Wheat, Hops, Barley, and Just a Little Bit of Magic

Is your brewery brand all it can be?

There is an ongoing renaissance across this great country – a food renaissance, where we are moving away from tasteless, mass produced, homogeneous food and going back to artisanal, crafted products that are made with a lot more attention to what is going into them.

And beer. Glorious craft beer!

Probably one of the best examples of unshackling from industrial moors, craft beers are blowing up across the country, everywhere where there are beer-drinking people, which is, as it turns out, everywhere. Backwards baseball cap wearing bros are still going to throw down cases of Natty Lite, but for the rest of us, craft beer lets us explore the ever-expanding selection of seats on the bus to flavortown.

But since this is a marketing blog and not a food blog, I’ll get to the point. Let’s chalk it up to overly rapid growth in an expansive market, but when we recently did an audit of numerous craft beer brands, we found a surprising lack of definition. We expected brands that are all about unique flavor profiles to be dripping with personality, but, in truth, it was difficult to discern anything resembling cohesion.

So we wanted to ask all of you out there who are responsible for the marketing of a craft beer brand – is your brewery brand all it can be?

To help you out, we’ll point out the top five areas where we saw particular deficiencies. This is neither universal nor exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of where you can put in some work. For a deeper dive, see our blog about the game of 20 questions.

1) What’s your why? It is a simple question that many brands miss, but for some reason it seemed even more lacking with a lot of craft beer brands. Most of them we looked at were beer for the sake of beer, but it is important to define what is driving you to make great beer. This creates the seed of an emotional connection that can be played on later, and at the end of the day, when the dust settles, it separates you from all the other craft breweries.

2) Core values. A bit of an extension of your “why,” these are the principles that drive your company. The people who tend to drink craft beer often look for common values with the brands they consume (it’s part of that renaissance thing we were talking about). Defining and communicating what you’re all about as a brewery is an important way to weed out the people who are ultimately not going to enjoy your products.

3) Regional personality. Interestingly, the personalities of breweries tracks with the general personality of the region it is from (check out our trend report on regional breweries). There are two things you can do with that – first, you might want to think about fitting in. Midwestern breweries, for example, talk about work ethic and earning their credentials the hard way. That is probably important to Midwestern beer drinkers – so bake it into your brand if you’re in the Midwest. But on the other hand, you might want to intentionally violate the regional personality, to give customers something different – it could be the thing that sets you apart from everyone else. Just be careful about how far you go.

4) Visual identity/expression. This was possibly one of the most egregious issues we saw in our audit – a complete disconnect between brand identity and the visual expression of that identity. It didn’t help that many brands were undefined, but many just plainly missed easy opportunities to make visual connections. If you beers are all, for example, named after superheroes, then there is an easy visual thread that should exist throughout your materials – not just on your can art, but everywhere. And that can dictate the personality outside of visuals as well. And as an aside, consider shelf visibility when you’re designing those cans. People can’t buy what they can’t find.

5) Point of difference. One area we audited was Indianapolis. Fun fact, there are over 100 craft breweries within 1 hour of the city. While that is probably about the highest density in the U.S., there is a really good chance your brewery has a lot of competition. And with many of the big dogs getting into craft styles, it’s getting hard to stand out. So you need to think long and hard about what makes your beer different that the 2 or 20 other breweries within driving distance. Why is someone going to come drink your beer over any of his or her other choices? You simply must figure that out and capitalize on it.

As with other brands, breweries need to be conscious about the identity they are putting out there. We’ve said it before, but you’re projecting a brand whether you like it or not. With so much going on with a craft beer, there’s ample fodder to be distinct. Don’t just be a generic craft brewery – the expansion can’t go on indefinitely, so consolidation is coming. Make sure you’re one of the breweries that stands out and lasts.

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