In the hyper competitive landscape that is the craft beer industry brewing great beer will only take you so far. It is critical for the long term viability of the product to develop a strong brand that the consumer can readily relate to. Successful branding can be the difference in a customer selecting one particular brewery’s product over another. Successful branding makes a connection with the consumer, often times through the establishment of positive connotations such as reliability, quality, or status. To put it bluntly, branding is big business.
When surveying the hundreds of craft beer brands currently available there appears to be several common approaches to branding and hundreds more truly unique or hybrid approaches. For this article I would like to take a closer look into three particular branding strategies that are common place in the industry, and I believe to be extremely effective.
This strategy involves creating a theme for the brand and integrating it into every aspect of the company. The theme is integrated into the individual beer names and often times special release series product lines. Furthermore, it takes front and center on all logos, packaging, labels, and associated text for each of the companies products. This overarching theme provides the unifying element for the brand and promotes the companies message to consumers in a clear and consistent message across all product lines.
This strategy relies on using local information, wether it be geography, lingo, or landmarks to make an emotional connection with the consumer. This approach can be extremely powerful as it capitalizes on the consumers pride of place. Successfully linking a brand to a local identity also provides the opportunity for the brewer to capture additional drinkers who may not be as familiar with craft beer, but are able to associate a positive connotation of location with the product. Brewers employing this branding strategy also have the opportunity to tap into the extremely hot local food/drink renaissance currently underway.
Brewing Philosophy Based
This strategy utilizes the brewers brewing philosophy or approach to brand the product. This approach seems to gaining popularity particularly among American brewers specializing in the production of wild or sour beers. Marketing the technique and hand crafted aspect of the product, particularly the quality and mix of ingredients allows the consumer to believe they are getting a truly unique product. Often times this approach is linked to higher premiums on the products as they require more time and ingredients to produce, thus they are brewed in limited quantities.
Examples: Dogfish Head Off Centered Beers for Off Centered People, Ancient Ales Series, Extreme Brewing Jolly Pumpkin Open Fermentation,Barrel Aging, and Bottle Conditioning, Crooked Stave Brettanomyces Beers
This may or not be considered a branding strategy but I believe it is important none the less. The product model for the majority of the commercial craft breweries goes something like this. The staples, these are the brewers year round offerings, usually sold in six packs, seasonal offerings usually fall into this category. Big beers, usually marketed in some type of series, these high alcohol beers are usually sold in 22 oz bombers and command a hefty premium. Barrel Aged beers, a subset of the big beers series, have become increasingly popular in today’s market place with many brewers offering a bourbon barrel or wine barrel aged product in their product lineup. The newest trend among today’s brewers is the collaboration series, where two or more breweries team up to create a beer, often times with each of the participating brewers incorporating their hallmark brewing styles.
While I am no where close to opening a brewery anytime soon, I have spent some time thinking about how I could potentially brand Lionheart Brewing. My approach to branding would utilize the theme based strategy, specifically medieval royalty and nobility. Lionheart is most commonly associated with generosity and courage, two traits of King Richard I of England, also known as Richard the Lionheart. It was also a nickname given to me in high school by a friend of mine, and a name I thought would make for a good name for my brewery.
My Lionheart brand would consist of medieval based themes for my standard six pack and seasonal offerings. My big beers would be branded as a “Nobility Series” and would be associated with famous Kings and Queens throughout history that embodied the characteristics of that particular beer. I think that this approach could also be integrated with a tagline that plays into the courage aspect of Lionheart, almost as a challenge to drinkers to consume the product, similar to the approach Stone Brewing takes with its Arrogant Bastard beers. Something along the lines of ”Lionheart. Is it in you?” Obviously these are still half baked ideas, however the take away is that branding is an extremely important part of a brewery and should be thought of early on in the process as it can have long lasting implications on the overall success or failure a brewery.