Ep. 31 | Successful Branding Tips from the Craft Beer Industry

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In this episode of the Rethink Podcast, branding designer Isaac Arthur shares successful branding tips and other takeaways he’s learned from craft beer, an industry seeing historic record growth over the last 10 years.

There are some parallels between the craft beer industry and the MarTech industry, which Scott Brinker recently revealed to include more than 5,000 solutions in his annual MarTech supergraphic.

It is estimated a new brewery opens every day and more than 5,000 are operating nationally. Most of those are small craft breweries, likely operating within a few miles from where you are listening to this episode.

Whether you are a MarTech or Craft Beer start up, it is critical to push past clichés when developing your brand, your positioning, and just what makes you different from all the other IPAs out there.

Now, I live in Portland, Ore., also called Beervana. I have been drinking beer since I was too young to do so legally. I even home brew with my buddy Gary. A new brewery opening every day, to me, is a good thing.

But when I think about it, I am reminded of a recent commercial from Aldi grocery stores in Australia. In it, a father and son are grocery shopping and dad is looking for spaghetti sauce (for our purposes imagine he’s looking for beer). The commercial shows him reading off all the variations of beer on the aisle. But there are a ton of choices, and as he is reading them, he is also aging and aging and still he hasn’t decided.

In a way, this very first-world problem is happening to us in the beer aisle, as well as in our neighborhood bars, restaurants, and even convenience stores. In 2007, there were 1,460 breweries. In 2016, more than 5,000 breweries operated most of which are small craft breweries producing less than 6 million barrels.

Craft beer sales now account for $23.5 billion of the $107.6 billion US beer market and growing.

Craft beer’s popularity wasn’t always so. In fact, there were less than 100 breweries nationally in the 1970s. Now, more than 800 opened in 2016. And the Brewers Association, a trade group that works to promote and protect small and independent brewers, reported another 2,000 plus breweries are in the works.

And they are not all opening in Portland. They are opening in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania – all over the place really. The Brewers Association estimates 80 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery.

And all those breweries – in addition to all the existing breweries – are releasing more and more beer products, whether they are seasonal beers, sour beers, porters, ales, lagers or some variation of an India Pale Ale, the most popular craft beer.

Last year, brewers debuted more than 1,800 new types of craft beer. They released more than 2,000 new craft beer products in 2015.

Setting your product apart from all that competition is incredibly important. Especially when Nielsen reports that 70 percent of beer purchase decisions are more likely to be made at the shelf. In that crowded a market, it is critical to separate your brewery from the rest of the pack.

As I mentioned earlier, my buddy Gary and I brew our own homebrew. Basically, we make variations of IPAs and have even guest brewed for a local brewery called Ordnance Brewing, making an Octoberfest IPA last fall.

It was after that experience I began to wonder about the business of marketing craft beer, and later stumbled across Isaac’s firm through their Craft Beer Brewing Guide, which shares successful branding tips and a step-by-step guide for building your brand.

Isaac Arthur is co-founder of CODO Design in Indianapolis. They have worked with breweries all over the country and the world on their branding, packaging, web design, and marketing. He’s also an instructor with the University of Vermont’s Business Of Craft Beer certificate program.

Isaac begins the branding process with a new client by asking three foundational questions. What do you do? Who do you do it for? How are you different from competitors?

Though the book is written for craft breweries, anyone starting a business would benefit from reading it, and thinking about how these questions on branding, positioning and differentiation apply to their businesses.

And marketers should appreciate how this small 5-person design firm in Indiana created a useful free tool to build their brand, not to mention SEO presence. It reminds of the other free tools companies have used over the years to build awareness by helping their prospective customers, or just offering folks something fun to do.

Next time you’re in the grocery store beer aisle, take another look at the packaging. Besides being a session or cream ale, what the breweries are telling you about their brands and positioning.