Better Beer Branding Starts with ‘Why’

422 – That’s the number of breweries operating in New York State at the time this blog post was written. With no sign of slowing down, it’s safe to say that number has already been surpassed by the time you’re reading this. For brewery owners looking to increase production & grow their brand in this increasingly crowded market, the question becomes, how do you stand out? While the obvious answer may be to brew great beer – today’s market demands much more than that. The beer brands that will separate themselves from the growing number of breweries are the ones with unique stories, the ones perceived to be most authentic and truest to their craft. It’s just a matter of defining what your brewery stands for, owning it, and putting it on display for the world to see.

Defining Your Story

Take a moment and think back to when you first set course to start your brewery. Why did you begin this journey in the first place? Defining these reasons is an important step in your brewery’s branding process. After all, it’s these founding stories that are at the core of your brand’s existence and what differentiates your brewery from everyone else. If you already have a unique defining story, you are already on the road to brand success– skip ahead to Discover Your ‘Why’.

Word Association

If you don’t necessarily have a compelling story of why you started your brewery, not to worry, there are plenty of useful methods to uncover your authentic story. One of the most effective ways to do this is Word Association. Start by writing down a list of words that come to mind when describing what your brewery stands for, what makes it unique, and what inspired you to get into the brewing industry. These can be value words like ‘community / heritage / creativity’ or characteristics that hold true to the profile of your beers like ‘experimental / bold / balanced’. Don’t overthink these words yet. No idea is bad in the brainstorming phase. As your list grows, you will notice your brand’s personality start to take shape. Once you have a solid list, distill them down to 10-15 distinctive words that that define your brewery. Use your finalized list of words to craft a brand mission and vision for your beer brand. This set of brand beliefs will be used as your ‘why’, in other words, the foundation for your brewery’s story.

Discover Your ‘Why’Iron_Beer_Post_Golden_Circle_blank

Another branding tool we often use at Iron Design to evaluate a brewery’s branding is called the Golden Circle. This concept was developed by Simon Sinek and was designed to help uncover an organization’s true north. We use it to map out some of the components of a brand’s story. This diagram also serves as a guide on how to best tell that story. It’s probably the world’s simplest, yet effective branding tool. It consists of a sphere with three layers- What you do, How you do it, and Why you do it.

Where Many Beer Brands Fall Short

After analyzing many breweries, we’ve discovered that a majority of the industry defines themselves from the outside in. A typical brand storyline from these breweries starts with an explanation of the type of beer they brew and how they brew it… but hardly ever reaches why they brew it. When in fact, the story of ‘why’ is far more compelling and is what creates deep emotional connections with beer drinkers. The ‘why’ is what a brand believes, what they stand for, and why they get up every morning to brew the beer they love.

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Own Your ‘Why’

So you’ve nailed down the components of your brand story, including the all-mighty ‘why’. Now let’s put your story into action through eye-catching branding and thoughtful storytelling. The most impactful brand stories work from the inside → out on the golden circle. These storylines start with addressing the values that define you and why your brewery exists. Only then do you reveal details of how you do what you do and what can be expected in the final product. By this point, consumers will have already been exposed to what separates you from rest of the pack, beyond just your beer.

Here’s how to make your ‘why’ the foundation of your brand system:

It’s simple really – Own it. Everything you do should embody your ‘why’, whether its your logo, your slogan, your label design, your tap handle, the way you talk about your story in person, and the way you tell your story online. If done right, people won’t buy your beer just because it’s good, they’ll buy your beer because they believe in it.

Beer Brand Examples

Let’s take a look at two breweries who tell impactful brand stories by taking complete ownership of their ‘why’.

Bale Breaker Brewing CompanyYakima Valley, Washington

Bale Breaker Brewing Company has a brand story that is deeply rooted in their four generations of hop farming experience, and does a great job of connecting their story to their brand. Every beer they craft and every story they tell celebrates the world-class hops grown in their backyard. The same backyard in which their great-grandparents first planted hops in 1932.

Bits and pieces of their brand’s story are told through the names, labels, and ingredients of the beers they craft, in fact their brand story is evident on everything their brand touches. Including ‘Field 41’ Pale Ale which toasts to the name of their family’s hop field that the brewery is located on, and ‘Leota Mae’ IPA which pays tribute to their great-grandmother, who first cultivated the land. Other beers they brew directly celebrate hop farming in general with names like Top Cutter IPA, Bottom Cutter Imperial IPA, and Fresh Off the Farm IPA.Bale-Breaker_can_design_01

It doesn’t stop there either – take a look at their taproom, delivery truck, and tap handles, all which fully embrace their hop farming heritage

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courtesy Bale Breaker Brewing Co.

BalterCurrumbin, Queensland, Australia

Balter is an Australian brewery that celebrates the sense of enjoyment you get by doing something you love. Their name ‘Balter’ means “to dance artlessly without particular skill or grace, but usually with enjoyment.” These Aussie brewers are all about spreading joy through their beers. Their brand supports this mission with minimalistic imagery and an inviting color palette. This minimalistic approach allows consumers to quickly differentiate between varieties and enables the label design to break through the overwhelming clutter of a busy beer shelf.

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A simple smile icon is featured on just about everything from their packaging to their brewery’s exterior signage. This brand staple serves as a consistent reminder to consumers of what the brewery is all about and why they decided to brew beer in the first placeBalter_branding_01

Images courtesy Balter

Your Turn

Whether you are an established brewery or one just getting started, identifying your ‘why’ is one of the keys to developing a unique position in the crowded brewery market. Use these simple branding exercises like the Golden Circle and Word Association to define your brewery’s story and core beliefs. Not only will it help you identify a key differentiator, it can help you craft your company mission and vision statements. It’s these fundamental brand components that, when fully embraced, have the ability to turn your brewery into a brand and your customers into lifelong fans. So go ahead, discover your ‘why’, own it, and take your beer brand to the promised land.

Team Spotlight: Shane

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Who are ya?

I grew up in Ballston Spa, NY which is a small town just south of Saratoga Springs. Ever since an early age I loved to draw and create things. It wasn’t until high school when starting a landscaping business that I realized how crucial of a role graphic design plays in marketing a brand or product. It was at this point that my love for design collided with a new passion for marketing and needless to say, I was hooked. I went on to study Marketing at SUNY Oswego while continuing to educate myself on the tools of the graphic design trade.

What other interests do you have outside of art/design?

A few other passions of mine outside of design include sports, beer, and antiques. I’m a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan and until just recently became an official season ticket holder (Go Bills!). I enjoy adventures with my soon-to-be wife, Brianna and our four-legged fur child, Augie. On the list of our frequent stops are sports games, breweries, food festivals and antique shops. I love visiting antique shops, even if I walk out empty-handed, there’s something about digging through old stuff that always leaves me fascinated and inspired to start designing.

What are you going to be doing at Iron Design?

I’m a designer with a digital focus. As Iron’s primary services shift farther towards digital experiences, the team was in need of a designer like me whose portfolio reflected strength in branding and website design equally. I’ll be adopting Iron’s digital design process and contributing my creativity and experience toward many of our current website projects and eventually leading various projects on my own.

What are you most excited about for your new role at Iron Design?

Ahh – there’s so much to be excited for. I am joining a team of incredibly talented designers, making things for a variety of awesome clients, and working in a town like Ithaca (which has already won me over.)

 

 

 

Intern Spotlight: Nghi

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My name is Nghi (pronounced ‘knee’) Nguyễn (‘win’) and I’m from Sài Gòn, Vietnam, which has a population of nine million people. This is my fourth year in the United States, having completed my undergraduate training at Illinois Wesleyan University in Psychology and Art, Graphic Design. My background in Psychology aids me in thinking methodologically and has allowed me to integrate those practicalities into my design process. Prior to the U.S., I was educated in the U.K. for two years for International Baccalaureate Degree (unfortunately, I did not pick up the accent.) As evidenced in my travels, my passion resides in being well-rounded and cultured.  I look forward to continuing to cultivate my knowledge of how people think and adding that to my design work.

Eventually, I hope to have completed a Masters degree in what I am most passionate about: people and design. I hope to continue to work on different challenging projects, where I am able to engage myself in different communities; much like the previous works here at Iron.

What first interested you in Iron Design?

I was drawn to Iron’s connectedness to the surrounding Ithaca community, its central location, and when I visited the studio in person, its cool yellow-accented studio.

What has been your favorite part about living in Ithaca?

There is a lot to like here. For me, it’s the food; good seafood like the Oysters at Simeon’s and authentic Southern Vietnamese food because it brings me home just for a moment. There are affordable donated sewing goods for me to grab just down the street from the studio. I love the seasonal activities here, like fishing at Cayuga Lake, cherry picking in the summer and making syrup in the winter, our small and easy bus system, walking around and taking in views of beautiful yet dangerous gorges next to vintage buildings, the board game community my husband and I have found, as well as interesting and friendly people from all over the world. Basically, Ithaca can appease my unreasonably wide range of favorite activities and needs. There’s always something to see and do.

Talk about something you’re loving as part of your current workload at Iron.

I am truly spoiled here at Iron, in the best way! I enjoy the challenges that I have been given, ranging from layout design and package design, to contributing to a startup brand project. You never know what you can create unless given the opportunity. I’m learning how to balance my time and work with real-world deadlines. I’ve had the chance to directly interact with clients which is a huge help with understanding their wants and needs. I learned to not dislike any task regardless of scale and type; every opportunity to work on something is fantastic. Sometimes it just takes a bit to understand the details and get my creativity flowing.

Internship Recap: Kevin Zampieron

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This past June, Kevin packed his bags and hopped down the road from Rochester Institute of Technology to join the Iron team as our 2017 summer design intern. As part of the program, our interns work on real-world projects along side us, present their progress during internal critiques, adopt our tight deadlines, and enjoy all the wonders of studio life, downtown life, and summertime in the town of gorges. Here’s what Kevin has to say:

What first interested you in Iron Design’s internship program?

I was drawn to the kinds of projects Iron Design took on. I had been thinking about the ethics of design a lot, and I appreciated that the studio did work for smaller local businesses and nonprofits. I think design should enrich a community, and I thought Iron Design’s previous work reflected that idea nicely.

What was your favorite thing about Ithaca?

I loved that I could just wander around finding nooks and crannies of a town that seemed to be untouched by chain stores and urban sprawl. I’d go walking in any direction to find bookstores, vintage shops, or places to eat. Or I could take a short drive to visit some of the most gorgeous and lush natural scenery I’ve ever seen; I drove over Ithaca Falls every day to get to work. It’s a quiet gem of Upstate New York.

Talk about one thing you’ll take away [learned] from your internship with Iron?

One takeaway from my internship is that sometimes the best design isn’t always the best design. Even though you might think something you’ve been working on is really great, it might not fit your client’s needs. And that’s the criteria design is ultimately judged on. So while you might be enamored with your super-abstract hyper-minimalist brand identity, at the end of the day it’s not up to you.

What are your plans for your next year at RIT?

Oh boy. I’m excited to delve into more specialized graphic design courses, including an independent study about type in motion and a class on calligraphy. I’ll be continuing my work at Reporter Magazine, where I’m a section editor, writer, designer and occasional podcaster. I’m also getting involved with our chapter of TAGA, where I’ll be acting as the marketing director. I’m helping plan the 2018 CIAS Honors Leadership trip to Europe. I also plan on sleeping once or twice but we’ll see about that.

If you had to give advice to a future Iron intern, what would it be?

1. Don’t panic. This was my first real design internship, and I was pretty nervous at first. But the more assured I became, the more easily I learned. The Iron team is more than willing to help you out if you feel out of your depth; you might be doing real work, you’re still an intern.
2. The Shop has great coffee and you need to go there.

A selection of works created by Kevin during his internship with Iron Design. (above) A selection of works created by Kevin during his internship with Iron Design