AT THE RISK OF SOUNDING DRAMATIC, HIRING A GREAT DESIGN FIRM CAN BE HALF THE BATTLE OF GETTING YOUR BREWERY’S BRANDING ESTABLISHED. HERE ARE SOME POINTERS TO MAKE SURE YOU FIND THE BEST MATCH.
It can be tempting to try and handle your branding, that is, the actual visual design of your identity, packaging, and so forth, yourself. After all, you’re starting a business and likely have a strong DIY drive and sense of pride in what you’re doing. We own a small business too, and we completely understand.
But if you have the money, hiring a design firm (or a freelancer, depending on your budget) is one of the most sound investments you’ll make. While you can (and should!) work through the foundational strategic work we’ve previously outlined, a great creative partner can help you make all of this look amazing.
And here’s why—think about how you buy beer, or wine for that matter. Great branding and packaging can directly influence what you pick up, and what you bring home. People are visual creatures and whether we like it or not, we make gut decisions based on surface level stuff—like branding. If your identity and/or packaging is poorly executed, it reflects poorly on you, and likely won’t sell as well as the beer next to it.
Okay, off of our soapbox and back to branding your brewery. If you’re open to working with a designer, here are some pointers for finding the right creative partner to help you develop and implement all of this.
FINDING A DESIGN FIRM
This part is easy. Simply head down to your 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 that doesn’t work for you, you can always hop on Google to find local (or not-so-local) options. Make sure the firms you’re considering ACTUALLY SHOW WORK on their website. Don’t get us 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.
INTERVIEWING A DESIGN FIRM
Once you’ve found a firm you’re interested in, reach out and expect a response shortly thereafter. 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 could be a good partner.
After that, find out what their capabilities are. What does their creative process look like? Have they worked through the TTB beer label approval process before? Have they helped any other breweries come to market? 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 designing your stuff. And beware of account executives. These snappily-dressed bastards act as a buffer between you and the designers who actually shape your image.
Working through account executives can cause a handful of stupid, avoidable problems (miscommunication, blown deadlines and budgets, awkward jokes and small talk, etc.). Thankfully, this role is dying out 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 their salt is putting you through this same vetting process—determining if your concept is viable and if you’ll be fun to work with.
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, since 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 thousand? Maybe it’s $80 thousand? Regardless, if your budget doesn’t match their rates, they should be more than willing to refer you to someone who can work with your budget.
A quick note here; 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. And if done well, it will have infinitely more value for you than its price tag.
Again, 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.
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.
Working with a local firm can be great (they’re accessible, they know your market, you can drive over and vandalize their building if they make ugly work, etc.). But consider firms in other markets as well, particularly if they have a lot of experience with craft beer. Do your research and pick the right partner the first time.