Craft Beer Branding: 12 Steps Towards Commercial Success [Effective Brand Strategy]

Craft Beer Branding & Craft Beer Brand Design

In this article we’ll look at craft beer branding & craft beer brand design. We’ll explore how craft beer brands can influence the commercial success of their brand through effective brand design strategies.


The Market for Craft Beer has seen Explosive Growth

There has been an explosive growth of the craft beer industry in the past few years, which in turn is changing the alcohol scene drastically. Where we’ve literally seen 1000’s of brands enter the market in a relatively short time span, with over 5,000 small breweries that opened up in the past years in the US the strong growth is not only witnessed in that one market, it’s a global phenomenon. With a market share hitting 12% in volume, but over 20% in value (craft beer typically sells at a premium), growth is starting to slow at the moment in more mature early-mover markets such as the US.


Branding is a Challenge for Many Craft Beer Brands

In a market that gets more and more congested, it is essential for craft brewers who have a growth vision and want more people to enjoy their beers, to develop strong brands. Craft Brewers typically only have a fraction of the budgets the large players in the market have access to and where many brands are born out of a passion for good brewing, marketing often takes a back seat in the process. Where good branding can accelerate the success of a great product, it still needs to be considered and integrated early on for commercial success.


From Quirky Novelty to Real Brand?

It’s true that there’s a large number of brewers whose goal is not to build a big and successful beer empire but who are just content doing something they love, supplying a fresh daily brew to friends and a few bars or restaurants in the neighborhood – the select few that did enjoy the taste of success are keen to develop real brands that more people are able to enjoy. They want to get their stories out and they want to build and connect with a larger following. Some are purposefully building brands, scale business and then hope to get acquired by a big label cash out and repeat the process. Whatever the motivation – building a real brand requires a bit of planning and careful consideration on how you set up your brand, right from the start.


How to Grow and Survive?

Personally, I enjoy having a craft beer every now and then, but when I’m visiting one of the local beer joints that have a huge selection of brands on the menu, I must admit I don’t often recall what I’ve been drinking at the end of the night. After recently flipping through a large plastic folder full of colorful and creative labels in one of the local pubs specializing in craft beers, I asked myself if brand owners of these colorful brands are happy with this type of experience drinkers like me end up with, or whether they actually have more ambitious growth plans, which perhaps are more difficult to realize as a craft beer brand owners don’t have access to the same resources as the big breweries do.


12 Steps towards Commercial Success for Craft Beer Brands

So, what better to do than put the branding hat on and see how a bit of branding and brand design and lessons learned from the big players and other related industries, could perhaps benefit some of the more ambitious growth-focused brand owners in building brands that last and succeed and can actually give the big breweries a bit of a challenge!


1. Brew Good Beer!

Too obvious? No! The essential foundation of what makes craft beer unique is the quality of the product itself. Born out of frustration of the watery tastes of so many of the mass brand lagers out there the craft industry emerged. Whether it’s a unique quality control process you apply, special ingredients that you use in the brewing process, the freshness of a brew at the moment of consumption, the cold chain logistics solutions that ensure temperature (especially here in Asia) does not diminish the quality of the drink during distribution, or the consistency of quality between batches or different beers; delivering superior value to drinkers starts of course with a ‘helluva’ good tasting beer, delivered to you as fresh as possible!

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 2. Have a Good Brand Story

To bring a unique product concept to life and superior value proposition to life, one that not just the beer geeks care about, but concepts that find an interest with a wider audience, good brand stories can help create interest, excitement and trial quicker, helping brands accelerate their commercial success around a good foundation; a high quality product. Do you have a story or angle that captivates your audience? Are you able to explain your “why”, or the foundations that drive your passions and why you got into business in the first place to your audience in way that truly and deeply connects? Have you tested different story angles and discovered which one resonates most, with the average drinker you intend to convince to give your brand a try? The power of story helps a brand that delivers great value already via a good product to connect with audiences with more intensity, driving trial, sales and loyalty but also bringing a focus to the business that when captured can be tremendously powerful.

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3. Have a Growth Strategy 

With 1000’s of small brands all existing in the same space, a big challenge, and perhaps part of your business plan before you started, must focus on finding a large enough base of differentiation within the context of your competitive market. Any beer brand that wishes to enjoy long term success must be able to do 1 thing really well: deliver superior value to your drinkers. What is value for a craft beer drinker? Do you have good insights on what the drinkers actually believe are missing. Are those insights relevant enough to a sufficiently large audience to help you craft a growth strategy with a huge potential. Is your superior value proposition based on a certain taste, cleanness, unique ingredient story, unique formulation or unique brand story that you believe can captivate your audience? Can it easily be copied, how do you protect your concept and how do you enjoy longevity besides the novelty of the launch moment is something worth considering from the start. A solid brand growth strategy that addresses some of these initial growth obstacles and challenges can help you significantly as you focus your growth efforts around a unique, relevant and strong value proposition.

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4. Make it Available – In Bars & Retail Channels

Sure you make a great product and you have found a great story and value proposition and people love your beer, but if they can’t find your brand easily and can’t buy it in the places where they normally shop that doesn’t help you much. The journey often starts with going around neighborhood bars, letting bar owners have a try and then securing yourself a tap for your brand, but getting into retail is a whole different thing for many. I’m not just talking about the liquor store on the corner, but getting your brand listed in a nationwide retailer. A big step towards brand growth is achieved when you tackle the issue of availability. Getting into big retail helps you reach a larger audience with your craft beer brand and helps your brand move up to the next level. A good thing of the amazonification of retail and the move of grocery shopping to the internet is that e-commerce, grocery apps and online delivery platforms are creating entirely new retail opportunities that can be used that don’t require the logistical nightmares of being present in a large number of retailers across a country, with high listing fees and required guarantees on mandatory buy-backs of non sold items that opens new doors for smaller manufacturers of FMCG products, especially those of craft beer brands.

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5. Understand Distribution & Logistics

Getting into retail requires a good understanding of how distribution and logistics issues can mess with the quality of your beer. Many don’t care anymore and lose interest in quality control, the moment a batch of beer is brewed and bottled (or canned) as the hard part is done, right? Wrong! Your products still need to reach the drinkers and an ill-thought out distribution and logistics approach can have a damaging impact on the quality of your product. The effect of light, temperature and time all need to be considered before settling on the right distribution partner that gets your product from your brewery into retail outlets and bars. Get this part wrong and your much loved brand is dead, before it even came to life as consumers these days can be unforgiving when it comes to product quality and consistency issues. Especially important for craft beer brands of course, as in many cases their superior value proposition revolves around product quality, freshness and taste.

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6. Get your Brand noticed?

For any brand that wishes to generate sales in a busy and competitive environment in which it has to compete with other similar brands, getting seen means getting sold. As I flipped through the colorful plastic folder containing hundreds of labels I most likely didn’t manage to locate the best quality brands or the best tasting brands. Packaging design appearance however guided me to the 4 or 5 beers I tried that night and my decision was based on those that had the best appearance and appeal, attention to detail for instance guides judgements on quality and forming perceptions on taste based purely on a label design highlights the importance of packaging design in the selection, trial and purchase process. Since many microbreweries and craft beer brands don’t have a sophisticated marketing machine supporting them, nor a massive budget to spend across a multitude of marketing channels, it is in many cases the packaging design on its own that helps to convey a brand’s message. Good reasons why packaging design must receive appropriate and careful attention and consideration as often it’s the only controllable marketing element that decides which brands get sold and which don’t. Making creative use of signature design elements, trying to combine several unique features that might create interest, relevance or appeal to a potential drinker makes the difference between a skip or a pick. To read more on how beer brands typically create unique, recognizable designs, check out this article we wrote on the topic of beer brand design

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7. Get your Brand into a ‘Permanent Consideration Set’?

The purpose of branding ultimately is to make people that you’ve managed to bring into your brand loyal to it. Trial is irrelevant without follow-up, unless you’re aiming to build a one-day fly. Product and Taste experiences are big factors, although branding and design precede purchase and consumption it can already start to tell your taste buds what to expect. A brand that is built around a fantastic product that tastes great, but whose design doesn’t reflect the same might never win the battle of getting trial started in the first place. With good branding executed in a style that not only helps generate trial but also ‘fits’ the needs and preferences of an audience you have the basic building blocks to build a loyal following behind your brand. Thinking of your brand as a fashion accessory that suits the style of your following might lead you to different design decisions that are more appreciated and can ensure your packaging design becomes a talking point for the hardcore loyalists and advocates to spread the word on your behalf and bring more people into your brand.

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8. Have a Visual Brand Identity that is Variant Ready

Craft brands love variants – experimenting with new ingredients, combinations of ingredients, new brewing techniques, creating a special brew for a special occasions, seasons or events is often driving the popularity for the most successful craft beer brands. When you launch a variant, you want that variant to look different and unique, but if it doesn’t connect in any way to your main brand, drinkers loyal to your brand might not realize it comes from the same brewery as the drinks they know and are already loyal to. As a result, your exciting new variant that looks like the odd cousin, never gets considered. Us packaging designers refer to this as a brand architecture, also known as a design system that allows people to quickly recognize that a newly launched variant (or product range) belongs to the same brand, inheriting all the positive traits already associated to the brand, while allowing a strong level of differentiation that allows the personality of a variant or subrange to come out strongly. Many ways exist to build a visual identity that has an architecture that allows easy varianting – often a combination of elements that are kept consistent, while other elements can then be used to strongly achieve differentiation. Shanghai based Boxing Cat Brewery in below image for example has developed a signature look around its round label, with it’s brand logo placed on top, with a certain font treatment and use of typography and text angles conveying the brand, colors and text descriptors are used for varianting. When you see any of these labels you’re instantly clear it comes from Boxing Cat, but colors and text let you navigate what the difference is between variants, before you make a final selection on what you want to drink. If you ignore architecture, it becomes much more difficult to manage a portfolio with a larger number of variants and subranges. New flavors, variants or ranges you produce might not benefit from an automatic trial from a loyal drinker, because they simply didn’t realize the new variant belonged to your brand.

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9. Get “Dark Market” ready?

In many parts of the world alcohol advertising is subject to some form of regulation or restriction. Many types of regulations exist such as the inability to sell alcohol during certain hours, near certain locations, the inability to advertise a name or show a packshot or even the use of certain communication channels. These are just a few examples of restrictions governments pose on the advertising of alcohol products. Of course every market has its own set of restrictions. If you have plans to grow internationally with your brand think of dark market limitations up front. Several strategies exist to help counter such restrictive measures, one of those strategies for example relies on building feature rich visual identity systems, where loose elements can be combined together to aid recognition of the brand you’re buying, without having to use a name, logo or packshot. Heineken for example owns the signature green color and the red start. Seeing just those 2 elements combined together will make you think of the brand. To read more about design strategies that can counter dark market restrictions take a look at this article we wrote here.

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10. Leverage the Possibilities of Production?

The possibilities of print and finish are endless. Add to that bottle shapes, bottle detailing, pack sizes, formats and materials as well as closure options and a large number of additional options become available to help a craft beer brand achieve a unique, differentiated and ownable style.

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11. Tap into Experiences?

Craft brands often have a microbrewery setup. Great experiences can be created when you open a pub around your microbrewery or allow tours, tastings and special events to be held on-site and of course you can charge a nice little fee for these kind of events, up to a point where experiences can actually turn into an additional revenue generator for your brand. Paulaner is a great example of a relatively unknown German beer brand that started to open microbrewery pubs in capital cities expanding their brand name and awareness, but also offering typical German-style cuisine and a location for hosting events and parties such as an Oktoberfest gathering. Think of the opportunities ahead of time and you might decide not to setup in a remote area far out of town, but rather a bit more easily accessible for visitors to fully leverage the power of branded experiences.

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12. Go Viral

Once the basics are in place and you have a strong product concept with a good taste and flavor, a strategy has been developed that allows you to compete and you have a pack design and brand identity that is unique, pushes the limits of production capabilities is strong, campaignable and dark market-proof the real challenge begins: selling your brand and getting you noticed. As many craft brands don’t have the unlimited budgets as the big brands do, the strategy is to either isolate 1 key channel and try and own it or try and get your brand to go viral to get it noticed. Bavaria from the Netherlands, has become quite well-known for its daring marketing stunts and viral campaigns and one particular good example was executed around a world cup soccer match of the Dutch national team. Despite another large global beer brand owning the sponsorship rights globally allowing it to brand itself as the exclusive beer of the World cup. In one of the most recent tournaments Bavaria send a bunch of Bavaria babes to a match, hiding their orange Bavaria dresses under their outfits. Once in the stadium the original outfits were taken off and a bunch of orange dressed girls in Bavaria’s orange world cup dress managed to capture global attention for a moment as they loudly made their presence noticed during a dull moment in the match. Of course some of the girls got locked up and were never heard from again, but imagine the impact and the free PR the brand enjoyed as well as a spike in sales for the duration of the World cup tournament and all of that for just a fraction of the cost it takes to become a global world cup sponsor. This example demonstrates how viral stunts can go a long way and being creative can pay of tremendously!

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Need any help Branding your Freshly Brewed Craft Beer Brand?

If you would like a hand to help accelerate the success of your craft beer brand, dont hesitate to reach out and get in touch here. We’d be more than happy to help!

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