Brews and Brands – Part 1

How To Get Your Beer Brand Started

Over the years, as we’ve helped clients in the craft brew industry build their brands and take their brews from tap to retail, we’ve identified a few decision points that seem to arise periodically in our process. As the craft brewing world continues to grow, we felt it might be a good time to share our experiences to help other brewers and designers tackle these issues before they get too far down the design road.



Developing a Brand Plan

Strategy is everything. Finding out what your brewery personality is will serve you well, and help you establish your place in the brewing landscape. It is important to ask a few questions early in the life of the brewery to uncover your distinctions:

What makes your beers and brewery different from your competitors?  Examples– you brew only dark beers, or your beers will be very ‘drinkable’, or maybe you’ll specialize in only a few curated, select brews, etc.

Who is the target audience for your beers?  Examples– Young craft enthusiasts who enjoy drinking really unique beers, or an older beer drinker who enjoys casual drinking experiences with friends, or people just like ‘you’ (brewer), etc.

How do you envision conveying your uniqueness in the marketplace?  Examples– through social media and website but not packaging, or vivid labels on bottles along with traditional 6-pack packaging, or with banners and print materials at tasting events, etc.

What will you charge for your beer?  Examples– you will be a delicious low-cost alternative, or your beers will be exotic and expensive, or maybe you will have a whole range of beers at different price-points, from exotic to budget, etc.

The answers to these questions will provide your marketing team/brand designer with some important information that will help them create an identity that separates you from your competitors, and may serve as the foundation for how the visual aesthetic of your brand begins to develop.

Often times, small brewers have logos and identities created in their formative stages that are more reflective of the personal style of the designer or brewery owner rather than the uniqueness of the brewery. These early days are where it is most important to begin your brand strategy.


Everything a Brand Can Touch

Your brewery and variety brands will have many touch points where they can impress your target audience. There are obvious ones like signage, stickers, and apparel in the brewery. There will be media touch points like messaging, website, tap handles, video, social media, promotional advertising, etc. Then there are items like packaging– bottles, growlers, cans, 6-packs and case art, other multipacks, and kegs. Consider that all of these items are places where consumers expect to see positive reinforcement of your brand. Beer drinkers want to be reminded that this brewery and brand are speaking to them in a consistent voice and style. When a touch point feels unaffected by the brand, it can create a subtle ambivalence in the consumer. Creating positive reinforcement at every opportunity will keep your target audience connected and feeling like your brand is their own.


Individuality vs. Brewery-Branded?

As the craft market continues to explode with not only new breweries, but exponentially more individual beers, the question arises how much importance can be put on creating a unique personality for each beer variety, versus creating a consistent and common look for an entire brewery line.

In the good old days of 1990, there were few craft brewers in the marketplace. Brewery branding took a backseat to the individual beer personalities. Each brew variety could develop its own visual expression, its own attention-getting look and feel. Beer variety labeling became unusual to help consumers recognize and remember their individuality.

But today is a different story. Today there are hundreds of different beers at every retailer, and hundreds more vying for shelf space. And each brewery has many different varieties. The successful brewers are seeing the value of a unified brand experience across all their beers. The breadth of competition demands that craft brewers maximize their shrinking shelf footprint to be successful at retail, and a strong and cohesive brand identity will make the most of this limited space.



Freelancer vs. Brand Agency

But let’s face it, many craft brewers got into this business because they love creating great beers, not because they are great branders. Engaging with brand designers is another task on your list of ‘must-dos’, and maybe you are not ready yet. When should you call a freelance designer, and when should you consider engaging with a brand agency? A freelance designer can move quickly, and can often be a practical solution to design a quick logo or website in the very early stages of a brewery. But when your brand reaches out into the wider world of retail, there is greater risk, and that may be a good time to call in the experts. If your brand doesn’t stand out, your beers may under-perform in sales, causing more stress on your fledgling brewery. However if you work with a good team you can maximize your opportunity for sales, all while building a consistent and beautiful brand that leaves your audience wanting another round.


At Iron, we’ve been working in the craft brewing market since 2002. We’ve helped clients like Middle Ages Brewing Co., Sackets Harbor Brewing Co., and Butternuts Beer & Ale solve issues like these, define their packaged and tap brew identities, and in conjunction, make their brands stand out.


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