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VOL. 061

Tools & tactics for defining your brewery's Brand Equity


This is the first of four exclusive topics we’re covering here in our newsletter from our larger 2024 Beer Branding Trends report. 

We aren't publishing these insights on the main report, so if there’s someone on your team you think would benefit from reading these, please forward this email to them or have them sign up here.

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Let's get into it.

Defining your Brand Equity is an important part of successfully rebranding your brewery. 

Which existing elements stay and which can be jettisoned often provoke some of the liveliest debates during our work. But the frustrating thing about this entire subject is that *concretely* defining which visual signifiers are mission critical for your brand, and which aren’t, is more art than science. 

We've fielded a nonstop stream of brewery rebrands and refreshes since 2018 and this refrain has been a through line in a lot of that work:

“We want to build on what we’ve developed over the years, but we’re not quite sure what to build on.”

So, for this 2024 Beer Branding Trends Exclusive issue, I wanted to outline some of the ways that we measure visual and Brand Equity.

This will give you some different perspectives to consider and tools to use to define your own equity, for if or when you embark on your brewery’s rebrand.

(Above): Dogfish Head has refreshed its packaging several times over the years. A constant through all of these updates has been there iconic shark and shield badge. This is a powerful piece of visual equity that, if lost, would likely result in a drop in sales.

On Brand Audits

The first step in framing your equity is a brand audit.

This is a rigorous examination of all of your brewery’s internal and external communications going back to your earliest days. This includes any existing positioning and brand strategy work (brand guidelines, style guides, Brand Architecture maps), identity and package design (primary and secondary formats, tap handles, merch), digital assets (website, social media, email), events (parties, beer festivals, tap takeovers), relationships, news and earned media.

Through this, we’re working to define your visual and Brand Equity.

We’ve defined these before, but as a refresher:

Brand Equity is the total amount of goodwill your brand has with your customers. This is more brand-level stuff focused on your messaging, positioning, values, value props, personality, voice and key communication pillars.

How do people talk about your brewery? What role do you play in your community? Are you generally top of mind?

Like your brand itself, these connotations, associations and stories live inside your customers’ minds. They inform your visual identity and packaging but are upstream of them.

Visual equity are all the cues that, if lost through a rebrand, could set you back in the off-premise (e.g., people may not be able to easily find your iconic packaging because you’ve changed it too drastically).

This can include things like SKU-specific colors that you've used for years, unique packaging hierarchy, naming conventions, your interior design style, an illustration style, custom typography and other iconography.


Brand Equity, while the fuzzier concept of the two, is actually easier to frame.

Consumer surveys and stakeholder interviews can quickly suss out how people perceive your brand, what associations they make with your brewery, your overall reputation, where you sit relative to your competition, and so forth. 

But your visual equity is where you’re kind of guessing (or at least, leading with your gut). 

So, let’s now examine some of the ways we’ve helped our clients define their equity ahead of a rebrand.

(Above): Prost Brewing had zero Visual Equity to carry forward through their rebrand. This allowed for a more profound break from their previous identity and packaging.

How we determine what visual and Brand Equity is actually valuable 


1. The value of consistency over time

A lot of our brand audit conversations center around the value of consistency over time. If you’ve consistently used a particular illustration style, or brand voice, or packaging format, then there can be important equity there.

We generally give more weight to an element’s visual equity if you’ve been consistently using it for several years, during which you saw growth. 

This qualifier is important: No matter how you define growth—top line revenue, profit, annual bbl production, whatever metrics you choose to look at—you should see an overall upward trend in those figures. 


Because if you’ve used the same look forever but haven’t seen growth, then who cares how much recall it might have? (This is like continuing to eat Doritos when you’re trying to lose weight, because, well, you’ve always eaten Doritos. Ahh, Cool Ranch Equity®.)

Important Brand Equity almost always includes your brewery name and beer names. It often includes composition components of your logo, so maybe not the entire logo itself, but its general shape and format. 

And it usually includes SKU-specific colors and iconography. e.g., “We’ve used the same color on this IPA for 12 years, so at a minimum, this is what people would look for on the shelf.”

(Imagine for a moment if Sierra Nevada changed its iconic Pale Ale packaging from green to a vibrant purple? How does that make you feel?)

It’s also common to see illustration style here, though it’s been our experience that the fact that you use illustrations itself carries its own equity rather than a particular illustration style.

This may seem counterintuitive, but you may have a good amount of leeway in how you update an illustration so long as you don’t completely jettison the use of illustrations altogether. (Of course, YMMV.)

2. When you just *know* something is important

When rebranding a brewery, it’s common to hear some version of, “We can’t change X because it’s important” without any real data to back up the claim. 

While this perspective is qualitative (and therefore unfalsifiable), that doesn’t mean we should discount it. And we rarely do in our work.

We’re hesitant to cast aside anyone’s gut feeling, particularly a long-tenured marketing director or brewery founder.

But you should never accept something at face value without interrogating it with a few of the other concepts we’ll outline here shortly. 

And another point to consider here: It’s worth mentioning that this idea can fall victim to normalcy bias (e.g., you’ve been looking at the same logo or can design for X number of years and you can’t imagine a world where this is substantially changed).

Again, that doesn’t mean you’re not right, but make sure you're thinking through whether your own biases and concerns might be clouding this process and getting in the way of moving your brewery’s brand forward.

Be as objective as you can here.

3. Ball parking the cost associated with changeover

The actual cost to pull off a huge visual changeover is about as concrete a metric as you can get. If it will take you $2M+ to change over all your vehicle wraps, distributor assets, tap handles and so forth throughout your market, then this has to be considered when defining your visual equity. 

We hear this concern a lot from CFO and COO-types during rebrands, and for good reason.

What’s the point of rebranding if you can’t afford to roll out your new look?

This point shouldn’t have the final say in which elements have more equity than others, but it can often serve as a tiebreaker in the decision or at least shape your thinking.

4. Trademark / Trade dress / IP considerations

Intellectual property (IP) is an important consideration in the rebranding process as well because updating a mark, even subtly, can have downstream legal consequences. 

I know just enough here to be dangerous, so in the interest of not sounding like an idiot, read this chapter from Craft Beer, Rebranded for more info on managing your IP during a rebrand. 

And here’s a great conversation with CODO’s IP attorney (and brewery founder), Matthew McLaughlin on this subject as well.

5. Category conventions & competitive set considerations

These considerations are more external than internal, but they should still be considered as you weigh your brewery’s visual and Brand Equity.

I’ll touch on them both together since we view them as two sides of the same coin.

On category conventions: Have category conventions evolved since you came to market in a way that might make any of your visual equity obsolete?

Is there a way to adhere to your category’s must-haves, but rise above them in a differentiated, delightful way that builds on any of your existing equity? 

On your competitive set: How has your competitive set evolved over the years?

If so, how could this affect what value you place on certain elements of your visual and Brand Equity?

A common scenario we’ve seen in our work, particularly among CPG food and Bev clients is that you come to market and completely define a category’s look. (Our work with Sitka Salmon Shares is a good example here.)

What this means is that you may have tons of visual equity, but that this has been eroded by myriad copycats.

This doesn’t mean you have to cede your ground here, but you do need to consider whether a substantial pivot might be a better move to get clear of the crowd once more.

(Below): Defining Left Field Brewery's visual equity was a straight forward process. They came to CODO with a clearly defined positioning and point of view in place. Our job was to build on their visual equity in a subtle way that helps them better tell this story in retail.

(Above): The Recall Test: Could someone recognize your packaging at a quick glance in retail, even if blurred?


The Recall Test (or, how to measure your Brand Equity, Fast and Slow)

Our Craft Beer, Rebranded Workbook includes a series of Recall Tests that aim to capture peoples’ most basic understanding of your brand identity and packaging.

This is one of the most concrete ways we've found to quantitatively measure visual equity. 

What have people come to instinctively recognize—without thinking—as your brand identity and packaging indicators.

Could someone recognize your packaging or logo, even if blurred?

(Daniel Kahneman’s work on System 1 vs. System 2 thinking inspired us to create this in case you want more background on our approach here.)

As a preview, we (or, you) direct your taproom customers to draw different components of your Brand Identity and packaging from memory.

The Craft Beer, Rebranded Workbook includes worksheets with various blank formats for this (12oz and 16oz cans, 6-pack carriers, bottle labels, tap handles and merch). All you need to add in are markers or pencils.

(Pro tip: Catch people earlier in the night vs. later for more, let's say, efficacious results.)

Our goal with this exercise is to gather several dozen examples from real world customers. 

Once you’ve gathered everything, review to see what common elements people drew. Is there a particular color people overwhelmingly associate with your brand? Is there a distinctive element on your packaging that people picked up on? Or an icon or interesting typography build from your logo? 

These are the sort of elements that could be considered more sacrosanct as you continue through your rebrand.

Wrapping up

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet for defining your brewery’s visual equity. 

We’ve worked with several top 50 breweries and a few $500M+ consumer packaged goods (CPG) food and bev brands, and even at this level, with all the money in the world (metaphorically speaking) to throw at expensive surveys and tests and studies and focus groups, I’m still not sure you can ever define your equity with 100% certainty.

But don’t let that slow you down.  

These decisions come down to what you want to build your brand around. 

– What is your story? 

– What are your unique differentiators? 

– And what existing stuff—iconography, colors, taglines, etc.—will help you build your brand moving forward?

Define those as best as you can and move forward with confidence.

Further reading

1. Here's a good overview of Tropicana's disastrous (and short-lived) 2009 rebrand. This little maneuver cost them more than $50M and is estimated to have cost more than $30M in sales.

2. Here's our take on Anchor Brewing's rebrand. To be clear, this move didn't cause Anchor to close down after more than 125 years in business. But it was still an abject failure.

(And since we're here, I might as well put this out into the universe: If you, or someone you know, ends up buying Anchor's IP, or overseeing its comeback, please reach out to CODO. We'd love to right that wrong.)

Around the Shop

Catch out CBC presentation live

CODO Design will be in Las Vegas here in a few weeks hosting a seminar on Brand Architecture. 

Shoot me an email if you'll be there and would like to grab a beer and talk shop.

Ready to learn more?

The Beyond Beer Handbook

Part book, part quiz, and part choose-your-own-adventure-style novel, The Beyond Beer Handbook is a purpose-built tool for helping you expand your brewery’s portfolio and build a more resilient business.

Craft Beer, Rebranded

Craft Beer, Rebranded and its companion Workbook are a step-by-step guide to map out a winning strategy ahead of your rebrand. Building on CODO’s decade of brewery branding experience, this book will help you weigh your brand equity, develop your brand strategy and breathe new life into your brewery’s brand.

Craft Beer Branding Guide

The Craft Beer Branding Guide outlines how to brand, position and launch a new brewery or beverage company. This is a must-read for any brewery in planning.

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