We’ve spent a good deal of time writing about the importance of branding and positioning for new craft breweries, but these posts were fairly short because, well, we’d rather drink craft beer than write about it. Anyway, in this piece, we thought we’d dig a bit deeper and explain a few different strategies to achieve strong brand positioning.
Starting off, let’s revisit our simple definition of positioning. It can be boiled down to three questions: What do you do (and why are you passionate about it)? Who do you do this for? And how are you different (not necessarily “better”) than your competition? Through the lens of an increasingly crowded craft beer market, we think it’s fair to say that concrete positioning will become more and more difficult to achieve based on the beer you brew alone. Or to put it another way, there are a lot of great breweries making a lot of great beer.
So, how else can a new craft brewery differentiate itself?
1. Concept and story
Aside from great beer, it’s important to have a compelling story. Why are you brewing your beer? How did you get your start? Why does your beer (and your story) matter? This idea needs to align with your overall concept — that is, a collection of ideas including your business model, beer styles, brewery atmosphere and pricing.
2. Location and collaboration
Location used to be a great way for new breweries to differentiate, but again, with more and more new brewers opening up shop, it’ll be harder to focus on this alone. The exception may be in hyper-local partnerships with local farmers and producers, coffee roasters and other breweries.
Differentiating on price alone can be tricky and may not be the best tactic for craft breweries. While you can certainly sell your beer cheaply, you don’t want to be the cheapest in town. And conversely, you can charge a premium for your product if you can back it up with quality, a good story and scarcity.
It may sound old fashioned, but if your tasting room is staffed by assholes, people won’t want to come back there. If your delivery drivers are rude, don’t clean tap lines or drive recklessly, people won’t want to support you. Believe it or not, service can still be a great differentiator, particularly if paired with another unique brand attribute.
And finally, everything we’ve discussed up to now has to be directly aligned with your branding, that is, the visual design of your identity, packaging, responsive website, merch and brewery space. Compelling branding can be a fairly cost-effective way of differentiating your brewery out of the gate. Consider the alternate route: spending years to enmesh your beer into local bars and peoples’ minds, and then having to backtrack and address branding issues after the fact.
It may sound old fashioned, but if your tasting room is staffed by assholes, people won’t want to come back there. If your delivery drivers are rude, don’t clean tap lines or drive recklessly, people won’t want to support you.Branding is all about connecting with people and telling your story in a clear, compelling way. Or put another way, it’s about shaping how people feel about your company. Why do they think you’re different? How do they describe you to friends? Why do they (or don’t they) support you? Having unique packaging*, merch, delivery trucks and a great website can work wonders in convincing people to buy your beer.
But as much as we stress the importance of compelling branding and positioning for craft breweries, you should never forget that the most important thing you can do as a new brewery is make the best beer you can possibly brew. Even though brewing good beer is the cost of entry to a crowded market, you are probably doing it for a reason, and that reason can and should be your rallying cry as you develop loyal customers and grow as a business.
*We only drink beer if the bottle has a twisted neck, a wide mouth opening and/or is nestled snuggly within a small, dead woodland creature.
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.