Co. in the past and still legally were named that while doing business as Red Brick Brewing Co. After a full staff changeover, Red Brick Brewing just didn’t resonate with us at all. It seemed silly to have Atlanta Brewing Co. and not use it. Also, with a resurgence in hyper-local pride, we felt that the original name had to be used. Red Brick didn’t mean anything to anyone, Atlanta Brewing Co. allows you to tell the story of the oldest brewery in the state and our local fans to feel more of a connection with the brand.
KettleHouse Brewing (Missoula, Montana)
Suzy Rizza, Co-founder
We started working with a business consultant in 2017, and one of their first recommendations was to redesign our packaging. As we reflected on it, we realized we hadn’t had a graphics update in about 10 years. And A LOT had changed in this time — we were the first brewery in Montana to package its beer in cans, and among the first handful of breweries to do so nationally. The craft landscape had become much more competitive, and while our existing customer base was aging, new customers are aging INTO the craft demographic every day.
Additionally, throughout the past 10 years, we’d had a number of different artists design our different labels. We felt our brand was starting not just to drift, but be chaotically redesigned without any real intention. We also had some other particular issues like inconsistencies among each package — the logo in the upper right on this package and in the upper left on that package, for example.
Another interesting phenomenon that we were running into had to do with our flagship beer, Cold Smoke Scotch Ale. Our sales team was letting us know that when they would make a sales call and introduce themselves as being from KettleHouse Brewing, they would get a blank stare. But when they clarified they were from ‘the Cold Smoke brewery,’ they heard, ‘Oh yeah! Awesome!’”
When your brewery should NOT rebrand
Whether subtle or overt, a rebrand signifies a change to your fans. If you’re updating your look in an attempt to move away from a negative reputation (PR disaster, quality control issues, etc.) without making core internal changes, your rebrand will fail. People are too smart to fall for this. Newly designed packaging may grab someone’s attention in a grocery store, but if that beer isn’t great or if you’re still a shitty company, you’ll lose the chance for repeat business.
Unless you already have a solid foundation to build upon (great beer and strong leadership, live by your core values, deep community involvement, etc.), attempting to rebrand is akin to putting lipstick on a pig. Put another way, a great logo can’t make a bad beer taste better (or a poorly run business more viable).
Next week, we’ll dive into how to weigh your brand equity as you determine whether Evolution or Revolution makes sense for your rebrand.
Week 1: Workbook Overview
The exercises in Section 1 of the Craft Beer, Rebranded workbook will help you identify why you’re rebranding. What are your pain points, and how can we determine what issues need to be resolved through this process?
Overall, you will:
- Identify pain points
- Determine whether you’re rebranding or refreshing
- Make your project wish list
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.”