If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either a brewer, distributor, beer geek or industry groupie (hello there!). If you’re reading this, chances are that I don’t have to tell you about the explosive American craft beer industry. I don’t need to recite statistics about overall microbrewery market share versus macro beer. I don’t need to tell you how many jobs this industry creates, and while I’m an avid home brewer, I’ve got no business telling you how to fine tune your recipes for mass distribution.
But I can tell you about an enormously important business aspect that most brewery start-ups fail to consider when drafting their business plan — positioning and branding. So much of planning to open a brewery revolves around quantitative stuff. How many barrels will you brew in your first year? Where will you be located? Should you self-distribute? Will you can or bottle? These are all important, but so many new breweries fail to consider their branding and positioning in a meaningful way.
For the sake of clarity, let’s define these:
Your brand is your customers’ perception of your company (including your products and your culture). It’s that gut feeling about what you do and ultimately shapes why they either love or hate you. This messaging manifests through many touch points, but most importantly, your identity, package design, responsive web design and marketing. It probably goes without saying that the quality of your beer and your brewery’s community involvement also play a crucial roll here.
Positioning can be boiled down to three questions. 1) What do you do (and why are you passionate about it)? 2) Who do you do this for? 3) And how are you different (not necessarily “better”) than your competition?
Having distinct positioning is only the first step. From there, how do you effectively communicate what’s unique about your offerings to the thirsty masses? What images, colors, typography, packaging and web design elements reinforce this idea every time you and your customers come into contact? How can you use your branding to shape how people talk about your beer with their friends? Having a great offering is only half the battle. Then you need to get word out in an attractive (yet strategic) way.
Together, branding and positioning tell your story in a compelling way to potential and current customers, which is why they’re so important for new breweries. Given the finite amount of shelf space in local liquor stores, tap handles in bars and room in beer drinkers’ minds, it’s going to be harder and harder for new breweries to come out and make a splash without properly telling their story, particularly when opening in an already crowded market.
Yes, whether you buy a new or used brew system is a big decision, but I can’t stress enough the importance of digging to understand your story — what kind of beers do you brew? Why do you do it this way? And who are your ardent customers? By taking a hard look at yourself and refining your branding and positioning, you can tell a great story about a new product that will fit seamlessly into beer drinkers’ lives. From there, all you have to do is brew great beer.
Some things to noodle on…
1. What is the core idea behind your brand? What do you offer in your market that nobody else is doing?
2. How would/should your brand “look”? Keep a file of relevant images, fonts, textures, photos and poetry (if that’s your thing).
3. Hire a designer! I wouldn’t ask you to smile politely as you chew through one of my more “creative” homebrew experiments, so don’t do this stuff yourself. A designer can play a key role in shaping your business and helping to nail down a communication strategy.
This column was provided by the folks at CODO Design, a five-man branding firm based in Indianapolis, IN. They’ve spent years working with startup craft breweries on naming, branding and positioning, responsive web design, and package design. They’ve gathered their experience into a comprehensive Craft Beer Branding Guide to help startup breweries navigate the entire branding process. Check it out at www.craftbeerbrandingguide.com.