Most of our branding work has been with startup craft breweries, but increasingly, we’re working with established breweries who want to get their branding in line before growing their business. Here are several mistakes we continually see in craft beer branding and marketing that, if handled correctly at the outset, can save thousands of dollars and innumerable hours of work down the road.
This first one is obvious. Whether a lack of understanding, time or money, many breweries go on to wrestle with a mishmash of poorly cobbled together visuals, and it comes back to bite them. A restaurateur once told me that “people taste with their eyes.” And that makes a lot of sense in food and beverage branding. If your beer packaging looks amateurish, it’s a direct reflection on the beer itself and people will be less likely to pick it up, give it a chance and fall in love with it.
Inconsistent look and feel
I can think of several high-profile national and regional breweries with poor branding. What they’re doing right, however, aside from making good beer, is being consistent with their bad branding. Even bad branding, if kept consistent, can effectively tell a story — just not as well as attractive, compelling branding. We’ve all seen this: A local brewery has 12 different versions of its logo, and its seasonal packaging doesn’t match its house beers, which don’t match its merch, etc. At the very least, be consistent with your visuals and story. Don’t make it hard for people to follow along and support you.
If your site isn’t responsive, your customers will hate using it. Have you ever tried navigating a home brewed, hard coded site on a smart phone? It’s a terrible experience. And it’s probably just as bad on your end when you try to update it. While there’s no set list of things to include on your brewery’s website, you need to consider why the end-user is visiting your site and how the site plays into your broader communication plan. If you offer kegs, please keep an updated list of what’s available. Give people relevant beer specs, including description, ABV/IBU, etc. And please, please, please make your current offerings, phone number, location and hours easy to find.
Sausagefest marketing (a technical term)
A lot of craft beer branding tends to be geared toward guys. That might have been a good strategy seven or eight years ago, but ladies are drinking more craft beer than ever. Your dude-focused branding (and bathroom pinup posters) isn’t helping your cause. And since you’re smart, I don’t have to tell you that making your beer label pink won’t fix this, right? Women fall in love with brands for the same reason guys do — by forming an emotional connection with the product/brewery/story. Just tell your story honestly and people will flock to you.
Also, I included the term “sausagefest” in a branding article. That one’s dedicated to my high school guidance counselor.
[Editor’s Note: And we changed it from “sausage fest” to “sausagefest.” Our copy editing professors will be proud.]
Waiting to get established before branding
We see this final problem a lot. People understand how important branding is but, for whatever reason, they wait to become established before doing it. This is a bad strategy because you come out of the gate working hard, brewing good beer, engaging with the community and creating a wonderful brewery culture. Now, you have to put all that progress on hold while you change how everything looks and feels. Breweries need to start viewing design as an absolutely essential part of their startup. This is becoming more important every time another brewery opens in your area. A few years ago, you could’ve differentiated yourself based on great beer alone. Now, that’s the price of entry.
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.