When branding a microbrewery, or any organization for that matter, people tend to jump straight to aesthetics right off the bat. “We want our logo to look vintage, but contemporary. A little bit rustic with just a touch of whimsy.” I still don’t know what “whimsy” means, but the cool thing about owning a design firm is that when you nod emphatically during meetings while taking a few notes, people trust you. Weird.
Anyway, the problem with jumping straight to aesthetics is, before you get to that point, you need to form a deeper understanding of your “brand essence.” This fluffy-sounding concept is actually very important because it cuts straight to the heart of your brand. What do you stand for? What’s the most compelling aspect of your company? What’s your biggest differentiator and value proposition? Why should people support you? What role should your brewery play in their lives?
Once you have a grasp on these ideas, you can move on to the visual side of the house. If you go this route, your brand essence and the wider collection of surrounding ideas should directly inform your branding (identity design, responsive website, package design, marketing, etc.) so that someone sitting in a bar, perusing tap handles will see yours and immediately understand why he or she should buy your beer.
While we don’t want to give away all our secrets, we thought it would be fun to share a few questions we ask during the initial research phase of a branding project. These are part of a larger list of questions and tools we use to frame potential brand essences for clients, and again, this all happens before we ever put pencil to paper sketching beer packaging or before we ever consider break points on a responsive website.
- In plain English, what is Brewery X? What do you offer?
- What’s the coolest thing about Brewery X?
- Why does Brewery X matter?
- Describe your beer. Who will drink your beer? Who do you want drinking your beer?
- What role should Brewery X play in your customers’ lives?
- Describe some competition? How is Brewery X different?
- What emotions should your branding evoke?
Some other thoughts to make the most of this exercise:
1. Talk to a variety of stakeholders
We like to talk to as many different stakeholders as we can, from the top level of the company on down to the frontline guys. A common example when we’re working with a brewery is to interview the head brewer, any additional owners, delivery drivers, cellermen, tasting room staff and distributors, as well as ardent volunteers and customers.
The cool thing about talking to a wide variety of people is that you’ll quickly see patterns emerge from your conversations. And despite what a lot of agencies want you to think, branding and design aren’t rocket science. Ideas that come up again and again are often great contenders for your brand essence.
2. Talk to folks, one on one
Over the years, we’ve interviewed large groups of people together and individually and consistently get better results when we talk to people one on one. This can be even more powerful when the folks you’re talking to understand that at this stage, there is no wrong answer. Branding is all about emotion and storytelling, so discussing the first thing that comes to mind can often be very powerful.
What we’ve found in hosting large-group discovery sessions is that the group dynamic tends to dominate free conversation. Common occurrences are a Type A person will talk and talk and talk and talk and eventually, the more introverted people in the group will just say, “Yes, we agree with what the obnoxious guy said,” which means you’re missing out on the quieter person’s opinions and ideas.
3. Value design and hire a professional
You didn’t think you’d finish this article without hearing our plea, did you? If you’ve actually read to this point (hi mom!), then you’re probably already thinking about your brewery’s branding and positioning in a deeper way than merely aesthetics. That means you value design and realize how important an element it is in becoming a successful brewery. An agnostic set of outside eyes can be a great help in organizing your team’s thoughts and can become even more invaluable as the time comes to translate all these ideas into beautiful, compelling, smart, and — what the hell — whimsical design.
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.