We’ve spent a good deal of time writing about how to name, brand and position a start-up craft brewery. Now let’s discuss something key to that process: finding a design firm to help you handle all of this. Here are some specifics.
1. Finding a design firm
This part is easy. Simply head down to the local design emporium and … just kidding. The best way to find a great design firm is to ask someone you trust for a referral. Is there another well-branded brewery or small business in town? Reach out to see who they hired.
If all else fails, you can hop on Google and search for your city + branding/design firms. But make sure the firms you’re considering ACTUALLY SHOW WORK on their website. Don’t get me started on that.
Look at their portfolio, but understand that any competent design firm will define your brand essence and messaging and tailor your identity, packaging and website to reflect these ideas. You’re not simply picking an aesthetic style off a shelf and saying, “Here, make me this one!” That being said, do check out their work. Branding is a gut level, emotional endeavor, anyway. Do you like most of what they make? If so, reach out to them.
2. Interviewing a design firm
This part is relatively straight forward as well — reach out and expect a response shortly. Once you get together, tell them about yourself, your team, your vision and dreams. What’s your concept? Why are you doing this? How will your brewery be different from every other brewery in your state? The design firm should have some questions of their own.
This initial meeting can be likened to a first date — be wary of someone who’s more concerned with whipping out their portfolio and talking about themselves than they are with listening to what you have to say. A group that asks lots of questions and actually listens to you is likely to be a good partner.
After that, find out what their capabilities are. What’s their creative process look like? Have they worked through the TTB beer label approval process before? Have they launched a brewery website? Do they enjoy drinking craft beer? A fun question is to ask them to describe a project that has gone poorly. It’ll give you a candid look at how they work. Some of our best clients have caught us off guard with this one.
Make sure to find out who you’ll be working with throughout the process and who’ll actually be making your stuff. And beware of account executives. These people act as a buffer between you and the designers who actually shape your image. This can cause a handful of stupid, avoidable problems, but, thankfully, this role is a dying breed in small to midsize design firms.
And finally, this project could take anywhere from a few months to a year or more. So while you don’t need to expect the design team to come to your birthday party, you do need to like them. If they’re not too fun to be around now, just wait until you’re working together and the meter’s running. It’s also important to realize that any design firm worth its salt is putting you through this same vetting process to determine if your concept is viable and if they think you’ll be fun to work with.
3. What will this cost me?
It’s important to talk about money up front, or at least, in that first meeting. I can’t tell you what to expect to pay because a freelancer will charge differently than a small shop than a big shop than an agency, etc. But it’s important to discuss cost so the design firm knows what kind of approach they can offer. Maybe it’s $8,000? Maybe it’s $50,000? Regardless, should your budget not match their rates, they should be more than willing to refer you to someone who can work with your budget.
If you’ve made it this far, there’s a good chance you already understand the competitive edge that branding and positioning can give your business. Branding is one of the cheapest ways to differentiate your brewery when you consider the alternative of spending years fighting to get your beer in bars, liquor stores and peoples’ homes. Getting your branding right the first time will pay dividends and be one less growing pain to contend with down the road. Find a good branding partner and bite that bullet.
Some other thoughts:
You should steer clear of creative firms that don’t show their own work on their website. There’s probably a good reason why they don’t.
Don’t ever use a Request for Proposal (RFP) to find a design firm. An RFP essentially boils the creative buying process down to a beauty pageant. Designers are asked to trot out their best work, talk about their capabilities and give team bios, but all this really does is reveal who’s good at responding to RFPs. Most importantly, you cast a wide, generic net instead of doing your own research and finding someone who will be a perfect fit for your project.
Positioning is one of the most important “things” that can come out of this branding process. Make sure to discuss your competition, your audience and how your brewery is different with the design firm so they can clearly communicate this idea through compelling design and branding.
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.