CODO Design is a branding firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana. We work with breweries all over the country (and increasingly, internationally) on their branding, packaging, web design and marketing. This puts us in a unique position to hear how people are approaching new brewery ideas and how they’re thinking about positioning on a regular basis.
After seven years of working in this field, most breweries we’ve spoken with, when asked to explain what they’re all about, start (and sometimes finish) with…”We brew high quality & drinkable beer.” And while brewing great beer is an essential place for any new brewery to start, in today’s crowded market place you’re going to need more than that to be successful.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with aiming to brew “high quality and drinkable beer.” But hanging your hat on that alone, or thinking that it’s enough to differentiate you is folly. This is like a company saying they value integrity and customer service–both should be a given. In either case, it’s not exciting, it’s not unique, and it’s not compelling.
On one hand, we get this completely. It’s safe. If you’re in a market where craft beer is still new, making middle of the road beer can be a safe strategy. But with well over four thousand breweries now open, these places are becoming less common. Craft beer is no longer novel, but rather commonplace.
We often joke, “Yep, it’s a beer.” when trying something from a new brewery. There’s not a shred of snobbery there, it’s just so rare that we have a beer that actually jumps out and grabs us. And isn’t it ironic that in an industry born in defiance of bland, tasteless beer for the masses, that we’re now headed right back to that very place? Something non-offensive. Something safe. Something for everyone. Something “high quality and drinkable.”Will this trend shake the foundation craft brewers have been building for the last 25 years? Will it cheapen the stellar, artisan products that have put the United States at the forefront of brewing? Probably not. But it is a step in the wrong direction. It’s a step toward blending in and being unremarkable. And that’s about as far from the craft ethos as you can get.
This is why positioning is so damn important for craft breweries. Positioning can be boiled down to 3 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?
Or to think about it in another way, if there are 4,000+ breweries in the United States right now, and the majority of them are marketing themselves as making “high quality and drinkable beer,” how can you stand out? What can you do to not be lumped in with everyone else? Or if that’s too big to consider, take it to a local level–how can you stand out from everyone in your state? Or your city?
The most obvious answer is to have clear, categorical differentiation. As baseball legend Willie Keeler so eloquently put it, “Hit ’em where they ain’t.” If everyone else is brewing middle of the road beer, do something else. Why be a me-too brewery? Do something novel. Do something bold. Take a stand and stand out. You can still make high quality, drinkable beers (again, that should be a given), but they need to be part of a larger narrative–part of a more compelling brand story.
What’s your origin story? Why did you start your brewery? What unique styles do you focus on (does anyone else around you brew these?) Why did you leave whatever it was you were doing before this to take this risk? How’s your brewery different from every other one in your area (or the world)? Why should people care? What role should you play in their lives? Why do you exist?
We implore you to think bigger. If you can do this, you’ll have a solid foundation for branding a successful, stand-out craft brewery.