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Chapter 3
Defining Your Brewery’s Brand Essence
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When branding a craft brewery, people have a tendency to want to jump straight to aesthetics. Before you begin exploring your visual identity, you need to understand what makes your brand so compelling—you need to define your Brand Essence.

When branding a microbrewery, or any organization for that matter, people tend to want 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, people have a tendency to want to jump straight to aesthetics and the problem with this is that 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—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 onto the visual side of the house. If done properly, 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 if someone is sitting in a bar perusing tap handles, they’ll see yours and immediately understand why they should buy your beer.

 

Big Lug Canteen

We helped Big Lug Canteen (Indianapolis, IN) build their brand around the idea of their neighborhood as a ‘Stomping Grounds.’ See more of this fun project here.

 

Here’re 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 Core Brand Values and potential Brand Essences for breweries, 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 your brewery? (what do you offer?)
  • What’s the coolest thing about your brewery?
  • Why does your brewery matter?
  • Describe your beer. Who will drink your beer? Who do you want drinking your beer?
  • What role should your brewery play in your customers’ lives?
  • Describe some competition? How are you different?
  • What emotions should your branding evoke?

While your Brand Essence can (and should) directly inform your public facing tagline and marketing messages, it’s mostly an internal tool used to capture the spirit of your brewery. Some example Brand Essences we’ve developed have included, “Stomping Grounds,” “Red Barn Romanticism,” “Wild Alaska,” “Shot & A Beer,” “Pioneering Spirit,” and “Blue Collar Scientists.”

 

OTHER THOUGHTS

  • 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 (delivery drivers, for instance). A common example when we’re working with a brewery is to interview the head brewer, any additional owners, 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 isn’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 in a one-on-one setting. This can be even more powerful when the folks you’re talking to understand that there’s no wrong answer. Branding is all about emotion and story telling, 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

    Be critical

    Is this potential Brand Essence true? (can you prove it?)

    Is it relevant to my customers? (do they care?)

    Does it differentiate my brewery?

     

  • 4

    Value design and hire a professional

    You didn’t think you’d finish this section 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 more meaningfully than mere aesthetics. That means you value design and realize how important an element it is in becoming a successful brewery. Nice!

    An impartial 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.